Murray Crane on New Zealand’s menswear scene, how to dress for a wedding and why he’s always been fond of hand-made leather belts
New Zealand isn’t a nation that you’d immediately associate with menswear. But, thanks to Murray Crane, and his men’s retailer business Crane Brothers, that opinion, or lack thereof, is quickly changing. We’re excited to now be working with Murray and his business, with a selection of our belts now proudly stocked in his stores around New Zealand. We caught up with him and discussed all things menswear, New Zealand’s approach to it and why he’s so fond of handcrafted goods.
Hi Murray, thanks for finding some time to speak to us. Let’s start with getting some background on yourself. Where did you grow up and how did you find yourself a career in menswear?
Thanks for having me. I grew up in a very small town on the South Island of New Zealand – it's about as far away from fashion as you can get but I stumbled into fashion at an early age. I think it appealed to me as it seemed perfect for my set of skills: basically average at lots of things and not very good at one. I always detested school and studying so I am completely unqualified to do anything. My first business was actually making belts so I have always liked quality leather goods.
For those who don’t know, please can you paint the picture of what Crane Brothers is all about?
I started Crane Brothers in 1999 after 10 or so years of working for other brands. I was lucky enough to have a head buying role at a relatively young age (22) and was travelling regularly to Paris and Milan buying brands like Helmut Lang, Jean Paul Gaultier, Costume National Comme Des Garcons and Paul Smith. Selling those brands in New Zealand in the Nineties was brave and perilous but it taught me that there was an interest in men's fashion here. I saw a bigger opportunity to take everything I loved and had learnt from these brands and distil it down for the local market.
What are some ways in which you approach classic style differently compared to your peers in the UK, for example?
In New Zealand, we don't have the luxury of scale, so in some ways, every post needs to be a winning post. My approach is definitely one of wanting to push the boundaries ever so slightly but still present a very comprehensive “clean” aesthetic focused on the quality of cloth and construction. I believe there is always a market for that. I am commercially focused; I like to develop products that sell not that sit.
Seeing that you founded Crane Brothers in 1999, so 23-years-ago, what have been the most profound things you’ve learned about style and quality?
I think I've learnt that style and quality will always work. In good times and bad people always gravitate to quality.
In the UK, the last two years have had a huge effect on the way in which men are now approaching their wardrobes. Have you witnessed changes or shifts in New Zealand, too? If so, what are some examples?
It's been a slow shift here, possibly not as apparent as in the UK as the work culture there has always been quite formal. NZ men will grasp any opportunity to dress casually with both hands so we've always factored that into what we produce. The casualisation of the workforce has definitely grown pace over covid times. We definitely have an antipodean style that works for our culture and climate.
Dressing men for weddings is a key part of your business. Here in the UK, wedding season is upon us so what are some of your go-to suits to wear as a guest at a wedding?
Weddings are the one day that even the least formal amongst us feel compelled to make an effort so it's a great opportunity to dress up. We’ve seen a big return to tuxedos for men who really want a more formal look and given our summers are humid and hot we do a lot of outdoor weddings in venues like vineyards and beaches, so linen and cotton blends both work really well. Being a relatively young country we’re not caught up in tradition so we’re making our own rules.
This one often divides opinion, should you always match the leather of your shoes to your belt?
Yes, of course. My only exception would be a Webbing or Canvas belt. Or no belt which we advocate here over the very warm months: so side adjusters.
Let’s talk about product! What is it about handmade goods that speak to you and what makes a good product?
I have always loved the idea of making something and selling it, that's a real motivating force behind everything we produce. My early introduction to brands like Comme and, at the time, Costume National and Helmut Lang taught me the importance of good cloth and clinical manufacturing. Good menswear is all about that, and the purest form of all is tailoring. Even Avant-Garde brands like Gaultier or McQueen have that back in their DNA. We apply a tailor's eye to everything we make from jeans to shirts to suits.
When you bring a new brand into the fold at Crane Brothers, what are the key points and qualities you look for?
It just needs to meet those principles and we (I) need to like it: Would I pay money to buy it and wear it? If I wouldn't, I can't expect my clients to.
What drew you to Awling and can you tell us about your first impressions?
Given I have not been travelling during the pandemic I discovered Awling on Instagram. I’ve always been drawn to British brands – they tug at my colonial heartstrings. Given my formative years in fashion involved making belts, it piqued my interest as I could see that a lot of thought had gone into the product and it was quality.
Can you explain your curated edit of Awling belts and how you see them working with your customer base? You’ve opted for only one Original, and the rest are either Modernist or Pavilion, both of which are the boldest styles available…
We have a pretty expansive selection of belts under Private Label so I really wanted to cherry-pick the pieces that showed the flair and design aesthetic of the brand. I love the contrast whipping and two-tone buckles. They definitely pack a punch in terms of their design.
What’s your favourite Awling belt and how do you see yourself wearing it?
I am wearing the Pitch Black & Pewter Pavilion Belt. It feels like the perfect shape and size to wear with jeans. I normally wear it with an off-white denim five-pocket trousers and Chelsea boots (in black, of course). I could imagine Gram Parsons rocking this belt and that appeals.
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