Bolo, clip-on, ascot, bow, knit, neck and the father of ties, the puffy, pomp-fueled cravat, have all clutched at the throats of men (and sometimes women) since the dawn of dressing uncomfortably to impress each other.
In the very narrow dress code of menswear, a select few have been known to challenge wardrobe conformity with the flagrant act of defiance known as “the unusual neck tie.” Deviants clad in piano keyboards and unorthodox floral patterns have protested blind style obedience while silently sipping their morning coffees. Brooks Brothers beware.
The king of these office iconoclasts happens to be Ponte Vedra local Edward Mickolus, aka the “Gentleman Heretic,” the “Fashion Frondeur” and the “Vouge Guerilla.” While his true identity might be a shock in comparison to his affable nature, a trip to the garage of his quiet Nocatee home reveals a collection of over 1,700 wacky, eccentric and downright preposterous neckties.
Made from all different materials including aluminum, wood, rhinestone and rubber, the only thing that ties Mickolus’ ties together are their unquestionably “distinctive” nature. He has one for just about every possible event and occasion — and he wears them often.
“I have 20 Christmas ties,” Mickolus said. “Twenty Halloween ties. I’m a little stuck for Saint Swithin's day, but otherwise I’m covered.”
In addition to a few ties that simply, “cannot be worn comfortably,” Mickolus has a couple ties made of filmstrips, a tie signed by Rodney Dangerfield, a tie made of feathers, a tie decorated in hand-painted peanut shells, a tie signed by president George W. Bush, a “Baywatch” tie, and, his two personal favorites, a tie with a picture of his daughter and another with one of his wife on their first date. He also still owns his first tie, a tiny tie from when he was 4 years old.
As you can imagine, Mickolus’ life is as colorful as his tie collection. The first full-time terrorism analyst for the CIA, Mickolus began collecting ties 45 years ago, after he began his career with the government. There, he became the directorate of intelligence, where he wrote psychiatric profiles of world leaders, collected intelligence on narcotics trafficking organizations and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), spent time undercover and was an analyst for information on political and social issues in Africa. Mickolus has been interviewed by actors wanting to understand what real CIA analyst looks like, including Ben Affleck and Alice Krige.
In addition, he is a voiceover specialist, announcer, public speaker, actor, model, UNF instructor, business owner, comedian and author of 36 books.
One could say the “Tie Guy” is always on the fly.
A few of his books include, “The Secret Book of CIA Humor,” “The 50 Worst Terrorist Attacks,” “Two Spies Walk Into a Bar,” and, of course, almost every collection, chronology and biographical nuance of terrorism, terrorists and counterintelligence one can imagine.
“Most of the books I write tend to be collections,” Mickolus said.
Which, obviously, makes sense given his affinity for compiling and assembling things, whether it be ties or detailed information.
“It’s just how people will collect clocks and show how there are different ways of being a clock, in essence.” Mickolus said. “(For example) there is a computer museum in Boston that shows the development of computers from the abacus on. That’s interesting, they are collectors … a museum is just a collection with a really good PR department.”
These days, most of Mickolus’ tie collection is accrued through close family and friends that will stumble on a tie or seek one out as a gift. He credits his wife, who is supportive of his collecting, with gifting him some of the best ties he owns. Because his collection has amassed so significantly, he now only accepts ties that are “really eye-catching.”
“If it’s garish, clearly it’s coming in the collection,” Mickolus said. “If it’s made out of something weird — it’s in.”
Although when pressed for specific details he concluded, “You just know it when you see it.”
And yet, he said, his wife still seems to find these know-it-when-you-see-it, diamond-in-the-ruff neckties.
Mickolus does admit, however, the necktie itself is becoming a bit of a fossil. These days, people are less likely to don a tie at work, opting for an open collar and a more relaxed look.
“It started with casual Friday,” he said. Although, he added with a smile, “It is a lot more comfortable.”
At the very least, Mickolus’ collection is incredibly well organized. Most of his ties hang in rows, zipped up in a plastic display case in his tidy garage. When carefully inspected, there is a certain method to the design. SpongeBob sits next to Dilbert and Homer Simpson. Fishing ties are grouped accordingly. There are a funky vintage section and celebrity-clad ties featuring Elvis, Marylin Monroe and Mother Teresa casually milling about each other.
One day, he hopes that a museum somewhere will permanently secure his collection but has yet to find one. Ties this impressive deserve a proper home, one where they will be seen and admired. As of right now, he said, his daughter is going to get a LOT of neckties.
On a side note, Mickolus also has a pretty good assortment of interesting cufflinks.
Mickolus pointed out that some people just enjoy the act of collecting, saying, “you are either a collector or you’re not.” Once he participated in a “get together” for collectors hosted by the Washington Post. On either side of his ties was a collection of 6,000 shot glasses and 3,000 salt shakers.
While he enjoys ties, he doesn’t turn his nose up at other collector’s objects. Mickolus can see the beauty of salt shakers as well. For him, the charm of the collection lies not in the object as a thing, but in the various ways people have come up with creatively expressing unique versions of it. A collection in its truest form celebrates the imagination of people — it’s not just an object.
Although Mickolus’ collection may seem bizarre, the aspiration to collect is far from abnormal. The behavior is linked to some of the earliest human societies and is apparent across cultural divides. As far back as humans began making things, they began collecting them as well. As to “why” people collect, there is a lot of speculation, but no studies seem to be able to pinpoint the motivation for the behavior.
“Maybe it’s trying to impose order on things,” Mickolus said. “In this little area, you can impose order.”
Perhaps that is something a CIA analyst might find to be a meaningful undertaking — or, anyone, really.
For anyone interested in seeing Edward Mickolus’ curious collection of distinctive neckties, his work will be on display at the St. Johns County Public Library Main Branch from May 14 through June 30.
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