Roger Freeman unleashes an epidemic of ties to sicken and die for.
Even the most loathsome disease cuts an elegant pattern when viewed under a microscope - or on the ties of Roger Freeman's Infectious Awareables collection. Malaria looks like a riot of fried eggs against a midnight sky. Cholera presents as a multicolored swarm of serpentine bodies. And then, of course, there's syphilis. "Red and purple," gushes Freeman, 58, a former dentist who has been marketing the cravats since 1997. "I think it's beautiful."
Freeman, who lives in Encino, Calif., got the bug when someone gave him a herpes tie as a gift. Intrigued enough to buy the inventory of the failing company that made it, he expanded the roster of ailments and sold the ties, which go for $39.95 each, at medical trade shows. "I don't want anyone to think that I'm minimizing the suffering involved with the diseases themselves," says Freeman, who believes his wares serve an educational function (the labels they bear give the raw facts about each illness). But he knows that's not the reason the ties are spreading like swine flu. Admits Freeman: "People love to say, 'I gave my boss gonorrhea.'"
Photographs by Steve Labadessa