On behalf of the Ettinger Journal, Ben St George, Freelance Menswear Journalist, spoke to Murray Crane of Crane Brothers, a house of tailoring, luxury clothing, shoes and accessories, located in New Zealand.
Murray Crane, Crane Brothers
What was your background prior to founding Crane Brothers?
Originally I wanted to study graphic design, although in those days it was still called commercial art. My grandfather was a sign writer and his father had been an artist, however it wasn't long before I was drawn to fashion and I started working in the industry when I was 18. I started off doing visual merchandising and then working with leather accessories and bags. This was my entry into fashion and eventually led to a buying role, travelling to Europe and working with the labels of the day, including Paul Smith, Helmut Lang, Comme Des Garcons and Jean Paul Gaultier among others. In 1997 I made the decision to do my own thing and in 1999 I opened Crane Brothers on the same site that we occupy today, although knowing a lot less than I do now!
Crane Brothers is a self-described Antipodean tailoring brand - what does that mean? How is it different to European tailoring?
When I started out, we were very much influenced by New Zealand's heritage and a more traditional English cut. Our garments were predominantly suits so that worked well for us, but over time we have moved to a softer silhouette, more influenced by both Northern and Southern Italy . This seems to suit our distinctive culture and lifestyle better - being a younger nation we are still finding our own place in the world and I feel like that is an exciting journey as we are not bound by a specific sartorial tradition and convention. Today we manufacture almost exclusively in Italy working with a small handful of artisan producers scattered between Bergamo and Salerno. Italy has always represented the pinnacle in menswear production and I’m very proud of the relationships we have developed and the products we produce.
I have a very pared-back aesthetic and Crane Brothers has always been an understated look - muted and sophisticated.
What inspired you to pursue men's tailoring (as opposed to other branches of fashion)?
I like the technical and exacting nature of menswear; its blend of form and function and the nature of the construction. I have a very pared-back aesthetic and Crane Brothers has always been an understated look - muted and sophisticated. Men’s tailoring is simple but unforgiving, so I’ve always strived to represent it in its purest form.
What are some of the challenges and successes the business has had since its inception?
I think menswear and fashion are always challenging industries if you look at it in commercial terms. It's a challenging business so I guess my biggest success is remaining relevant and desirable as a brand in a small market like New Zealand. Believe me, we've had many challenges along the way, but these experiences galvanise you as a business owner. One of my biggest challenges has been my own role. I sit between two worlds as a creative and a business owner - it's a tough place to inhabit at times. I think we've always strived to lead and innovate, rather than be a derivative of some other designer or brand and we've always worked very hard at having our own signature on everything we do.
As menswear has moved away from the very formal, how has Crane Brothers evolved to meet the needs of its customers?
The evolution away from that traditional formality has been incredibly disruptive to "traditional" menswear business like our own but as we find our voice and style, I think we are bridging that gap between formal and casual incredibly well. There is a relaxed and simple nature to a lot of what we do - we are proudly New Zealand but with a global outlook.
You've built an incredibly loyal client base over the years - what is it that keeps them coming back?
I think our clients are loyal to us because we are loyal to them. It's a pretty simple equation and we work really hard at offering them support - giving them what they want and not telling them what they need.
Crane Brothers and Ettinger both brands that produce a premium product - what's important or special about how you produce your goods? What benefit is passed on to the customer?
Premium products will always have their place. I think that like great food or wine it's about using the best possible ingredients and adding a light touch. For me it's cloth, so that is where a Crane Brothers journey always starts: selecting the finest wools, linens, cottons and silks available and shaping them into garments that will stand the test of time, both aesthetically and practically. Our philosophy has always been to sell our own products, but if we feel we cannot make the best version of something we won't. Instead we work with a small and selective group of partners who produce things at the very highest level; people like Kirk Originals Sunglasses, London Undercover Umbrellas, Bresciani Socks and of course Ettinger, whom we love for that very reason. It's not just about slapping a brand on something, it's about sharing the products we source and create from all over the world with our clients.
Article written by Ben St George, Freelance Menswear Journalist & Brand Consultant