Christina Cheng wanted to buy a tie for her husband, an airplane pilot. But when she went shopping for one, she was unimpressed by what she saw.
“Since I’m a designer, I wanted to get an aviation tie for my husband, but all the designs looked funky,” she said. “So I decide, why not do something about it myself.”
She was drawn to the unique shape of the airplanes she saw waiting on the tarmac when she picked up her husband from the airport. She incorporated the planes into a pattern on her ties and went from there.
“I started to work from home and contacted a factory in China where they produce the silk,” she said. “And gradually I developed the different ties.”
She started selling her designs out of her store in Port Washington, and since then her business — Doppeldecker Design — has taken off. There are a variety of different plane designs, from the Wright Brothers’ Flyer to Boeing 747 jumbo jets. In addition to ties, there are now bowties, scarves and pocket squares. Cheng said the Museum of Flight in Seattle and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum have reached out to her about selling her product at their locations.
“Right now the focus is on expanding online,” said her daughter Chantal Berendsen, who also serves as the chief operating officer for Doppeldecker. “Flight is a very global thing.”
For Cheng, the most satisfying aspect is the connection between her customers and the planes they flew— especially for pilots who flew for the military (she said the B-52 bomber and the P-51 Mustang are among her most popular designs).
“There are customers who call in and thank me for making those ties,” she said. “I feel that the product is not just a product, it means something to people, and that makes me very happy.”
Cheng was born in Taiwan and became interested in design after seeing a fur fashion show while she was working on a cruise ship. She decided she wanted to go into fashion, even though she did not know much about the industry or even how to sew.
“I had to switch to art school as I was majoring in English literature … I took home economics to learn how to sew,” she said.
She studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, then did freelance work in Italy and worked for a women’s fashion company in Munich before settling in Port Washington.
Since she produced her first tie in 1999, the collection has grown to include helicopters and non-aircraft patterns. She said her process for creating a new silk design begins with research.
“I research the history of the airplanes and which ones people are fans of,” Cheng said. “I will choose the profile of the plane I like and then I sketch it.”
She uses a computer to determine what patterns and colors will be used. Then she sends the mock-up to the Chinese factory, where a swatch of silk is produced. If approved, a sample is produced, and if that is approved, the design goes into production.
“My mom is very into the detail of everything, so she’ll obsess over it and have different drafts of things,” said Berendsen. “Oftentimes you’ll see her standing in the window, looking at four different shades of red, picking out which silk is the right red to really capture the feeling of the airplane.”