Laurie Olin on Bow Ties

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While Laurie Olin is known throughout the world as a renowned landscape architect, teacher and author, he is also known for his sense of sartorial style—particularly his love of bow ties. From stripes to polka dots to plaid to vibrant colors, the bow tie is a part of Laurie’s signature look.

We spoke with Laurie about his thoughts on personal style and how fashion, like landscape architecture, is another form of aesthetic self-expression.

When did you start wearing bow ties and what was your inspiration?

My former partner Bob Hanna, with whom I co-founded the firm in 1976, wore bow ties. I had never worn them—I was from the sticks. I always thought they were this cool Ivy League thing, as all these designers like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright wore bow ties. I always thought it was a bit Eastern, a bit grand. Also, in recent decades bow ties in America have become associated with eccentricity.

Anyway, many years ago I had to wear a tuxedo to an event, and I didn’t know how to fasten the bow tie. Bob showed me. The thing that amused me was that bow ties are stiffer than a normal necktie—they’re harder to tie properly. What Bob taught me was that if you took a pencil and pushed the fabric through the loop you could make a proper knot. I liked the way it looked, and a few years later, in the early days of our studio, I began wearing them regularly.

Do you think that landscape architects are associated with a certain style?

Well, there are probably as many styles of dress for landscape architects as there are regions of the world for them to practice in. I can tell you that I have known a number of famous designers and they were all quite different; it was a case of both their backgrounds and of the era.

At the same time though, as designers we must pay attention to who our client is and what they expect from us. You want your client to feel comfortable, and they want you to be an artist—they want to respect you. There are of course clients for whom you wear blue jeans, and events where that’s completely inappropriate. Either way you’ve got to get it right. You must ask yourself, “If I wear a tie with lots of flowers, will this group think I’m a nut?” On the other hand, if I’m going to an event for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society then yes, it’s appropriate to go with that flowery tie.

It seems logical that as a designer who has spent his career creating pattern and form, you would be conscious of visual aesthetics in your clothing as well.

Yes, I think about visual elements all the time: color, form, pattern, texture. Ties are another type of visual event.

Indeed, I think that because there are so few details in men’s clothing and so little ornament, that ties have become uniquely important. It’s one of the last gasps of flair and color for men. Humans respond to color, and it signals various things. It signals that, “I’m a wild and crazy guy” or “I’m alive” or “I’m sensible.”

So how do you choose the perfect tie?

My choice changes by the occasion. Sometimes when I am looking through my collection I think, “Why don’t I have a red one like I am looking for?” In many ways, men and their ties are a lot like women and their shoes. No matter how many you own there is that feeling of, “Why don’t I have the pair that I need at this moment?” It can feel like you never have the one you truly want. Still, it’s fun to look.

  1. Bruce Sharky says:

    I too wear bow ties (one at a time). I believe when you wear a bow tie you are dressed for any occasion. My experience is that bow ties make people happy. The best part of wearing them is making the decision of which one should I wear today.

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