Nicholas Atgemis – founder of Le Noeud Papillon

Nicholas Atgemis was born and raised in Sydney. Ever since he was a kid he was aware of clothes. His mother would always buy him and his elder brother the same clothes except that his brother’s would be blue, and his would be red.

I couldn’t stand that she controlled what colour I was, and I yearned for the day when I could choose my own clothes. Eventually, I have arrived at a point of my own self-expression, 25 years later, where I now like red… Go figure.

Nicholas completed an Agricultural Economics degree and after spending some time drenching sheep with thistle ridden wool fleeces he decided to try his hand at something else. He went travelling, came home and started managing the Sydney Comedy Store, decided he didn’t want to be a comedian and started selling compost bins then moved into flooring, website design, started and sold a nightclub and then finally moved onto the obvious next thing… bow ties.

Le Noeud Papillon is a boutique website designed to fill a niche market for luxury bow ties, neck ties and other men’s accessories. They pride themselves on working directly with Italian silk and cotton looms to create unique designs. Specifically they are recognised for their tie-your-own bow ties.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen? 

I was living in Paris in 2007. Whilst there I used to frequent the store named Charvet. It was and still is a revered institution for men. JFK got his shirts there, Evelyn Waugh mentions it in Brideshead Revisited…. It was here that I bought my first single piece bow tie and learnt to tie it at home in the mirror, numbing my arms and sweating like a gorilla until I got it right. From that moment onwards I decided to embark on a foray into manufacturing a bow tie in Sydney that could match the quality.

Five years later I still revere Charvet but I have developed a very unique bow tie business which operates mostly online and is centred around delivering woven jacquard silks we designed to men across the globe.

How do you make money? (please explain your business model)

A customer logs onto our site or goes to the menswear stores that stock us and purchases a bow tie. And, when we don’t sell bow ties, we measure and fit Sydney based men for bespoke shirts made in Sydney.

Our focus is to make as much as we can in Sydney and to support local manufacturing. This also gives us more control over production and flexibility for smaller runs. When we make in Italy it’s because we don’t have the skills here. We also make some items in China such as our clips and bow tie boxes. However, where possible, we are determined to work with local workrooms. Our business model is not that complicated. We go straight to the loom to get our fabrics, we sub-contract the work out to workrooms we know and trust, then we sell the stock down as fast as we can so that we can work on the next batch of silks and cottons.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?

We are working with screen printers in England and silk painting experts in Australia. I cannot elaborate too much further.

How do you make ideas happen?

By meditating. I meditate twice a day, once in the morning, once at night. My most creative and intuitive thoughts arrive when there is nothing between me and whatever bubbles up from within me.

What does your typical day look like?

I cannot include a photo, I am in disarray at the moment looking for a new office. I am working right now out of a temporary space. Normally I work out of a home office as you don’t need a great deal of space to store bow ties, ties and pocket squares.

I spend a great deal of time on the road meeting people and I do a lot of emails a day. I write my own blog. I invoice and collect money from my customers. I design silks. I photograph my stock.  I work with other graphic designers on specific items. I talk to silk houses in Italy. I receive deliveries and I put out the trash.  It’s pretty diverse range of tasks and I don’t earn enough revenue at this stage to have myself a lacky although I dream of the day when I might be like Max Fischer (Rushmore) and get myself an assistant.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

The demand for bow ties needed to be built. We had to first find the customers out there that wanted what we were offering, which was difficult. Then we needed to create a new wave of customers who wanted what we could produce. That was difficult and best achieved by the ongoing story we created with our blog. The blog became a rolling content documentation of a creative process. Now that I look back to it from when we started in 2009, I can basically see a visual diary of a man’s search to make a quality product in his own country. It’s quite amusing.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

Someone needs to make a luxury menswear store in a suburb within ten kilometres of the city which looks and feels like Peter’s of Kensington. A place where you can get luxury at a discount and where all the brands are represented and you can buy cloth by the metre.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment? 

Graz Mulcahy – sunglasses

Patrick Johnson – suits

Roger  @ Zimma tailors in the Ivy complex

Gentleman’s Supply Company in Martin Place (Ed. see our interview with the founder here)

What about internationally?

Al Bazaar in Milan

Rubinacci – Naples

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

Business is reflexive to social change. I think social change arrives first and business adapts to it. Usually there is a latent demand for something before business creates it. I will give you an example, I have a heavy duty Canon camera and it takes great photos but every day I use it I had to plug it into the computer to upload. Why can’t this just sync to my computer automatically? The wireless technology is there, the computing power is there…. Then all of a sudden there appears Dropbox and the new Canon camera has wifi. So, basically, you just have to trust that people are not stupid and over a series of iterations, everything you once dreamed of will eventually be in front of you. The trouble is, we internalize these gains and then just look forward to the next iteration.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

Permanent Style – the manufacturing of quality items unpicked for your digestion as a daily blog by Simon Crompton. A great source of information for men interested in clothes and accessories.

Cutter And Tailor – are you interested in creating a new men’s fashion product? Cutter and Tailor has most of the information you require to make or produce a garment. From t-shirts to trousers, this is a wonderful free resource.

Le Noeud Papillon blog – we tell you what to look out for and some of the basics with respect to wool and cotton when choosing your next ensemble

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?

Malcolm Turnbull – even if you don’t agree with him, he is the only one who speaks eloquently from the Liberal Party.

Dominic Knight – ABC 702 radio – always had a funny quip

Hamish McDonald – 10 News – the new renegade in Australian journalism

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Not really. If someone wants to give me money, then great. But I don’t want to sell a portion of my company. I also have pretty good internet marketing which I run myself. I don’t have any government grants and I don’t have a bank overdraft, so I am trying my best to get this off the ground organically. Who knows what the future hold though?  Ultimately, we are here as long as we stay relevant to our customers and I will grow based on whether my customers feed me enough revenue to do so.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

What ideas are you willing to give me for free?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

I used to be much better at this but I hardly get out and about these days. If I had to tell you one place which I loved recently, it is the bar called Frankie’s Pizza. If I had to tell you where I love to eat, that would be Café 21 in Double Bay for a large schnitzel with creamed spinach. And for coffee, Bernasconi’s in Plumer Road, Rose Bay.

What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment? 

Electric Empire – Changin’

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

Yes, I will donate a bow tie.

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