A couple days before Thanksgiving I found myself standing in front of a plywood wardrobe in the attic of my childhood house in Maryland as my Dad handed over a fistful of knit ties. As I received the stack of ties, I couldn’t help but think that I’d seen this day coming. The day when my parents would begin the great purge that all empty-nesters inevitably embark on once their children wander off. I graduated high school three years ago now, my brother’s was two years before that, so I was far from surprised when I came home to find my parents knee deep in a house-wide cleanse. Along the way they’d discarded all of our undersized furniture and (pre)teen books, which admittedly is of no great loss to me, especially considering that in their place my Dad was now passing down a pile of long-lost gems from his closet.
It was a mixed bag of labels and colors, but as I flipped over one off the top, looking down at the tag, my dad asked, ”You know Rooster?” Of course I did, I mean odds are pretty good if you’ve stepped into a thrift store over the past decade or so you’ve come across at least a few Rooster ties. Now, I can’t remember my dad ever actually wearing a knit tie, but I guess that’s really just a testament to Rooster’s influence throughout the seventies and eighties. During that time, my dad would’ve been a fresh-faced professional just starting to build up a business wardrobe, and back then there were no ties more prevalent and affordable than Rooster.
The Rooster story is a fascinating one in and of itself, but the real story is that of Jerome B. Myers, Rooster’s president, who would go on to become arguably the most important tie designer of the twentieth century and quite possibly of all time. The story of Jerry Myers begins back in Philadelphia in the early 1960s, when in his thirties Jerry decided to leave his real estate job to join a tie company. Myers started there in sales, and was promoted to President within a few years. He soon became the lifeblood of the brand, overseeing everything from design, to production, to sales. Myers worked hard, traveling constantly, and amassing major accounts such as Bloomingdales and Lord & Taylor, to build Rooster up into one the country’s most respected tie companies. Known for their unconventional patterns and fabrics, in additon to their unusual square end, Rooster emerged during a time when things were becoming more relaxed, and they found great success riding the wave of their pseudo contradictory “casual ties.” Although slowly but surely, men began to shed their daily ties altogether and Rooster’s business tapered off gradually. During the last several years of its existence, Rooster was purchased and owned by a different company. Against Myers’ advice, the new owners made some business decisions which ultimately led to Rooster’s demise in 1989.
The book on Rooster had come to a close, but Myers’ story was about to start an exciting new chapter. In his early 60s, Myers stepped back into the job market, where as one of this country’s most revered tie designers he was quickly snatched up by Nautica to head their tie manufacturing. After a few years at Nautica, he bounced over to Burberry for a short stint, but then the big call came. At sixty-five, when most men would be contemplating retirement, Myers assumed direction of the neckwear department at Ralph Lauren. But, don’t think Myers was just taking on one line of ties, oh no, he oversaw tie design for every tie produced on all six of Ralph Lauren’s labels from 1994 onward.
From silk to wool to linen to grenadine to tartan to repp, every single pattern and fabric was scrutinized by Myers, and in the fragmented world of menswear that we live in these days, there’s few men that have the competence to take on a task as lofty as that. Myers was truly cut from a cloth that couldn’t be found in any run of the mill textile book. Each weekday he would wake up and make the two hour commute (each way) from his house in Philadelphia to the Ralph Lauren offices in Midtown New York, just to sit down and lead an entire department at one of the world’s most famous brands. In 1967 Ralph Lauren founded his brand on nothing more than ties and it took a man like Myers to carry on that vision over twenty-five years later. Unfortunately, earlier this year Myers had to retire from Ralph Lauren due to illness, and on May 1, 2012, he passed away. Myers’ spirit lives on though, not only in the Rooster and Ralph Lauren ties of the past, and for that matter those still to come, but also in his exemplary dedication to his craft for over fifty years.
A massive thank you to Jerry’s son, Ford, who contributed to this piece, and helped to make sure that his father’s incredible story was told the right way. Thank you once again Ford.