By Debbie Palomo with Andrea Stuart
The late Robert Talbott, a successful Wall Street executive, had something that separated him from other Wall Street men: he refused to blend in with the pallid business environment, so he added a little glamour to the cement walls through his splashy constellation of hand-sewn bowties. A signature hobby of his wife, Audrey, also affectionately known as Mrs. T., the ties would ultimately evolve from a hobby to one of the most iconic fashion brands in the industry.
In the 1950s, the Talbotts, who had honeymooned along the California coastline, returned for good. Emotionally drawn to the serenity of the West Coast by the tragic death of their three-year-old daughter, the couple and their son Robb packed up their Ford Woody station wagon and found solace and a fresh start in the shelter of cypress and pine of Carmel, where they began a legacy.
Carmel changed the Talbotts’ tune. For Mrs. T, what began as a hobby soon flourished into a successful business and the beginning of Robert Talbott of Carmel. The demand for the colorful, distinguished bow ties grew, and their Carmel cottage became their first factory.
They hired local fishermen’s wives, many of whom were immigrants with special skill sets, to help with sewing and production. The employees became extended family, growing alongside their fine neckwear, shirts, jackets, sportswear, accessories, and women’s wear.
By the 1970s, the Talbott’s Carmel cottage and factory was far too quaint for the expanding business. Increasingly enchanted by Carmel, the Talbotts refused to relocate their family of 150 employees, some of whom have been around for over 30 years.
A walk through the production line reveals a talented team of artists who bring the designers’ creations to life. They take great pride in their work, fulfilling the founders’ philosophy. One thing that catches the eye is the gold stars on their name tags: each star represents five years of loyalty and dedication to excellence. “[The employees] are the essence of the American Dream,” says Bob Corliss, CEO and President of Robert Talbott. “Some came to America with not much, to work with us. In some cases, their children came to work as well. They are very much representatives of our community. They are the fabric of this community since 1950.”
The workshops radiate creative energy generated by teams of designers, who don’t travel far for inspiration. The Monterey Peninsula’s palette offers color direction—with hues of sunrises, sunsets, the ocean, evergreens, flora, fauna, and earth tones from the California coastline. However, they travel the world in search for the best artisans and mills to create the luxurious fabrics, keeping Mr. and Mrs. Talbott’s tradition alive.
When asked about the loyalty and dedication that keeps employees, Corliss says it’s in the DNA. “The source of everything about this company is the geography. Everything about this company is about the inspiration received from the founders. I can’t imagine the difficulty in recreating that DNA someplace else.”
For 60 years, Robert Talbott has continued to manufacture in the USA, when many companies have chosen to outsource overseas. “One of the greatest parts of being a factory in the USA,” comments son, Bobby Corliss, VP of Business Development, “is the currency stays here in the community as opposed to overseas.”
The Monterey Peninsula has been kind to the Talbott story. Following the legacy of his parents and committing to their standards of quality and craftsmanship, Robb started Talbott Vineyards in the Monterey area. Today, the winery produces some of the finest wines in the world. Now, over 40 years later, the Talbott company has never wavered from the standards and principles upon which it was founded—in a cottage in Carmel.
Visit Robert Talbott online: www.roberttalbott.com/