BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : NOVEMBER 15, 1999 ISSUE
BUSINESSWEEK LIFESTYLE

Handmade in Naples (int'l edition)
Marinella--for the perfect $140 tie

In an era when once-exclusive luxury brands are now sold in airports, shopping malls, and over the Internet, tiemaker Maurizio Marinella still makes his customers come to him. And they do, in droves. From E. Marinella, his 20-square-meter shop overlooking the Bay of Naples, Marinella sells $4.5 million a year worth of neckties without spending a cent on advertising. King Juan Carlos of Spain, Italian industrial magnate Gianni Agnelli, even U.S. President Bill Clinton--all have made the trek to Marinella for ties costing an average $140.

It's no wonder Marinella ties are the most sought-after on earth. Each is cut from a square of silk printed in England by a company that has supplied the Italian tiemaker since 1914. After the customer chooses among hundreds of patterns on display, his measurements are taken to ensure a perfect fit. Each tie is is fully lined with silk cut from the same square, which wearers say gives the tie a pleasant heft and impeccable fit. All sewing is done by hand, and no two Marinella ties are exactly alike. ''My grandfather taught me that ties are really the one unique fashion statement allowed to men,'' says Marinella, 44, whose grandfather, Eugenio Marinella, founded the business 85 years ago. ''The tie a man chooses is his personal signature.''

To walk into Marinella's shop is to enter an almost-forgotten world of personal service. Marinella arrives at 6:30 each morning, so that customers can stop by early on their way to work. By 10 a.m. the tiny store is packed with shoppers. But Marinella insists on helping each customer, looking through the mounds of silk squares displayed in 18th century mahogany cabinets and offering advice on colors, patterns, and measurements. Although most clients opt for custom-made ties, the shop also stocks ready-made ties and will alter the length and width to each customer's own specifications.

With that kind of attention, many customers come back for more. Giampiero Cimmino, a Neapolitan banker, recalls that buying his first Marinella at age 13 was like taking a step into manhood. ''I would sit outside the cafe and fiddle with it when a cute girl passed, so that the tag would 'accidentally' be facing up,'' he says.

Marinella sees little reason to alter the traditions started by his grandfather. There are no Internet or mail orders, although Marinella occasionally takes phone orders from longtime clients such as Prince Charles. He refuses to expand the store or open branch locations. ''I've never been invested in advertising, and the idea of franchising makes my skin crawl,'' he says. He has turned down offers to sell the business for $60 million.

Changes may be coming, though. Since 1997, Marinella has sold 50 ties a month through New York department store Bergdorf Goodman, which set up an in-store Marinella boutique. Now he is considering similar arrangements with a handful of retailers in other cities. But he promises that no Marinella tie will ever be machine-made. And he says his fondest hope is to pass the business on to his son. For now, most tie connoisseurs will have to keep beating a path to Marinella's door.

By KATE CARLISLE

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