To misquote Plato, necessity is the mother of all creation. At least for Igor Karklin, a 21-year-old economics student whose failure to find a single decent bow tie in his hometown Vladivostok prompted him to design and create his own. Karklin, a skinny jeans-wearing baby-faced faced Jonathan Rhys Meyers lookalike, didn’t waste any time in acquiring the skills he needed for his new trade. He found a tailor who agreed to make bow ties for a reasonable price and spent hours peering over his shoulder, learning how to design and cut patterns, choose the right fabric and use a sewing machine. He recalls the moment he created his first bow tie, without any help, with a sense of satisfaction. “I immediately put it on and looked in the mirror,” he says. “I realised that I could make something that people needed. Something beautiful yet practical.”
“The problem is that all the young and fashion-conscious people leave for the west”
Not only did Karklin end up with the bow tie he wanted, he went on to design a range of ties. His undertaking, although small, is significant given the nature of the local fashion scene in Vladivostok, a farflung outpost on the eastern edge of Russia best known to foreigners as the last stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway. According to Karklin, its proximity to Asia means the city is flooded with low-quality Chinese-made clothes rather than cutting-edge Japanese fashions. Logistical difficulties also mean that big chains such as Zara don’t even consider opening up in Vladivostok. “There are few well-dressed people in a city like this,” he says. “The problem is that all the young and fashion-conscious people leave for the west. My friends mainly buy stuff from the internet.”
If he has time, Karklin travels to St Petersburg in search of fabric, otherwise it is bought online. He chooses fabric either because of its texture (corduroy, velvet, wool), its pattern (polka dots, checked) or its colour and each tie and bow tie comes mounted on a sheet of polished plywood bearing the Karklin stamp of authentication. A video posted on Vimeo gives potential customers a playful insight into how he crafts his garments. With bluegrass playing in the background, Karklin sets to work, proving he is every inch the modern-day dandy, as he switches from saw to sewing machine with equal ease.
Once he completed his first collection, Karklin faced a hurdle common to young Russian entrepreneurs: selling his product. He set up a website, but sales were negligible. Then came a page on Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site not dissimilar to Facebook, which has so far proved to be the most effective sales channel. Now working on his fourth collection, Karklin’s hard work has paid off. He has established a network of five, soon to be seven, stores in Russia which sell his accessories, and plans are already afoot to export them to Germany and Italy.
With bow ties experiencing something of a renaissance in Russia, Karklin’s timing couldn’t be better. Quality and craftsmanship are currently key factors in international men’s fashion and a new breed of dandies, inspired in part by street fashion blogs like The Sartorialist, has turned the bow tie into an essential accessory. Walk into any high-end Russian menswear boutique and you’re bound to find a selection of the neck decor made iconic by Anton Chekhov — one brand is even named after the 19th-century dramatist.
To add to his collection of men’s accessories, Karklin is now turning his attention to glasses with the same can-do, spot-a-gap-in-the-market-and-plug-it attitude that gave rise to his bow ties. “It’s incredibly difficult to do anything here because of the lack of materials,” he says. “So I’ve just ordered 50kg of polycarbonate from Moscow to make the kind of glasses I haven’t seen anywhere in Vladivostok.”