‘What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this?’
‘There are no times, sir, at which ties do not matter.’
Like Murakami’s Murakami T, a book about the various t-shirts Haruki Murakami has picked up over the years, Fry’s Ties is a book about the various ties that Stephen Fry has picked up over the years. As with Murakami T (which began life as a series of low-key articles) so with Fry’s Ties – this book started out as a series of Instagram posts. And, as with Murakami T, you can’t help but start reading this book questioning its very existence.
Immediately, though, there are some stark differences. The easy going conversational tone of Murakami is replaced by the more rarefied Fry tones. Where Murakami T could be a recorded interview, Fry’s Ties is very definitely a book. It feels very written. Very worked upon. Very precise. As you’d expect from Stephen Fry. It’s also (and I hesitate to say this but it’s undeniably true) quite posh. Do the two things go hand in hand? Ties and poshness? Perhaps they do.
And so Stephen Fry, “a shameless hussy when it comes to shirt- and tie-buying”, takes us on a tour of his ties, and in this regard there is slightly less memoir than you might expect (he directs us to Moab was my Washpot at one point for more detail about his time in prison, for example) and much more about the tie manufacturers themselves. And so we hear about Lanvin and Tyrwhitt and Nicole Miller and Lacroix and Versace (amongst a great many others). We hear about school ties and work ties and cricket ties and ties worn on the telly and ties worn whilst performing in Ontario. And, of course, there’s room for bow ties (done up and unravelled) and black ties and woollen ties and even mystery ties, the provenance of which remains, well, a mystery. There are even helpful diagrams to help you tie your tie in a different way if all you’re used to is the old Half Windsor.
Thankfully, perhaps, Stephen Fry being Stephen Fry, there is more (slightly more) to Fry’s Ties dan dis. We know, don’t we, that Stephen Fry is regularly voted the favoured dinner party guest of all those who like to decide their ideal dinner parties – and that shines through in the stories he chooses to share with us, the sly asides, the bon mots, the digressions and divergences, all of which are on display here. So whether it’s stories of Stephen Fry following Andy Warhol into shops in New York, or digressions about silk or Beau Brummel you’re after, it’s likely there will be something here that will scratch your proverbial itch for any and all things Stephen Fry.
If you are interested in ties, more interested in ties than you are, say, Stephen Fry, it’s possible you’ll get more of a kick out of this book than your average Stephen Fry fan (imagine that).
One final note. I read this book the same week that The Spectator tweeted:
“It cannot be chance that the decline of the tie has coincided with the erasure of everything it once meant to be a man. Masculinity is considered toxic. The tie is being cancelled.”
So maybe just maybe this might be the ideal gift for anyone you know on the wrong side of the culture wars (although I’ve heard that Stephen Fry is a homosexual so possibly that would inflame them too…). Oh dear oh dear. So hard to be on the wrong side of the culture wars.
Any Cop?: If we were to present a sort of metaphorical scale on which to judge the balance of the book, we’d hesitate ever so slightly and then aver that this is one for the tie lover over the Fry lover. Really. If you have any tie knowledge holes you want filling, this is very much the book for you. If (like me) you can, in the end, take or leave a tie, you might find it overstays its welcome a little bit.