For Three Wisconsin Pals, Fashion Success Is a Fluke and a Perch and a Tuna...

updated 08/11/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/11/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It was over late-night beers in a Milwaukee bar last January that Mark Abramoff, 32, and his high school chum Jim Stratte, 32, first got the idea. Fish ties. Something in polyester, perhaps, crafted into a downturned tuna or trout, walleye or salmon. Start making neckties like that, and you'd be swimming in riches, they figured. A reel good idea. They were hooked.

So was former schoolmate Blaine Heilman, 31, whom they approached the next day. Heilman, a T-shirt airbrush artist, took a strip of cloth, painted a northern pike on one side and a muskie on the other. Abramoff wore the prototype to the next Marquette University basketball game and says, "Two people bumped into each other looking at it." Before long, Stratte had quit his job with a Milwaukee law firm, Abramoff had dropped out of real estate school and the Ralph Marlin Fish Tie Company was born.

Seven months later, working amid the toilets, sinks and other fixtures of a former kitchen-and-bathroom store, the trio is shipping 900 ties a day to sporting-goods outlets, department-store chains and shops from Anchorage to Paris. Anticipating 250,000 sales this year (at $14 to $30 per tie), they plan to throw out a lure soon for some extra employees.

"When you're wearing a tie like that, it says you'd rather be fishing than all dressed up," says Heilman. Which isn't to say that fish-tie wearers can't be upscale dressers. With conservative navy blue suits, Stratte recommends the salmon model; with gray, the rainbow trout. And for weekend partying, there's always the yellow, blue and black designer tuna.

In case the popularity of the first fish ties starts to ebb, there are plans afloat for an expanded collection: barracuda, catfish and large-mouth bass, smelt and perch bow ties, even clipons for kids. The trio is also trying to patent the special design that makes the ties' knots look like fish tails. Abramoff admits that there have been a few complaints, that "fishermen will say, 'This fish has six stripes, not seven,' or 'You're not supposed to have those spots on the belly.' But those in the city don't really care about the stripes on a muskie." To them, obviously, the tie's already the limit.

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