Lucilla Mara de Vescovi was born in Rome, Italy in 1893. She married Malcolm Whitman, an American singles tennis champion, in 1926. In 1930, following an argument about her husband's dull ties, his wife made him one from silk dress material.
In 1932, Whitman committed suicide. His grief-stricken widow subsequently travelled throughout Europe, where she purchased fabrics and brought them back to New York with the intention of launching a career making men's ties.
Following her return to New York, Lucilla de Vescovi Whitman founded her men's neckwear company in 1935. She branded herself "Countess Mara". While Mara was her second name, the company name might have been inspired by an 18th-century Kneller portrait of the Countess de Mar wearing a loosely tied Steinkirk cravat.
Countess Mara ties featured several novel marketing decisions. She had her initials featured on the outside blade of each tie, ensuring that they were instantly recognizable. The ties were made in very limited quantities, typically only fifteen dozen per design, and they were comparatively expensive. This led to their becoming collector's items, sought after by celebrities and fashion-conscious businessmen. Other tie manufacturers, noticing her success, copied her business model and hired artists to imitate her tie designs. Mara did not mind this, saying in 1949 that being imitated had "expanded the acceptablity of the pictorial tie".
In 1944 Countess Mara was awarded the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in recognition of the influence her ties had had upon fashion.
Countess Mara tried to make her ties colourful, interesting and artistic, while avoiding spectacular and showy designs. She described her ties as "jungles" populated with trees, flowers and animals. However, her ties also featured a wide range of other subjects, including:
- Astrological signs
- Dancing girls
- The Devil
- Egyptian hieroglyphs
- Lady Godiva
- Musical instruments
- Performing seals
- Playing cards
- Sea shells
- Sea urchins
- Torn love-letters
Countess Mara Today
The Countess Mara brand was purchased in March 1998 by Randa Accessories, a major manufacturer and distributor of men's neckwear. Countess Mara belts, leather goods, neckwear, shirts, sportswear, and other products and accessories are retailed worldwide.
- Goldberg, Michael J. (1997). The Ties That Blind: Neckties 1945-1975. Schiffer. ISBN 0-88740-982-2.
- Ettinger, Roseann (1999). 20th Century Neckties: pre-1955. Schiffer. ISBN 0-7643-0578-6.
- Gibbings, Sarah (1990). The Tie: Trends and Traditions. Barrons Educational Series Inc. ISBN 0-8120-6199-3.
- Dyer, Rod; Spark, Ron (1987). Fit To Be Tied: Vintage Ties of the Forties and Early Fifties. Abbeville Press. ISBN 0-89659-756-3.
- "Interview with Countess Mara". The New York Times. February 1949.
- Images and references from the Estate of Frank Sinatra
- NY Times, March 1998