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Rock 'n' Roll : Rags = Riches : Legions of rock fans are remembering their heroes with Janis Joplin-style hats and John Lennon-inspired specs. But the hottest items, appropriately, are loud ties.

July 16, 1993|MAUREEN SAJBEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Music is the muse behind some of the top-performing fashions in stores right now. Singers, past and present, inspired particular looks; visual ar chives of late jazz and rock musicians' estates have been tapped; and hip- hoppers are jumping into design.

The rock 'n' roll necktie, an oxymoron if ever there was one, is getting plenty of attention in men's shops. J. Garcia (Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead) and John Lennon--guys not exactly known for wearing ties--are the hot labels, whose designs are artworks sketched or painted by the musicians. Deadheads snapped up an amazing $35 million worth of the $30 Garcia ties over the past year, according to Stonehenge, the manufacturer.

"Rock 'n' roll ties are a surprisingly large part of our business," says Kris Weiss, general merchandise manager for the Knot Shop, a Chicago-based national chain with branches in Century City and Glendale. "They sell exceptionally well."

Others to consider: the new neckwear line printed with psychedelic poster art from the Fillmore, the '60s- and '70s-era auditorium owned by the late rock promoter Bill Graham; Beatles song theme ties, and the upcoming Miles Davis ties with reproductions of paintings by the late jazz trumpeter.

The ties' popularity has little to do with music, it seems. They're appealing because of the moderate price, mostly $27.50 to $37.50, as well as their place in the current trend of oddball ties that can start a conversation, convey a common interest or break the ice in places as diverse as boardrooms and singles bars.

"Ties are not just ties anymore. They're bumper stickers. They're an announcement," says Norman Karr, director of the Men's Fashion Assn. "Whatever you want to say, there's a tie for it. If they can make a deal with the estate, I'm sure there will be an Elvis tie."

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, is still busy licensing the former Beatle's serigraphs, so this current batch of ties, cummerbunds and bow ties is just the start. She's negotiating men's, women's, boy's and children's sports apparel for fall. Eagle Eyewear has the nod to reproduce Lennon's tiny, round wire rims in Italy.

Rappers and hip-hoppers have spawned their own mini retail empires. X-Large, partially owned by Beastie Boys rapper Mike Diamond, opens its fourth store, on Beverly Boulevard, at the end of this month. Diamond co-designs X-Large's house-brand oversized corduroy pants, T-shirts, knit hats and baseball caps. In December, the store will add the rock 'n' roll-inspired X-Girl line designed by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon.

And Funkeessentials in Los Angeles carries Tommy Boy, a music label (Naughty by Nature, House of Pain, Digital Underground) that started selling clothing to the general public a year and a half ago when demand grew for its promotional clothing. What began with Tommy Boy logo jackets from Carhardt--the old-time manufacturer known for industrial-strength canvas clothes for farmers and mechanics-- has since expanded into a line of hats, sweat shirts and windbreakers.

In the not-too-distant future, a line called Phat Farm will debut on the West Coast. It's a collection of oversized casual wear and jeans favored by rappers, as well as the name of the new small SoHo boutique that houses it. Owner Russell Simmons is also partner in Def Jam Records, the rap powerhouse that includes LL Cool J and Public Enemy. By spring, if all goes according to plan, there will be mini Phat Farms boutiques in department stores.

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