Jennifer Lee O'Brien
You might know Simon Thorpe as the director of studies at Leeds College of Art, but you might also know him as the stylish man about town with the wooden bow tie.
Simon leaves an impression. He wears checked suits with coloured socks. He has an appreciation for natural fibres and pure wool, with which he’s worked all his life; he uses industry terms like ‘worsted’ and ‘warp and weft’. He tells wonderful stories in a matter-of-fact tone, so they’re draped with magical realism. He introduces himself with his first name, followed by his full name, which feels both conscientious and cartoony. He would make a great companion to a lavish, bohemian party. People there would remember the articulate, stylish man with the wooden bow tie.
One night we attended a fashion show for graduate students at the Corn Exchange, and looked across the room at Simon, who was sitting with his arms bent on his knees, his eyes on the stage. Hip hop music was playing, the lights were bright, everyone was taking turns looking serious and clapping with their programmes in their lap. We just kept noticing Simon’s wooden bow tie.
When we ask Simon to tell us about the wooden bow tie, he repeats, like it’s the title of a story by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Wooden Bow Tie”. Which is appropriate because Simon’s first wooden bow tie was from Denmark. We’ll let Simon tell you that.
Simon, sitting in an office in Leeds, wearing a William Hunt shadow-checked suit and colourful socks, says: “You know it’s funny, because the first wooden bow tie I owned was when I was working in industry. It was handmade by a company called Hans Wegner, which is a wooden-based furniture manufacturer in Denmark. I used to do business with them. Hans Wegner — he’s dead now — but he designed classic furniture over the years.”
Later, we Googled Hans Wegner, also known as Hans Jørgensen Wegner, and learned that he did design classic furniture and designed over 500 chairs in his lifetime. Some of his furniture is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, although you only need to look at any coffee shop on Instagram to get an idea of the extent of his modern-Scandi influence. Remember that, when you think of the wooden bow tie.
Simon, a tall man, bending forward with the authority of The Thinker statue, says: “I used to wear silk bow ties, which became a bit of a trademark at the trade fairs I was going to. And they [the Hans Wegner company, with furniture in the Museum of Modern Art in New York] suddenly presented me with this wooden bow tie.”
This is the sort of man Simon Thorpe is. The kind of man who wears silk bow ties so often that that when Hans Wegner make a wooden one, they send one to Simon to wear. This is the sort of man you would like to drink a glass of whiskey with at a party.
Simon, his voice controlled and booming, says: “I started wearing that tie. And then I went to a store in London that represents craft makers. They had a company from Iceland that were selling this particular bow tie.”
Simon points to the wooden bow tie at his neck, his most recent.
Simon says: “It’s actually beech wood. It’s steamed and bent into the shape of the bow tie. So I thought, I’ll try that.”
The story goes, that beech wood bow tie took days, and days, and days to arrive. But when it did, we like to imagine it came in a glossy Icelandic beech wood box with a small metal clasp.
We like to imagine that every night, when it has been worn to important meetings and fashion shows and lavish Bohemian parties, the wooden bow tie is returned to its home in the glossy Icelandic beech wood box for a rest. ••