Metal Head: Philip Crangi of Giles & Brother

Spend ten minutes chatting with Giles & Brother founder Philip Crangi, and you’ll come away with a whole new perspective on the concept of jewelry as it pertains to men. We did. Even going in as fans of Crangi’s work, our minds were nonetheless blown by the masterful silversmith’s thoughts on metalworking as an ancient technology and the role of personal adornment throughout human history.

Keep reading to see photos from our visit to Crangi’s New York studio (which he runs alongside his business partner and sister, Courtney)—and to listen in on our conversation, which also covered style tips ranging from vintage jean jackets to the bonsai-like method by which Crangi maintains his enviable beard.


MEN’S SHOP DAILY: What path led you to making jewelry?
PHILIP CRANGI: “I went to art school, and that’s where I really discovered jewelry and jewelry-making and silversmithing, and it was really kind of in that moment, I think, that I found my calling. When I moved to New York, it was at a time when jewelry wasn’t what it is today. There was fine jewelry, and there was costume jewelry, and there was very little in between—and certainly not for men. At first, I kind of applied my general metalworking skills to doing a lot of furniture and lighting design and restoration of 20th-century decorative art…”

“…And that’s really when Courtney and I started working together. We started a company together that dealt with doing design services and metalwork for people. I always kind of wanted to do jewelry in the background; that was always kind of the plan. In 2001, we had the opportunity to really put a collection together, and that was the Philip Crangi collection, which was fine jewelry. We promptly launched Giles & Brother, because we needed a more accessible price point, and we felt like we’d have more freedom—what we were doing with Philip Crangi collection was very labor-intensive fine jewelry, and we wanted to have some other type of avenue to explore.”

How would you sum up the Giles & Brother visual aesthetic?
“For me, it’s definitely about the hand of the maker. It’s really important that the work looks like someone has made that piece by hand. My ideal of Giles & Brother is a kind of ease and very American kind of aesthetic. And for me that means a slightly more hand-tooled feel, and it doesn’t have a kind of slickness—and I design into that kind of aesthetic. So the pieces are a very accessible price, usually around a hundred dollars—some pieces are more if they’re silver—but they’re not super expensive pieces, because I believe that they should be accessible both monetarily, as well as kind of emotionally or aesthetically. Visually, it’s like a triangle of reference that’s a little bit equestrian, a little bit nautical, and a little bit sort of hardware. And it has a kind of rugged masculinity to it. Without being oversold, you know, it’s not overstated. That’s what I aim for, anyway.”

Can you describe some of the craftsmanship and process that goes into each piece?
“We don’t have a casting facility, so things are cast, and then they’re brought into the studio, and then each piece is hand-forged to shape it. If it has leather, the leather is then attached, and all of that assembly is done in our studio on 29th Street in New York. And we do all the finishing here, because the finish, to me, is the most important part of a piece—that’s where you really talk about the soul of a piece. We have very particular finishes that we do, like the kind of antiqued brass that’s put through a series of processes—kind of like our trade secret. It’s rich and lustrous with a vague antique quality, but still feeling…authentic, I guess I would go back to that word. I think there’s something really beautiful about that. I love brass and leather together, and that’s something we have to do in-house, just because we have very particular standards. It’s better if we can monitor that. I like to be able to have complete control over that. The team that’s been doing it for me has been doing it for years.”

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For men, what’s the difference between good jewelry and bad jewelry?
“I think the reason our men’s collection resonates with male customers is that, I think I kind of get what men want, as far as authenticity as well as scale. Giles & Brother isn’t super chunky stuff. It’s very wearable. I think men don’t want to feel ostentatious. Men can be very self-conscious about jewelry, and I think what works for us is that I try to be really mindful of that. I’m not the kind of guy that wears only a watch—I’ll wear a ring or a necklace or something, but I also don’t really want to wear something-over-the-top. That’s not my style.”

Giles & Brother pieces always looks well worn. What is the appeal of vintage?
“There’s something about the way a guy will spend a lot of money on a vintage concert T-shirt, because it looks like he may have always owned it, and there’s something kind of authentic about it, even though it’s maybe not really his original piece. For me, that’s a really important benchmark about how guys want to present themselves. They want to feel like they’re being true to themselves when they’re wearing something—and it’s important that the thing, especially with jewelry, feel like there’s no specific moment at which it came into their lives. It’s always been there. It’s the same with a great pair of vintage jeans or a concert T-shirt. It’s like, ‘Oh, this thing? I’ve had this forever.’ I definitely use that as a benchmark for Giles & Brother when I’m developing the pieces.”

You mentioned your well-rounded background in furniture and lighting design, art and so on. What drew you to focus on jewelry in particular?
“I really like the scale and portability of jewelry. We’ve been in New York since the beginning, and square footage is at a premium here, so being able to handle all aspects of production in-house was important for us, especially in the beginning. Also, I really relate to the scale—in terms of an aesthetic standpoint, I like a small thing. It’s interesting to sort of pack a lot of intent into a small space; that’s a really interesting challenge as a designer. Jewelry has been important culturally for human beings for centuries. For thousands and thousands of years, we’ve used jewelry to talk about ourselves in very big and small ways, and I’m interested in that dialogue.”

What are some of the cultures or eras throughout history that are touchstones for you?
“I’ve always really loved Greek and Roman metalwork. Even the coins and the tools that they made. The Met is one of my favorite places. I also really love armory—the armor and the work of the armories, both European and Japanese, have always been really inspiring to me. It’s just really gorgeous stuff. Also the kind of morbid, English particularly, sort of Georgian regency, Victorian obsession with death, I think, is really great. I’ve always really responded to that. There are also some Italian and Iberian versions that are great, too. Jewelry functioning as memento mori, I think, is a really important function of jewelry. Memento but then specifically memento mori…You’re carrying around this memento from a dead lover or dead child. There’s something very intense about that.

“But jewelry can also be a status symbol, it can be crown jewels…It can be a personal talisman, you know, a piece of hair. It’s so interesting to me that it can exist on all these levels—and not just jewelry. I mean, jewelry is my particular thing, but all kinds of metalwork and the way it functions in society, and personally, and from architecture to decorative art—I’m really fascinated by all of it. I was lucky to have a training that allowed me to learn to make all of those different kinds of things: I was learning how to make jewelry, but also doing silversmithing on a larger scale, so I have a broad appreciation of that stuff.”

What’s it like working with your sister, and what was your guys’ dynamic growing up?
“You know, we weren’t necessarily close growing up, because my sister was like a superstar athlete, and I was, like, kind of a geek. We really weren’t close until after college. I think we make a good team, like we really complete each other. When I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to run a business on my own—that I really needed somebody to help me do it—she was the first person I thought of, because she’s so…She’s like a really, really intelligent, clear-thinking individual, and she can really speak to me. I think we help each other see more clearly. I feel like I rely on her all the time for that. She’s got a no-nonsense outlook, which is important because she really knows how to squeeze a nickel. She’s really good at keeping this company on track and letting me do the other stuff, sometimes. I feel really lucky to have that relationship. Partnerships are difficult, so to have that added element of family…There’s a lot more trust.”

Regarding the name of the brand—your sister is Giles, and you’re Brother?
“Yeah, we both grew up having these funny nicknames on the mean streets of South Florida, with the kids in our neighborhood. Her nickname was Giles [ed. note: pronounced like “Jiles”]. Nobody knows why exactly, it was just one of those things. So, when we decided to have this sort of secondary line, I felt like it was important that it had her name on it.”

What was your nickname on the mean streets?
“My dad was named Philip Crangi, so I grew up being called Beau by my family and friends, which I still go by. My friends call me Beau. Philip is kind of my nom de guerre. But yeah, she would be Giles, and I was Beau.”

You mentioned some items that guys might gravitate to, like vintage jeans or a concert tee. What are some of your own prized possessions?
“I have a Lee denim jacket from the…I think it’s the early ’80s. It has a very early-’80s cut to it. And it’s really one of my absolute favorite things—I’ve had it forever, and it’s falling apart, and I keep having it stitched up. It somehow works with every kind of mood or changing fashion that I’ve been in for the past 15 years. That, and a pair of chinos and a pair of Converse high-tops, and that can kind of be my uniform. Again, it’s back to this really authentic, American approach to men’s style. Much more of an everyday approach to style. You can dress it up or dress it down, it’s like a basic uniform. I definitely had sort of a preppy upbringing; that was the aesthetic I grew up in, so I’ll always have a little bit of a nod to that. And that jean jacket really works for me. It’s like the perfect thing. I have things that I feel like I have to have in my wardrobe, like a white oxford or Converse high-tops. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at keeping it pretty basic. I need less things, which I feel really proud of. I’ve always wanted to have a uniform, and I’ve never been able to do it. But now, I feel like, you know—knowing myself a little better…is definitely helpful.”

Whenever we see you in GQ or various street-style reports, your haircut and facial hair game is always particularly on point. Any grooming tips for readers at home?
“[I’ve had this beard so long that] I have no idea what I look like underneath it. You know, it’s funny, because my father always had a beard, and I never really identified with that, and then…I don’t know, now I have a beard. We kind of joke about it. I mean, I had the idea on my own, but obviously I was influenced by my father. As far as grooming tips, I’m actually a major slacker at heart. If anything is hard, I don’t do it. So I take a shower and I brush my teeth, which is kind of the limit of my grooming—which is maybe bad, because I should be kind of a spokesperson for, you know, putting some extra care and effort into looking good. But for me, it’s that the longest-term relationship I’ve had is with the guy who cuts my hair, and I feel so lucky that I finally found him. He always knows exactly what I want, and it’s never fussy, and he knows how I am, so he gives me a haircut that’s going to work with my laziness, I guess. My laxness.”

“…As far as the beard, I don’t let anyone touch that but myself. I keep it natural, but I do keep it trimmed. I have a very sharp pair of scissors and a little comb, and I have a little ritual every morning, where I just kind of touch it up. I don’t think things should get too sculpted. I think when a man looks great, he looks natural, and so I always go back to that idea. There’s a kind of ease—I find that attractive. My sort of style icons always have that easy quality. Not like they just rolled out of bed, but like it didn’t take a lot to look good—or if it did, you couldn’t tell. They didn’t go overboard.”

Your trusted haircut guy—is he an old-school barber, more of a modern stylist, or what?
“He’s a stylist, but his training was in a barbershop. We sort of bonded over that—this idea that it would be this low-key thing that felt classic, but maybe had a little bit more behind it than that. It was the luckiest thing to find him, because I’d always wanted to go to a barber, and I just could never really get there. I could never get them to give me what I wanted; I wasn’t able to communicate, or they were unwilling to hear me. Jordan, who cuts my hair now, he’s just a real talent, and he’s such an easygoing, funny guy, so I like going. I enjoy the experience. You know how people say the most important relationship a man has is with his tailor? It’s a little bit like that.”

What else inspires you—in work or in life?
“I’m like an obsessed movie fan. I’ll see just about anything. I love to read, so I’m reading all the time: non-fiction, fiction—I have a real science fiction sweet tooth, and spy fiction. But then I also read a lot of, like, the history of science, which is very inspiring for me. Jewelry is a technological pursuit—with the jewelry I do, it might be ancient technology, but it’s very much about problem solving, so I’m pretty fascinated by the history of science and technology.

“Other things that inspire me…you know, the obvious things: I love travel. I find New York infinitely inspiring. I love living in New York and being in the city; there’s something really manic and electric, and filthy, and yet so beautiful about it. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling between Paris and New York, and Paris is such a gorgeous thing, it’s such a beautiful city, but coming back to New York, you see all the filthy little parts building up to the most beautiful city in the world, so I’m always inspired by New York. And I’m also inspired by actually getting to sit at my jewelry bench and make things. I think that’s the most inspiring place for me, because I really believe that I think through my hands. More so than just drawing—I love drawing, but working at the jewelry bench, making pieces, problem solving in a very primal way, is important to the creation of the brand.”

SHOP ALL: GILES & BROTHER | MEN’S ACCESSORIES

[Photos by Carmen Daneshmandi.]

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Jim September 26, 2014, 11:12 am

    Well done interview. Thanks!

  • Jim September 26, 2014, 11:24 am

    I’m curious why Giles and Brother items all indicate that they are “imported”.

  • Justin, Blog Editor October 4, 2014, 10:26 pm

    Hi Jim, this was our error—the product pages have been updated to reflect that Giles & Brother items are made in the USA. Sorry for the confusion, and thank you for the question.
    Best,
    —Justin, Men’s Blog Editor

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