Bowtie Kind of Guy: La Jolla entrepreneur rides retro style revival
See ZB attempt to set the ‘largest bow tie’ world record
Where: CicloSDias event main stage, Cass Street and Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach
When: 9:45 a.m. Sunday, March 30
More about ZB Savoy Bowtie Co.
By Pat Sherman
Like other fashion conscious, artistic guys in their 20s and 30s, La Jolla Shores musician Zach Barnhorst started wearing bow ties several years ago, particularly when performing on stage.
However, at the dawn of the bow tie’s resurgence as a sporty fashion accessory, he found the selection slim, and decided to design a few of his own.
With some tips from his mother, the use of her Singer sewing machine and a basic pattern from a local fabric store, Barnhorst began creating custom bow ties, soon grabbing the attention of friends and associates.
More than two years later, The Bishop’s School graduate is selling his creations through his company, ZB Savoy Bowtie Co., and is poised to release a new line of bow ties, neckties, suspenders, wallets, scarves and other fashion accessories for hip young gents.
“The bow tie has long been a statement of conservatism, but I don’t think it is anymore. It can be a less formal, more casual piece that says something about your personality,” said Barnhorst, 37, who worked as a music producer-engineer and songwriter in Los Angeles before returning to La Jolla (for acts such as Unwritten Law, 311 and Pepper).
The bow tie’s resurgence in popularity, he said, is part of a larger reverence among younger adults for early 20th century American fashion and culture — from craft cocktails to swing, roots and big band music.
“There’s a whole movement of respect for the vintage,” he said. “It’s just a nod to an era that our generation all missed out on. It gets romanticized in our heads and so you lean towards it and want to be a part of it.”
Barnhorst, largely known as “ZB” to friends and fans of his band, ZB Savoy and the Chivalry, still sells the first style bow tie he made — a brown tie with white polka dots called “the original.”
The collection — which sell for $39 to $44 each — now includes fanciful designs and fun names paying homage to literary figures, such as “The Tom Robbins,” “The James Joyce,” “The Bukowski” and “The Hemmingway” (the later festooned with skull and cross bones).
Recently, Aerosmith frontman and former “American Idol” judge Steven Tyler took a liking to ZB’s “The Blondie,” a pink bow tie with white polka dots.
Barnhorst was invited to participate in a “gifting suite,” just prior to the 2014 Grammy Awards. While there, he met and placed his product in the hands of Tyler and celebrities from LL Cool J to Macklemore.
“It’s crazy. They walk around with a giant duffel bag and hit each one of our booths,” he said. “There were probably 17 or 18 booths, from Gibson guitars to a really high-end women’s shoe line.”
The giveaways can pay off should celebrities be seen wearing or using a company’s product.
“They’re trendsetters in the world,” Barnhorst said. “People keep their eyes on them, so it’s a great opportunity as a maker of goods.”
His spring and summer collection, available March 25 at zbsavoy.com, includes ties in two-tones (dual fabrics), soft shades of blue and purple and “masculine florals.”
“I love the idea of using floral patterns without them being girly; it’s still a gentlemen’s accessory,” said Barnhorst, who has fashioned ties from cotton, burlap, linen, silk and other materials.
“What I’m trying to do and I think what a lot of other people are trying to do is use more interesting fabrics,” he said. “At the far end of the spectrum you see ties made out of wood or safety pins or crazy things like that.”
Barnhorst’s mother, Marnie Barnhorst, said her son’s penchant for bow ties harkens back to family tradition.
“We always wear ties for thanksgiving,” she said, adding that she’s given up any hope of getting her sewing machine back.
“I gave him one for Christmas so I could get mine back,” she said, with a laugh. “He didn’t like the one he got for Christmas so he kept using mine. Now mine is broken and he started using the one he got for Christmas.”
These days, local seamstresses do most of ZB Savoy’s sewing, though Barnhorst still sits down to sew a sample or fill a last-minute custom order.
At 10 a.m. this Sunday, March 30, he will attempt to set a Guinness World Record by tying the largest bow tie in history during the CicloSDias bicycle event in Pacific Beach (see info box on opposite page for details). His band, ZB Savoy and the Chivalry, will also perform during the event at noon.
To make the tie, he had to track down about 120 yards of the same polka dot fabric. “I kid you not, there is no more of this material left in San Diego,” Barnhorst chimed.
Though tying the 20-foot-long bow tie will be a feat, learning to tie the regular-sized accessory is a breeze, he said. Each product box includes eight-step instructions.
“I can now tie these with no mirror in a matter of seconds,” he said. “It has become just sort of second nature.”
However, product packaging cautions customers not to don the product too fastidiously.
“If your tie isn’t a little bit crooked,” it reads, “why would that pretty girl help you straighten it?”
In the meantime, ZB can be found performing in one of his trendsetting ties 6-9 p.m. Wednesday nights (when not on tour) at Table 926 restaurant, 926 Turquoise St. in north Pacific Beach (table926.com)
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