Grateful Dead fans who have traded in their tie-dyes for neckties could find themselves in a quandary on their next shopping spree.
Will it be neck attire designed by the band’s late guitarist Jerry Garcia or fancy wear that carries the group’s infamous icons?
A little more than a year after Garcia’s death, two companies are battling for the necks of Deadheads.
“They are able to put something on that brings back the memories of a time that they loved - whether they are going into an executive board meeting or any business conference,” said Irwin Sternberg, president of Stonehenge Inc. in New York.
Stonehenge pioneered the J. Garcia line of ties with psychedelic and geometric artwork by the guitarist. Mulberry Neckware, its San Rafael, Calif., competitor, introduced in September a new line adorned with art from the band’s albums and concert backdrops.
Among the designs are dancing bears, paying tribute to the band’s early sound man, Augustus Owsley Stanley III whose nickname was Bear. Others are a skull with a lightning bolt, a garland and ribbon decorating many of the group’s skeleton characters, and an oversized red-whiteand-blue Uncle Sam hat that Garcia often wore in jest.
Both lines of ties are sold at department stores - often side by side.
“It’s something to wear to work and be slightly rebellious,” said Katy Smith, president of Mulberry Neckware.
Garcia was behind this fashion flashback when he decided in 1992 to allow Stonehenge to manufacture ties in Florida based on his artwork.
Mulberry says the surviving members of the now-defunct band are behind its line. The company believes its neckware has a stronger connection to the band, while J. Garcia ties are more of an art statement.
“When you buy the ties and you’re a deadhead, you can get a little bit emotional,” said Mulberry spokeswoman Judith Agisim. “Jerry Garcia’s artwork was his artwork. It did not bring the passion of Uncle Sam or the dancing bears.”
By the time of his death in August 1995, Garcia had given a new look to the necktie industry. Stonehenge went from a company making conservative ties to one on the cutting edge. It now sells millions of just the Garcia line.
“We owe so much to Jerry,” Sternberg said. “When we launched this back in 1992, everything just exploded with our company.”
Bloomingdale’s department store in New York City sold about 3,000 ties in 48 hours when the J. Garcia line was first introduced.
On the day of the guitarist’s death, some unscrupulous retailers were selling the $35 ties for as much as $200, Sternberg said.
Mulberry sells its Grateful Dead Neckwear for $29.50 and denies it is cannibalizing the J. Garcia line. Smith attributed its success “to the great designs and great colors.”
The competition disagrees.
Mulberry has “learned from good techniques on success,” Sternberg said. “We are just hoping consumers can see the difference.”
Of course, Garcia never did trade in his tie-dyed shirts for the corporate look.
“Jerry did not even wear a tie in 25 years, and now his name has become synonymous (with) a designer label,” Sternberg said.