My Liberty Tie Makes Me Want to Cry. Here’s Why I Wear It Weekly

A silvery-blue tie with a pattern of tiny red flowers. It is heavy silk. The label inside is purple. This tie is a symbol of loss and regret. I feel like crying every time I look at it. It is beautiful. I wear it all the time.

My dad died suddenly in 2008. He loved Liberty ties, always with dense and minute floral patterns that look like William Morris wallpaper. When he was a student at Oxford in the early 1960s, Liberty was the height of British chic. Carnaby Street, outside, was just poised to explode into its role as paragon of mod, the best-known symbol of Swinging London. At that time, Liberty was still associated with Art Nouveau — its swirling prints were derived from Arts and Crafts patterns, and that meant, to my parents, everything from John Ruskin to Bloomsbury. Everything London. My dad would pick up a tie of tiny petals every time he went to London. He gave me a couple of them over the years.

So when, almost 10 years later, I went to London with a woman who loved me — loved me more and better than anyone else or anything I deserved — and whom I was treating badly, not because I didn’t love her, but just due to the terminal self-destruction of the self-absorbed — I told her I had to visit the Liberty store.

It was hot summer and Soho was thronged and Carnaby Street was all dancey and Oxford Street was roaring and dusty. Everything was intense.

“I hadn’t told her about the importance of this store in my family history. So when I showed her the tie, emotional, she said, “Very nice. Took you long enough.”

Liberty is stupid expensive. It’s in this big fake Tudor building built in 1924. The timbers come from two 19th-century Royal Navy ships. There are fireplaces. I told the woman I had to select the tie on my own. She went to another store to get a wedding present for someone else. Inside, nobody was shopping but a Middle Eastern lady in a full-face veil. Two sturdy bodyguards in dark suits stood a few feet from her, holding her bags.

The ties were $170. Ridiculous. I agonized. I had to do it. How silly. For a tie! I had to do it. I picked one, left it, walked around the store again. I picked the green, then the blue, then the pink, then the blue again. The soberest one, the one my dad might wear. I paid, feeling crazy and romantic and daring. I wished I could show it to my dad.

Outside, the woman was waiting. We had had some tension already on this trip. Her friend was getting married. On the day I arrived I had annoyed her by staring, jet-lagged, too noticeably at some girls in the Tube. Then there was the business about the handsome guys at the wedding. I wanted us to stop bickering.

I hadn’t told her about the importance of this store in my family history. So when I showed her the tie, emotional, she said, “Very nice. Took you long enough.”

Still, my memory of that whole trip is of feeling gratitude, both to her and for this sense of homage to England, to family — and she did allow me to show her that, to reminisce about childhood stays. She indulged me in my sudden tears in front of my old school. She was kind.

It was the last time we were happy. I continued to confuse her until she had had enough. Afterwards, I could not believe I had behaved the way I did. She does not speak to me now. I wear this exquisite tie weekly as a badge of remorse, which is also in a strange way a means of speaking to her, and to my dad too, I think, and I hope that it will bring at least one of them back.

Russell Smith’s latest book, Confidence, was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Prize and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.