Kenji Kaga owns 200 ties. It may sound like a staggering figure, but it seems perfectly natural for a man who has spent the last 20 years in the tie-making industry. It might also run contrary to the Japanese penchant for minimalism (Japan being the land of Marie “does it spark joy?” Kondo), but these days, Kaga splits his time between Japan and his other home base, Italy, so perhaps the Italian philosophy of sprezzatura has taken root.
As a high school student, Kaga fell in love with fashion by way of American films. “I saw movies of Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra,” he says. “I was inspired by my father, who respected American culture. He taught me about American movies, muscle cars, Muhammad Ali, Sammy Davis Jr.”
Upon discovering handmade ties in Italy, Kaga was determined to continue what he feared would become a dying industry. “Tie sales all over the world were going down. People no longer made handmade ties. We wanted to help continue this tradition for the next generation.”
With images of the dapper, dashing men of Old Hollywood in mind, Kaga’s company, Tie Your Tie, takes much of its inspiration from vintage-era designs circa 1930s and ’40s. “The way we make ties is vintage-style. These are all handmade, hand-rolled.” He gestures toward the incredibly fine stitching along the edges: “This is 2.5mm. Hand-rolled, hand-stitched.” Kaga also makes it a point to regularly attend Paris Fashion Week, taking note of the styles going down the runway so he can infuse the season’s trends into their designs. “I’m interested in the women’s collections—Saint Laurent, Celine, Valentino. Very old designs, but the colors are very new. This is our style.”
But first, some changes had to be made. He set about instilling a very Japanese sense of discipline and work ethic into the Florentine workshop, observing that the Japanese and the Italians have drastically different ways of doing things. “We have European styles, but we are a Japanese company. I had to introduce to the Italian market the Japanese style: how to make, how to work. My employees, every morning, I tell them, ‘Everybody, let’s go. Let’s work,’” he says, clapping his hands for emphasis. The difference in approach, of course, is understandable when you realize that Japanese salary men are notorious for putting in overtime (see: karōshi), while the Italians have managed to elevate doing nothing into an art form (see: dolce far niente).
In the Philippines, Kaga’s ties may be procured through local menswear store Signet. He is in town for his very first trip, presiding over a trunk show. Swatches upon swatches of patterns and colors and fabrics are spread out on a long table, with Kaga willingly taking orders while offering his advice and expertise. “Your market is very important. So many Filipino customers come to Florence,” he says, enough that he was finally convinced to come over for a visit.
If you order a bespoke tie from his Italian workshop, be prepared to wait up to three months before receiving it. The atelier consists of only 10 artisans who construct everything by hand, and assembly takes about 40 minutes (compared to the quick and speedy one minute it would take to roll out a tie using a machine). Besides, his small company is already besieged with orders from all around the world, and production is limited to just 40 pieces daily.
As for the wardrobe basics every man should own, he rattles off items from a mental list: five white shirts, three blue shirts, two striped shirts, one jacket, one suit. And you can get away with owning five ties only: two bearing stripes, another two with small, subtle designs, and one that is tone-on-tone or maybe even just solid blue.
Tie Your Tie’s seven-fold ties are particularly well-suited to our tropical climate because they are unlined, hence, lighter—“like a scarf,” he describes it, and soft. For maintenance, he recommends taking a rolled-up newspaper, inserting it into the folds to retain shape, and then steaming it every couple of weeks. He doesn’t recommend dry cleaning, as the process can be quite harsh on the fabric. And though he possesses a tie wardrobe numbering in the hundreds, he tells me, to my relief, that he likes to keep it down to a revolving selection of just 20.
Kaga packed five neckties for this quick three-day trip, and on the day that we meet, he has chosen one in a muted shade of blue to complement his banker-striped shirt, gray trousers, and brown linen jacket. He points out that he chose a blue tie because he was wearing blue socks—“very important,” he insists. Spoken like a true, old school gentleman; Cary Grant would approve.
Signet is located at Shangri-La at the Fort, 30th St. cor. 5th Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig and Power Plant Mall, Rockwell Center, Makati. They are @thesignetstore on Instagram.