Antiquing & Accessorizing Like a Boss with Miansai’s Michael Saiger | Behind the Brand

miansai1Studio images courtesy Miansai; antique fair images and captions by Michael Saiger

Look at the flick of that wrist: Is that a Miansai?

Yes, indeed. The eye-catching Miami-based brand creates masculine, nautical-inspired jewelry. Its calling card is the bracelet. Trademark wrap and cuff models sail out of Miansai’s ocean-adjacent headquarters and end up on fashion runways and wrists of regular guys worldwide.

Versatility is the thing with these bracelets. They look good with t-shirts and with suits. Any occasion is fine. And just so you know, from our official scientific testing at parties, a Miansai bracelet will net at least one compliment per 15 minutes.

We spoke with founder and creative director Michael Saiger about the Miansai name–pronounced my-ahn-sigh–and his main source of inspiration: antique fairs.

Shop: Miansai | jewelry and cufflinks | all accessories

miansai2More from the studio

Nordstrom blogs: Thanks for making time today. I know you’re in the middle of designing a new season.

Michael Saiger: Always designing something.

What are you working on today?

Our last collection was pretty huge. With jewelry I like to launch one big season per year, and then the next season do different colors, switch some stuff up. So that’s what’s happening right now. I’ve done a lot of design work that is just hitting right now. Now I’m adding newness. A couple bracelets, some cuffs.

miansai3“I love the Brimfield Antique Show. Vintage tools are always a source of inspiration.”

[This and all following images from Brimfield Antique Show.]

Going back to the genesis of Miansai, what are design elements you’ve kept and think you might never abandon?

Since I started our aesthetic has been the same. I started with an industrial nautical aesthetic, from our screw cuff to our anchor bracelet. We were the first men’s jewelry company coming to the market for really any kind of guy. Before, it was either too feminine or too masculine. Miansai was about stuff you can pull off any time. Guys who say, I don’t wear jewelry. Those are our customers. My goal is for you to open your drawer 20 years from now and find this thing sitting it, and say, This is cool as hell.

Fashion moves in seasons. You pretty much don’t.

With clothes, seasons matter. With jewelry, it’s so much different. I don’t consider it. If I do a full season for men’s jewelry, it takes a while for it to catch and get popular. It’s not trend-based. I design around what I’m inspired by at the moment. Before us there were a few jewelry companies around, but nothing men really wanted to wear. Our stuff, you don’t have to take it off. You can sleep in it. It should live with you.

miansai4“These collectors’ items have recently become extremely popular, used frequently as vintage chest handles.”

What’s the most amount of days you’ve worn a bracelet?

A year maybe? This is what I do, so I’m designing new things all the time. If I’m designing something new I put it on and wear it for two months. Then the next thing for two months. Sometimes you wear a piece and you’ve traveled in it, gone places in it, and build an attachment to it.

Like a pair of shoes.

Exactly. I have a pair of shoes that I hiked Patagonia in, and all over Africa, and I was just in Iceland and they were so ripped up. I was like, It’s time to retire these things. But it was depressing a little.

miansai9“This airplaine is awesome. I bought it to put on book shelf in our studio.”

And what’s your history with design?

Let me give you a little backstory. My mom is an interior decorator and has an antique shop, Blithewold, and I grew up going around with her to estate sales. That was my childhood basically. I’m from Bedford, New York, an hour north of the city in horse country. I wanted to be an inventor. When I was young I liked picking up different ideas and working on them. In college at the University of Miami, I made a bracelet because I was looking for something like that, and there was nothing out there. Through the years I had collected all these medallions I would find at flea markets and antiques shows, and in general I was always collecting small cool objects. I put some of those on bracelets and wore them around. Everyone loved it. Basically from there I ended up making a bunch more, and taking my stuff into this store called Base in Miami, a guys’ store in South Beach. I sold them some bracelets and went home for the summer. When I came back they said the bracelets sold out by the week after I’d left. So I ended up making more bracelets, started working with silver, basically becoming a jeweler and buying casting machines while I was still in college, and began selling to boutiques all around the country. The year after I graduated I found a huge warehouse in Miami. Once we got that set up, around the end of 2009, I launched in department stores internationally. That’s when we exploded. From there on it’s been a whirlwind.

miansai5“The device on the right is used to show how electricity works. You crank the dial and it lights up.”

What was that prototype bracelet that you made for yourself, the first one which everyone admired?

I went to a shooting range and I had a box of bullets. I pulled out the tip, emptied out the gunpowder, drilled through the front and back. I had a really nice leather cord, pulled it through, wrapped it around my wrist and it was really cool. And then I made that into a cuff. That was during my college days. I grew up in New England and grew up around the water, and I live in Miami as well, and there’s a lot of sailing down here. So I’ve always been drawn to a nautical aesthetic. We have a hook, an anchor…. We’re nautical by nature. But we’re far more than that. We have such a range of products now. But that was the roots of the brand and company.

Nautical by nature: wasn’t that a hip-hop group in the ‘90s?

Ha ha, I think so.

miansai6What was the initial run at Base in Miami?

I don’t know, I think I gave him 20? It was that bullet bracelet and some vintage necklaces with medallions. They were one-off pieces, really unique finds. I remember thinking, I can’t believe I’m even selling this. But I wanted someone else to enjoy it.

Miansai has such a unique look and owns its own lane.

I try and keep it original. In the fashion world, everyone looks at what people are doing. In jewelry you don’t do that. Well, I guess I do feel people are looking at Miansai. But in general it’s a different world. And I like that.

mainsai8“I bought this for my dock: binoculars from Niagara Falls. You need to still put a quarter in to use it. Hopefully I’ll make my money back.”

Did you study design in school?

No, I studied marketing. I knew I wanted to work in a creative field. I wanted to be an inventor. And was also into building brands. As soon as I started designing I fell in love with it. It’s an obsession. I eat, breathe and sleep Miansai. I love what I do and I feel so lucky. This road just opened up. To people who want to start businesses, I always say, If you have an idea of exactly what you want to do, don’t listen to anyone and just do it. Everyone told me not to do what I did. If you think you have a good idea and want to go through with it, you gotta stay focused. People said to me, What are you doing starting a jewelry company? People didn’t get the need for it in the market. I thought, How many times in the fashion industry can you say a certain category of thing has never been done great? You can hardly ever say that. I don’t think there was anything cool available and that’s where my idea came in.

miansai7“Stuart steam engine. This awesome mini steam engine actually works. It has so many moving parts, I had to buy it for our design studio.”

How do you think about styling Miansai for yourself? On what day are you wearing a harder cuff, and what days are you wearing something more ropey?

The cool thing about Miansai is everything works for everything. With suits, with t-shirts, whatever. Any occasion. And I don’t plan anything, personally. Our jewelry crosses over. I never even declared we were making men’s jewelry, at the beginning. I’ve seen 70-year-old men wearing a cuff bracelet. And 17-year-old kids wearing a hook bracelet.

How did you decide on the name?

Finding a name for a company is not an easy thing. In college I decided I was starting a company, and had 200 names. I have to own that name in every country. I need to think about the web domain. I was sitting there and write my name out and circled initials. M-I for Michael. A-N for Andrew. S-A-I for Saiger. That’s it. It was available in every market, and it was me. For people in the beginning it’s hard to say, but once you know it, you know it.

–Andrew Matson

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