Over the past severalÂ 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 ofÂ incremental growth was hard fought for Alex, and each time I would see himÂ 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 â€” 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). ButÂ this feels like a slightly different branch of that Andy or Jack Spade tree.Â Alex Crane has what I think is the perfect amount of Andy Spade influence that couples nicely with anÂ 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 beenÂ the biggest inspiration for you up until this point?Â
Alex Crane: I grew up in San Francisco when it was still the San Francisco of KerouacÂ and Steinbeck. Old men catching crabs in the Pacific, wild hippy-bums withÂ grand theories about the universe, cheap burritos, exotic tea. At least thatâ€™sÂ how it felt.Â And I was always making things. Iâ€™d sew and hammer and film and strumÂ and write. I was partial to functional things. I went to Brown University, tookÂ apparel classes at RISD and got a job designing bags at Jack Spade inÂ NYC. Then, last year, I left to start Alex Crane.Â I like to think Iâ€™m still a part of the old, paradoxical San Francisco, equalÂ parts city and wilderness, sharp and nuts, idealistic and old-fashioned. IÂ most admire folks who live those contrasts, like Mark Twain and Bob DylanÂ and Jack Kerouac and Dave Eggers.
What do you want Alex Crane to be?
Alex Crane is a spirit.Â I think work and play are one and the same. I want to build a community ofÂ ambitious folks with big ideas and playful minds. And the clothes can beÂ our uniform.Â Thereâ€™s so much potential in retail. Most shops are only about shoppingÂ and thatâ€™s not enough. Steve Jobs understood that better than anyone â€“Â you enter the Apple Store and every detail reinforces the feeling of aÂ welcoming, modern world.Â I want to create clean, bright spaces where people can shut out the noiseÂ and dream a while.
The Spring / Summer collection is entirely linen â€” is the line going to focusÂ on that fabric? What is the Alex Crane take on linen? Do you see a lot ofÂ guys wearing it away from a holiday or island excursion?Â
I take cues from Dieter Rams. His philosophy was â€œas little design asÂ possible.â€ Itâ€™s very hard to make something simple. But, if you can getÂ there, the result is clean and sharp.Â Linen speaks for itself. It gets softer with wear and takes on the shape ofÂ the body. It occupies a space in between formal and informal, the officeÂ and the beach. Itâ€™s one of the oldest fibers but feels modern.Â Linen isnâ€™t my only focus (the fall collection is mostly Japanese cottonÂ flannel), but every collection will be high quality, tight and simple.
How would you categorize your fit and who do you envision as theÂ customer?
The cut, like the brand, is relaxed.Â And, Iâ€™m equally flexible about the customer: men and women, young andÂ old, American and international (Japanese, in particular). Thatâ€™s one of theÂ perks of simplicity â€“ it allows for a wide range of interpretation.Â But, here are some common threads: 1) minimalists, 2) beach-y vibeÂ enthusiasts and 3) â€œnew professionalsâ€ (i.e., people who donâ€™t wear a suitÂ to work).
What is your take on wrinkles?
I love wrinkles, both on clothes and on skin. They tell stories and show thatÂ youâ€™ve done shit.
Is making all of this stuff in the U.S. been a challenge or has the proximityÂ been helpful?
At this stage, U.S. production makes more sense for me. If I need to fixÂ something, I just jump on train and head out to Brooklyn or New Jersey.Â And itâ€™s a lot more fun. I work with top-notch manufacturers and theyâ€™re allÂ immigrant entrepreneurs like me (as a West Coast transplant to NYC, IÂ think of myself as an immigrant, too). I work with makers from Ecuador,Â Mexico, Romania, Lebanon, and Poland. We text every day. I know theirÂ families. They invite me over for dinner.Â Of course, it costs more than overseas production. And, as Iâ€™ve grown, Iâ€™veÂ bumped up against some production limits. But, at this point, the benefitsÂ far outweigh the detriments.
From your perspective, what is something that most people don’t knowÂ about making clothes in America?
The U.S. manufacturing community is super fragmented. Thereâ€™s really noÂ easy way to find factories. Some companies have tried to build networks,Â but itâ€™s still mostly a word-of-mouth type of industry.Â I kind of enjoy the scavenger-hunt. But, Iâ€™m still waiting for someone toÂ make it less confusing.
Your collection has an interesting slant. What inspired this first group ofÂ hats, shirts, bags and shorts?
The collection is about the ocean and burning ships.Â I read that when Spanish conquistadors made land in America, theyÂ burned their ships so it was impossible to go home.Â I imagined a tropical beach scene, hot wind, pastel painted shacks andÂ great big ships burning in the tide. It was beautiful and scary, just how I feltÂ 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 canÂ make a website and launch an e-commerce site. Itâ€™s upending theÂ wholesale model. Thereâ€™s no longer a clear path to growth.Â So, with so many options, the only real currency is focus, simplicity andÂ clarity of vision.
What’s your plan for distribution?
I want to partner with the most exciting shops in the world and dream upÂ new ways of showing product. And, when Iâ€™ve reached some scale, Iâ€™llÂ 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, Iâ€™mÂ sitting cross-legged on a lifeguard shack at Zuma Beach in MalibuÂ (actually). When I was younger, LA felt too sprawling. But now the EastÂ Side is getting all neighborhood-y and everyone looks so tan and healthy…