Finickey in Philadelphia
The magical art of transformation lies in the antique case of a modern Philadelphia haberdasher
Article by Christen Fisher
“Neckwear is art,” says Anthony T. Kirby or at least his Instagram persona @Finickey does. I’m skeptical. Traditionally, a tie was a thick strip of fabric knotted at the neck, a leash and collar all-in-one, metaphorically binding a man to his job, his house of worship, his place in society. It served—forgive the pun—as a knot-so-subtle reminder of a gentleman’s obligations in life.
Some of my earliest memories are of my father coming home after a long day at the office and immediately loosening his tie and unbuttoning his shirt collar. His relief in this daily gesture was palpable even to a young child. And until he’d accomplished it, he was not my father, but rather some strange, otherworldly, uniformed creature, unapproachable and mysterious. For me, Dad became Dad when he shed the yoke of his suit and tie in favor of a plaid flannel shirt and jeans the color of his eyes that crinkled up at the corners when at last he would smile at me.
With the advent of business casual, I wonder if children today are somehow missing out as they will never witness the magical transformation of a father, never feel empowered by the secret knowledge of his true identity concealed beneath the suit and tie. No longer a requirement or even a sign of gainful employment, my own father now gleefully telecommutes each day clad in a version of the red plaid and Levis from my childhood recollections, his secret identity as a wannabe lumberjack revealed daily.
For men like him, haberdashery has fallen to the wayside, a rusted remnant of a chain thankfully made obsolete by modern technology. Even for those men who still travel to a physical office every day, dress shirts, when worn at all, are open at the collar. The modern yoke of employment has become a smartphone in the hand instead of a tie around the neck.
And because of this, one might envision today’s haberdasher as a forlorn and ancient man wandering alone through gray city streets, the collar of his fraying Chesterfield coat turned up against the cold winds of change as he peddles his moot wares from a tattered old briefcase, searching for clients under rocks and other dank crevices of anachronism where cell reception is limited and Wi-Fi non-existent.
I paint a bleak picture, which fortunately save for a few details entirely misses the mark as I discovered a few weeks ago when I caught up with modern Philadelphia haberdasher and designer Anthony T. Kirby of Finickey.
Anthony is a youthful 50 with a broad, easy smile and a bright-eyed enthusiasm for clothing and design that is as infectious as his warm, rich laugh. He wears a single-breasted Glen plaid sport coat with a natural shoulder, a hunter green, check widespread collar shirt, and between them a pale yellow, doeskin waistcoat embroidered with pheasants in honor of the season. There is a paisley silk square in his pocket, a silk knot in his boutonniere hole, and a wool plaid tie made from vintage suiting material, all atop a pair of over-dyed Levi’s. No fraying Chesterfield and certainly no upturned collar. Instead his outfit seems to shout that winds of change should not be feared, but harnessed and ridden to heights heretofore unimagined. It is the expression of an artist whose medium is fabric and whose canvas is his own body.
He does carry an antique case, but neither it nor its contents could ever be termed tattered or obsolete. Inlaid with chestnut and fitted with the cast-iron legs of a Victorian soaking tub, he calls it his “mini showroom” or “portable haberdashery.” He places the case on the table and opens it to reveal a dazzling kaleidoscope of color, pattern and texture. If Mr. Kirby is an artist, then this case is a fully loaded palette just waiting for his next canvas.
He started out wanting be a long-haul trucker. A life of adventure spent on the road appealed right up until high school when he discovered girls tend to favor stylish boys. Out went the trucks and in came a budding sense of style. He enrolled in the home economics classes at his high school where his first encounter with ties was a class project conducted at the Gallery in downtown Philly. Wide ties of the 1970s had recently gone out of fashion, so gentlemen from the surrounding area were invited to drop off their out of style ties and pay a small fee for a high school sewing student to narrow them. He later studied at New York City’s famed Fashion Institute of Technology, and worked for iconic men’s retailers and designers including Peter Elliot, Ralph Lauren, Crockett & Jones, and Boyds Philadelphia. He doesn’t say, but along the way I’m sure he managed his share of girls too.
As I plunge my hands into the irresistible swirl of foulard, Mogador, and challis, Anthony tells me he’s been taking a lot of appointments and doing a lot of pop-ups lately. They give him “the ability to touch the customer” the way his website cannot. Men’s clothing has really evolved, he explains. It’s not suit-oriented. Men are no longer following a script on dressing well or dressing for work. They’re wearing jackets, indigo, gingham checks, everything and anything, so ties and squares must evolve beyond their staid origins.
Still distracted a bit by the case—in particular, a navy silk crepe, bandana paisley pocket square—I ask what makes a good tie and how he knows a certain fabric or pattern will work. “Movement,” he says and instructs me to picture Fred Astaire. “Clothes should move with you.” Fabrics need to be spongy, resilient, light. He rolls a raw cut of fabric into the general shape of a tie and as if by magic it comes to life erasing any prior thoughts I had about leashes, collars, and yokes.
Anthony’s magic lies is in his desire to teach as it as much as in his ability to create, a fact confirmed by the extensive menswear glossary on his website. Curious, I ask him about it. He begins by declaring, “there are no secrets in the marketplace any more,” but there is a lot of misinformation, bastardized terms like custom, made-to-measure, and limited edition. A client should know they’re not just buying a tie, but rather a hand-rolled tie with a light wool lining.
When he uses a term like “limited edition” to refer to a pocket square or a tie in his collection, he means it. Many of the fabrics he uses are antique, so he can only make two or three pieces, six at the most. The sense of urgency a client feels to wear or own one of his limited edition ties is based on the piece’s true rarity, not an artificial parameter invented by a marketing team. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he says.
His curated collection is constantly evolving based on the season, client demand, and like any artist what appeals to him in the moment whenever he’s on the hunt for material. Clients invite him to bring his portable haberdashery into their homes and businesses not because they need help hiding themselves to conform to society’s expectations the way my father once did, but because they are looking for quality, unique pieces to wear as a means of self-expression.
“Like me, they’re finicky,” he says and laughs as he confesses that the name actually came from his mother-in-law who said about his habit of hanging to dry undershirts to prevent shrinkage, “You know what you are? Finicky.” He took it as a compliment, added an “e” for distinction, and built a modern haberdashery business around a high-touch client service philosophy that prizes above all else an individual approach to style.
Finickey is a brand designed from its inception to be about wearable style unique to the individual. A gentleman wears a Finickey tie or pocket square or both that has been chosen just for him. He isn’t, in the true sense of the word, branded by Finickey so much as he can with Anthony Kirby’s expertise, find himself within the brand. And perhaps that’s the real magic.
Neckwear from $110 US, bowties and pocket squares starting at $65.