I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how we curate our identities with brands. Menswear is a particularly interesting area of branding because so many men want to entirely avoid the issue of dressing, yet it conveys so much to others and to ourselves. The worst challenge for most modern men is Causal Fridays. As my dear friend Brian Richards says, men are left in limbo on Fridays, unsure of how to dress when deprived of both their jeans and their suit. Although personally, I’ve found that a smart velvet sports coat can cover a multitude of sins.
There is a lot that we can learn from the designers and entrepreneurs who have managed to capture the zeitgeist of menswear while strongly conveying their own take on what is means to be a man. To build a menswear business requires an interesting blend of confidence and inquisitiveness.
Murray Crane has built several successful menswear brands and the Crane Brothers business that bears his name is going from strength to strength. I caught up with Murray for a coffee in London during one of his research and buying trips to Milan, Paris, London and New York.
The New New Zealand Man
Somewhere hidden in the Crane Brothers story is a trace of a new New Zealand man. Beyond boat shoes, polo shirts and pacifica prints. It’s subtle and evolving, but it’s definitely there. Living in London has prompted me to start seeking out the essence of this new modern man. Luckily, Murray has an idea what might make New Zealand men so unique.
Because he travels so much, Murray has spotted that if you live in Paris, New York or London then the latest trends are all around you, all the time, so you become indifferent to them. You stop looking for new ideas, new experiences and new stories. You close down.
We have no such luxury in New Zealand, so we stay hungry. Murray confessed that (even though he started out as a technology cynic) his lust for information has drawn him to all the latest gadgets from a Macbook Air to an iPhone. With over a hundred blog subscriptions on his Google Reader and airfreight subscriptions to the latest magazines, Murray has a true lust for information.
GQ, New York Times and Hugo Boss stylist (and Creative Director of Little Brother), Isaac Hindin Miller is a Kiwi now based in New York. Isaac is typical of the New Zealand lust for information. His blog is fuelled by wonder at the world and an eye for trends that can only come from having to hunt them out.
I’m increasingly convinced that this hunger is exactly what makes New Zealand entrepreneurs so successful. In my street photography, I’ve found that the photographers that I admire the most are often aliens to the cities they photograph. This gives them the eye for the miracle in the mundane. What Tim Brown from Ideo calls a beginner’s mind. The globally successful brands that New Zealand has built have a sense of freshness, wonder and newness that the tired and weary world finds appealing. Across industrial machinery, healthcare software, fashion or architecture I’ve found that the world is surprisingly hungry for a New Zealand take on things.
Tyler Brule from Monocle Magazine recently wrote in the Financial Times about his trip to New Zealand. Brule commented on the natural beauty, but was really taken by the modern and fresh approach to design. This freshness is because New Zealanders are information omnivores.
If there is a new New Zealand man, then he is open, aware and un-wearily worldly. He is happily connected through travel, friendships and reading to the rest of the world.
If the new New Zealand man is about openness, then the Murray Crane Man is about holding yourself to high standards in everything. Murray’s help wanted ads are notorious because they describe the high standards that he hold himself and those around him to.
The Crane Brothers suits are meticulously finished and they are coveted by those who care about details. The stores, the website and the staff all need to conform to a pedantic but beautiful standard of care.
Oscar Wilde might have found the Crane Brothers suits a little dark, but the fundamental idea of quality in the details would have attracted him. Like Wilde, Murray seems to find modern life a little too scruffy in dress, thinking and behaviour. From grammar to manners, Murray has spotted that we may have lost something at the core of civilisation.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the protagonist is searching for a larger concept of perfection that he loosely calls quality. Through mechanics he is looking for the small slice of perfection that we can create when we do something carefully. Murray brings this search for perfection to everything he does, from the cut of a suit to the pen you write with or the laptop you carry.
In a time when being called pedantic is one of the ultimate insults, Murray reminded me that caring about the details isn’t a crime. It’s a calling.