New York Times
March 8, 2013
By Michael Schulman
What kind of man wears a bow tie?
In recent years, the answer has morphed from English professor, Chippendales dancer and Tucker Carlson, to semi-ironic urban dandy and the common metrosexual. Add to the list: freedom fighter.
That, anyway, is the ethos of Tie the Knot, a neckwear-and-solidarity project devised by the actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays one half of the gay couple on ABC’s “Modern Family,” and his fiancé, Justin Mikita.
In a loopy YouTube video posted last September, the couple simultaneously announced their engagement and a limited-edition line of bow ties to benefit marriage equality. “Who wouldn’t want to see us get married? We’re as cute as puppies!” Mr. Ferguson cooed to the camera, holding up their bow-tied Maltese-Yorkie. The inventory sold out in less than a month.
“Justin and I had always wanted to do something philanthropic,” Mr. Ferguson, 37, said recently over breakfast in SoHo. The couple was in town for their new spring line, which comes in snappy plaids and stripes. The bow ties, one of which was guest-designed by Isaac Mizrahi, are mostly named after New York landmarks, like the Delacorte, where Mr. Ferguson will be starring in “The Comedy of Errors” this summer.
Proceeds go to the Respect for Marriage Coalition, which advocates for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, currently being challenged before the United States Supreme Court.
In January, the pair helped organize a Bow Tie Lobby Day in Springfield, Ill., with the state’s lieutenant governor, Sheila Simon. Mr. Mikita, a doe-eyed 27-year-old lawyer, is the project’s managerial brains; Mr. Ferguson, in meetings with state senators, plied the soft power that comes with playing a lovable gay character on TV. (Ann Romney has called “Modern Family” her favorite show.)
“A lot of those senators were probably excited to meet Jesse, no matter what their politics are,” Mr. Mikita said.
The couple met in 2010 “through a mutual friend called the gym,” Mr. Ferguson said. Their first date was at a French restaurant in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, where Mr. Ferguson ordered escargots thinking they were moule frites. “We both just quietly suffered through some snails,” Mr. Mikita recalled.
Mr. Ferguson proposed last July, on a “glamping” trip in Tulum, Mexico. (His original plan, to propose on a moonlit beach, was scuttled when they were chased away by sand crabs.) From there they went to Playa Del Carmen, for his co-star Sofia Vergara’s 40th-birthday party. Mr. Ferguson told her the news in secret, not wanting to upstage the festivities. “And the next day, she gets engaged on the top of a Mayan ruin,” he said. “I was like, you upstaged me.”
Growing up gay in Albuquerque, Mr. Ferguson never expected to marry. The couple considered waiting for California to legalize same-sex marriage, but then got restless. “When it became legal in New York, Julie Bowen was like, ‘You and Justin have to get married now,’ ” Mr. Ferguson said, mentioning another of his co-stars. They plan to wed this summer in downtown Manhattan, though they were mum about the details. (Naturally, they’ll wear bow ties.)
After breakfast, the couple went to a two-hour tasting with a potential caterer, before arriving at the Tie the Knot party at Avenue, a Chelsea nightclub, looking dapper in their cocoa-colored bow ties. The crowd included comedy stars (Joan Rivers, Rachel Dratch), pompadoured “Project Runway” castoffs (Jesus Estrada, in a Viktor Luna bow tie) and at least one mayoral candidate (Christine Quinn).
As attendants hawked merchandise from usherette trays, guests got bow-tie happy. Greg Shugar, president of the Illinois-based company The Tie Bar, which produced the collection, explained the appeal. “Today, a guy who wears a bow tie is in his late 20s, early 30s, style-conscious, and not afraid to make some waves,” he said.
Not joining the bandwagon was Mr. Mizrahi himself, whose neck was conspicuously bare. “I don’t think I look good in bow ties,” he said. “I’m too fat.” Also tieless: the “Arrested Development” star David Cross. “If I could get past the pretentious quality, I’d try one,” he said, adding that bow ties are for “guys who call themselves mixologists and 75-year-old maitre d’s.”
His wife, Amber Tamblyn, who had a bow tie draped louchely around her neck, felt differently. “I wore a bow tie to Blake Lively’s wedding,” she said. “I find them incredibly romantic. They change my perception of myself. They gave me an exterior sense of masculinity that I always felt I had in an interior way.”