Over the past several years I have gotten to know Alex Crane and watched him take his company from an infinitely-small brand of linen things to a slightly bigger purveyor of linen clothing and other things. That short moment of incremental growth was hard fought for Alex, and each time I would see him he would be unwavering in his quest to make a wave with his company. You could sense he was pouring everything into his line. He is so committed and passionate about what he is doing that you almost can’t help but to want to help him however you can. At least that’s how I feel about him. It doesn’t hurt that he is making really fun and interesting clothing that almost everyone can wear.
Alex Crane the man and the eponymous brand has an interesting approach — one which always stands out to me. Perhaps it would be from the Andy Spade vibes that I frequently get when I see the clothes or even just an Instagram shot. That makes sense because Alex actually worked for Jack Spade for a time (though it was in the post Andy Spade era). But this feels like a slightly different branch of that Andy or Jack Spade tree. Alex Crane has what I think is the perfect amount of Andy Spade influence that couples nicely with an equal amount of his own inspiration and uniqueness.
But more than that, Alex Crane is good people. This is exactly the type of story that I love to tell on ACL. Shining some light on good people making things that are worth buying. Alex Crane probably doesn’t get enough press or attention. He should get more. The world needs more Alex Cranes. Our conversation is below.
ACL: Tell me about your background. Where did you come from? Who has been the biggest inspiration for you up until this point?
Alex Crane: I grew up in San Francisco when it was still the San Francisco of Kerouac and Steinbeck. Old men catching crabs in the Pacific, wild hippy-bums with grand theories about the universe, cheap burritos, exotic tea. At least that’s how it felt. And I was always making things. I’d sew and hammer and film and strum and write. I was partial to functional things. I went to Brown University, took apparel classes at RISD and got a job designing bags at Jack Spade in NYC. Then, last year, I left to start Alex Crane. I like to think I’m still a part of the old, paradoxical San Francisco, equal parts city and wilderness, sharp and nuts, idealistic and old-fashioned. I most admire folks who live those contrasts, like Mark Twain and Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac and Dave Eggers.
What do you want Alex Crane to be?
Alex Crane is a spirit. I think work and play are one and the same. I want to build a community of ambitious folks with big ideas and playful minds. And the clothes can be our uniform. There’s so much potential in retail. Most shops are only about shopping and that’s not enough. Steve Jobs understood that better than anyone – you enter the Apple Store and every detail reinforces the feeling of a welcoming, modern world. I want to create clean, bright spaces where people can shut out the noise and dream a while.
The Spring / Summer collection is entirely linen — is the line going to focus on that fabric? What is the Alex Crane take on linen? Do you see a lot of guys wearing it away from a holiday or island excursion?
I take cues from Dieter Rams. His philosophy was “as little design as possible.” It’s very hard to make something simple. But, if you can get there, the result is clean and sharp. Linen speaks for itself. It gets softer with wear and takes on the shape of the body. It occupies a space in between formal and informal, the office and the beach. It’s one of the oldest fibers but feels modern. Linen isn’t my only focus (the fall collection is mostly Japanese cotton flannel), but every collection will be high quality, tight and simple.
How would you categorize your fit and who do you envision as the customer?
The cut, like the brand, is relaxed. And, I’m equally flexible about the customer: men and women, young and old, American and international (Japanese, in particular). That’s one of the perks of simplicity – it allows for a wide range of interpretation. But, here are some common threads: 1) minimalists, 2) beach-y vibe enthusiasts and 3) “new professionals” (i.e., people who don’t wear a suit to work).
What is your take on wrinkles?
I love wrinkles, both on clothes and on skin. They tell stories and show that you’ve done shit.
Is making all of this stuff in the U.S. been a challenge or has the proximity been helpful?
At this stage, U.S. production makes more sense for me. If I need to fix something, I just jump on train and head out to Brooklyn or New Jersey. And it’s a lot more fun. I work with top-notch manufacturers and they’re all immigrant entrepreneurs like me (as a West Coast transplant to NYC, I think of myself as an immigrant, too). I work with makers from Ecuador, Mexico, Romania, Lebanon, and Poland. We text every day. I know their families. They invite me over for dinner. Of course, it costs more than overseas production. And, as I’ve grown, I’ve bumped up against some production limits. But, at this point, the benefits far outweigh the detriments.
From your perspective, what is something that most people don’t know about making clothes in America?
The U.S. manufacturing community is super fragmented. There’s really no easy way to find factories. Some companies have tried to build networks, but it’s still mostly a word-of-mouth type of industry. I kind of enjoy the scavenger-hunt. But, I’m still waiting for someone to make it less confusing.
Your collection has an interesting slant. What inspired this first group of hats, shirts, bags and shorts?
The collection is about the ocean and burning ships. I read that when Spanish conquistadors made land in America, they burned their ships so it was impossible to go home. I imagined a tropical beach scene, hot wind, pastel painted shacks and great big ships burning in the tide. It was beautiful and scary, just how I felt when I left Jack Spade to strike out on my own.
What has been the hardest part about launching a label in 2016?
Choices. The Internet is changing everything. In an hour, anyone can make a website and launch an e-commerce site. It’s upending the wholesale model. There’s no longer a clear path to growth. So, with so many options, the only real currency is focus, simplicity and clarity of vision.
What’s your plan for distribution?
I want to partner with the most exciting shops in the world and dream up new ways of showing product. And, when I’ve reached some scale, I’ll open shops of my own.
How do you feel about Los Angeles? Just curious.
Los Angeles is damn cool. As a matter of fact, right now as I type, I’m sitting cross-legged on a lifeguard shack at Zuma Beach in Malibu (actually). When I was younger, LA felt too sprawling. But now the East Side is getting all neighborhood-y and everyone looks so tan and healthy…