Men! Newarkers! Gentlemen! Lend me your eyes! Gentleman Culture had the pleasure to sit down with Michael Lamont of Michael Lamont Neckwear. If you know the name, you know exactly what an honor this was. For those that do not, let’s put it this way: If you’ve seen a man walking any street and his bowtie made you stop and say “I need to get a new tie…THAT tie,” it was most likely a Michael Lamont piece. Unfortunately, the bad news is that you cannot get that tie. Because not only are each of his pieces living art, they are one-of-a-kind pieces. There is not another one on the planet.
As a child growing up, how do you remember seeing the distinctions in men’s style and dress? From childhood growing up, I hadn’t yet established my own individuality. I was pretty much like most kids wanting to follow fads, and wanting to follow styles and be amongst a group. Every kid wants to fit in you know, and that pretty much was the extent of my fashion and style. My dad was a very prestigious dresser, very classy dresser. He wore the finest things, very stylish. Even though this was coming up in the 70’s as a child, he was still into the 20’s. He wore wingtips, he wore fedoras. That was his style of clothing. So I did catch that, but I never thought or could even fathom myself one day dressing in his style or taking on that style of fashion.
What gave you the desire to dress men for a living? Well once I got old enough that I could actually pay for my own clothes and after getting out of the military and I started being independent and taking care of myself, I decided that I didn’t want to be “Little David” anymore which was my older brother. I wanted to have my own identity. So, what better way to have your own identity than to be independently minded about how you dress and what you wear? I decided to choose my own style and no longer follow a pattern or trend of style and dress. I always liked men’s fashion. But even then after years of working in sales and wearing shirts and ties, I didn’t quite think of one day going into the industry where I’d be on this end of it, styling and designing for men and clothing men. This was back in the late 80’s but I was always into high end fashion, I was even into the quality of the fabrics, different types wools and silks and cottons. And then one day I got engaged to a young lady and we went to the fabric store to look at fabrics for the bridesmaids dresses and I came across a piece of fabric that I just had to have for a necktie. I took it home and made a tie. Then she told the deacon of our church that I made neckties and I ended up making 60 ties for our church’s Men’s Day…and made about $900! So that was the beginning of Michael Lamont Neckwear and next year will make 20 years. So that’s how we started, we were selling to churches and clergy, then we started selling to politicians, and then we actually got into selling to stores and made our way up to 14 store accounts throughout the country.
Being a man who takes pride in dressing well as well as a man who dresses others, do you ever feel the desire to hold back from sharing certain designs and styles to keep for yourself? Well no, because once something is produced by me its out there. And I’m not in fear of copycats or people who duplicate what I’m doing because to me that’s the best form of flattery. And you can only copy what I’ve done, not what I’m doing. So once I produce something and it’s done, completed, off the table and one somebody’s neck, it’s out there. So I don’t try to hold styles to myself or anything like that. It doesn’t bother me.
What lessons have you learned when it comes to staying the course of genuine and classic style in this world of ever-changing, fickle fashion trends? I’m actually very conscious of it. It was important for me because about 7 or 8 years ago I made up my mind that this was what I was going to do and I took this on full time, I said to myself “If this is what you’re going to do, you have to stay out in front of everybody. You have to stay on the cutting edge. You have to be the forerunner. You’re not going to follow other designers, you’re going to lead. You’re going to create styles. You’re going to make things that people or a little bit on the edge of whether they’re going to wear it or not. And I realized that that’s what keeps the doors open. Being cutting edge of fashion keeps the business going. I’m always conscious of the things I’m creating. The styles, the colors, the patterns, without going too far over the edge. An accessory is supposed to be an accessory! A blue suit is going to be a blue suit. A black suit is going to be a black suit. But your accessories are what really speak to the character of the person wearing it. So I don’t go too far outside of who I am when I’m designing. You’re still going to see Michael Lamont. And that’s why you know my work when you see it. I stay in my pocket, in my niche.
Are there some looks or styles that make you cringe? (A sly smile begins to grow) From a fashion police perspective, yeah. There are some rules. A lot of people say “anything goes” and that’s true in a sense but there are still boundaries within that.
As a designer, what do you especially enjoy when you see someone wearing one of your pieces? It’s everything that surrounds it. How they present it and dress it up. The shirt, the suit. Because truthfully, from an artist perspective, there are some walls that I wouldn’t want to see my work hanging on, you know what I mean? Sometimes the picture just doesn’t fit the wall.
Haberdasheries are so rare nowadays. What would you say has kept you thriving and relevant to your customers over the course of time? I still know that there is a customer base for what I do. My customers are still out there. Those guys that are concerned with quality goods are still out there. Those guys that are concerned about how many stitches per inch and oxford pinpoint collars and hand stitched suits are still out there. And they may find their suit, they may find their shirt, they may find their shoes, but accessories are becoming harder to find by people who are actually custom hand-making them. The quality of a custom hand-made tie is going to be of far higher quality than a tie made from a liba machine and it’ll last a lot longer. So if you’re going to get a custom-made suit, and a custom-made shirt, why go off to the right and get a tie from Marshalls? So my customer is still out there. And knowing that when I wake up in the morning, there’s a guy out there looking for something special. He’s looking for a cashmere or a tweed bowtie, something unique. And nobody’s providing that for him. So it’s up to me to go to the shop at 25 Halsey Street and create exactly what he can’t put his finger on and somehow let him know that it’s here.
How would you like to see Michael Lamont Neckwear grow and evolve in the next 10 years? Well, we have in this specific area of the east coast been growing into somewhat of a household name. But I want to take the business to a place where you don’t have to travel miles to get our stuff. We’re in the process of working out a situation with Nordstrom that will afford us the ability to get exactly what you see here abroad. So prayerfully we’ll have that wrapped up soon, and who knows where we’ll go from there. But there are many great household names that started off the exact same way, running around the streets with neckties in their trunk. What we did in the past two years, being on the cover of the Star-Ledger, on the front of O Magazine, those things were fantastic, but those aren’t things I sought after. They came to us. But this year we’re going all out. This year, the sky’s the limit.
Michael Lamont is located at 25 Halsey Street, Newark NJ. Be on the look out for our follow-up post celebrating the 20th Anniversary Party for Michael Lamont Neckwear, December 15th at Nanina’s In the Park.