SETTING A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD
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Alex Bennett is slightly embarrassed at the mound of neckties populating his dining room. It's the size of a sleeper sofa ... and only half of his massive collection.
In a few weeks, all 60,000 (his estimate) -- those on the mound and those at his former home -- will be sorted, boxed and properly stored. But for now, they're inhabiting most of one room of his Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., home as he moves in.
There are Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny ties, superheroes and Nickelodeon characters, some that look like fish and another that looks like a cow with its tongue hanging out. There are stripes and solids and polka dots, leather ones, feather ones, ones that play music, old ones, blue ones, whimsical ones and new ones.
Bennett, 23, an assistant manager at Jos. A. Bank in Hamilton Place mall, claims to have the world's biggest collection of ties.
"I know it is," he says, his gelled hair, immaculate suit and pointed-toe shoes making it look as though he stepped out of the men's apparel store catalog.
Some years ago, Guinness Book of World Records authenticated the tie record of Derryl Ogden, Bennett says, and now he has Ogden's
collection -- set at 16,055, according to Guinness -- as well as his own that was at least as big as Ogden's.
"But [Guinness] won't return my emails," says Bennett, a native of Ringgold, Ga.
Ogden, like Bennett, was a grabatoloist or, in simpler terms, a collector of ties.
Bennett says he's been obsessed with neckwear since he was a young child and his maternal grandfather gave him a bunch. Then, he says, his paternal grandmother, Mary Bennett, helped feed his habit by taking him to yard sales and estate sales.
"I was buying [ties] with my allowance money," Bennett says. "I was a weird little kid."
He's worn a tie every day since the sixth grade and survived being picked on for wearing suits daily to school. He figures he had the world's biggest neckwear collection by his junior year at Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga, Ga., where he was known as "the tie guy."
"I don't care what anybody thinks," he says. "It never bothers me. I've been doing it so long."
Bennett says his family thought he "just likes ties" but the obsession would end when he got older.
"It just got worse," he says.
Rachel Bohanon, 19, Bennett's girlfriend, says the eccentricity is what drew her to him.
"That's what caught my attention," she says. "I'm glad he's different. It sets him apart."
When he was younger, Bennett says he bought everything local estate sales purveyors could serve up.
"They all watched me grow up," he says.
When Ogden, the Guinness record-holder, died several years ago, Bennett paid $500 for about 20,000 ties. He and his dad drove to Lincoln, Neb., to collect them.
Now, he's more discriminating but still has his preferences.
"The older they are," he says, "the more I want them."
Some of Bennett's favorites are the wide polyester ties with mod designs of the 1970s.
"I love the crazy, bright patterns," he says.
But Bennett's No. 1 favorite is white with black polka dots and a label from Soprano, a London manufacturer of ties since 1992.
"I wanted this tie so badly," he says. "I saw it in a movie when I was a little kid. I looked and looked and looked and finally found it."
He tracked it down at a T.J. Maxx store in Kennesaw, Ga., when he was 12.
The oldest ties in Bennett's collection are around 100 years old, and his most valuable one -- from the 1930s -- has an image of a Salvador Dali painting and is worth about $600.
He also has ties signed by the likes of country singer Martina McBride, Southern rocker Charlie Daniels and Ben Jones, who played Cooter Davenport in the 1979-1985 television series "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Since he has collected neckties for 20 years, Bennett knows what he's got, what he wants and is as knowledgeable as the Internet lets him be about designs, styles and history.
And he has a rule: "I never wear the same tie twice."
Today, Bennett dons bow ties about 70 percent of the time, having made some of them from regular neckties. He's also worn an ascot on a rare occasion but doesn't care for bolo ties.
"Do you know," he asks, "there are 85 ways to tie a tie?"
In the future, Bennett would like to have his own line of custom clothing, perhaps starting with a line of bow ties. For now, he custom-makes bow ties and pocket squares for weddings, graduations and proms (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
His girlfriend reminds him that Ralph Lauren started at his age.
The world famous designer, Bennett says, "started as a door-to-door tie salesman," but eventually was designing his own line out of his garage.
Lauren, according to Celebrity Networth, is worth about $7.5 billion today.
Not bad for a former tie guy.
Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at email@example.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.