The U2 song “Cedarwood Road,” in which Bono sings “up on Cedarwood Road” about the street he grew up on, emphasizes just how impactful a place can be. It’s in my head as I drive up to Wallace School Road in West Ashley in Charleston to a nondescript, low-standing structure. Inside, it is humming with more than forty artisans creating high-end men’s—and soon to be women’s—accessories. In many ways, these artisans are part of the Brackish brand’s foundation, which began because of the suggestion that it could be done.
Visiting the Brackish offices on my wedding anniversary is especially fitting, as, in fact (and in lore), a wedding kicked off the whole idea of a bow tie made of feathers. It was co-owner Ben Ross’s own big day. One of of his groomsmen, Jeff Plotner, was so inspired by Ross’s creation of a turkey feather bow tie as his groomsman gift that the pair subsequently founded Brackish.
The wedding was in 2007. For the next five years, Plotner, as proud as a peacock, wore his feather bow tie his friend and fellow Wofford College alum had rather daringly divined out of turkey feathers. Ross, a preternaturally passionate outdoorsman, had been awestruck by what Archibald Rutledge, the first South Carolina poet laureate, described in An American Hunter as the “regal plumage” of the turkey. Ross also noticed how the angle of the feather mimicked the shape of a bow tie.
“I wore mine out to every wedding,” Plotner, a former mortgage broker, says as he walks me through the Brackish studio where feather bow ties have been fashioned into myriad objects—lampshades, on life buoys, and in a massive bow tie wall piece—“and I’ve never had so many random people come up and talk to me about something I was wearing. I got to the point in my life where I was getting this entrepreneurial bug, and I wanted to start my own thing, and I couldn’t think of a better idea than what Ben had come up with. He was still making them for friends and family on the side, and I called him up one day and said, ‘Hey, I think you have an idea that more people need to know about and I think we can get it out there.’”
Photography by Paul Mehaffey
Far out there, actually. After launching in 2012, the handmade, one-of-a-kind bow ties, which are all made in Charleston, are sold in 367 speciality stores, as well as swanky big retailers like Neiman Marcus, Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, and in Harrods in London, to name a few. And, it is simply impossible—if not downright irresponsible—to write any words of length on Brackish without mentioning Bill Murray. In fact, the list of celebrity fans of Brackish reads like Page Six of the New York Post: Don Cheadle, Ted Danson, the Carolina Panther’s quarterback, Cam Newton, Nascar driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr, not to mention the legions of grooms and groomsmen in between. With actress Blake Lively wearing one with a tuxedo-inspired ensemble on the red carpet last year, the brand will astutely widen its scope with its upcoming line for women.
The bow ties take 4–5 hours to create and are made from any mix of feathers (turkey, peacock, pheasant, guinea, goose, and quail), which are procured from the very same supplier in the Midwest that they’ve used since their inception. They are responsibly sourced, so that no fowl is fouled: the feathers are collected from free-range birds, or when the feathers drop naturally by molting. The ties range in price from $195–$225, and each style has a dedicated name bestowed on them by Ross, who thoughtfully ascribes to them meaningful places (Edisto, Mill Pond) or pets (Starfire, after his childhood horse), or other moments or memories, hoping they will be part of yours—whether you are an Oscar winner (like the producer of the award-winning film, Green Book, wearing Brackish’s Gatsby tie at February’s Academy Awards), or just somebody who would wear a bow tie, or perhaps another accessory, like a plum thicket pin for your hat or lapel, a feather pocket square, or a bespoke cummerbund. All works of art—especially the latter, which earns its price tag of $695 for the nearly 200 feathers (painstakingly applied by hand) and 20 hours it takes to craft.
Surely a company of Brackish’s scope and stature might have plucked their people from big-city fashion institutes or highbrow designer internships, right? Not so fast. The first three people Plotner ever asked to come to his condo, in which he was trying to get this turkey tie idea to fly, found him by answering his ad on Craigslist. It’s that homegrown. And it’s a good thing they moved the operation to Wallace School Road when they did: Courtney, who assisted in the early days and is now Plotner’s wife, soon found she was allergic to feathers.
I’m about to ask another question to Plotner when my coughing fit strikes. Thankfully my husband, who tagged along, keeps the conversation going. We laugh at the notion that just talking about someone being allergic can suddenly bring out a reaction like a cough. But that’s the power of suggestion—and it sure worked out for Jeff and Ben.
Brackish products can be purchased locally at Rush Wilson Limited, 23 W North St, Greenville, rushwilson.com.