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PHILIP CRANGI

Interview by Michael Bullock
Photography by Carlotta Manaigo

Published in apartamento 4, 2009

Philip Crangi’s grandmother used to tell him every dog has his day. Lately, it seems his day has arrived. Two years ago he won the prestigious CFDA/Vogue fashion award for best accessories designer and his life has been non-stop ever since. I met him at his loft in New York City’s industrial Flatiron District. He sits in his dimly lit bedroom answering a questionnaire for Style.com about why he thinks now is a good time to open up his first store. It’s a magic moment, his home, business and life are exactly as he intended. This makes spending time with him fun. With his fast talk and electric enthusiasm I easily got lost in his world. A world that feels like you stepped 100 years back in time, but as you adjust you notice that it’s cohesive in taste, not time period. Inspired by growing up by the ocean in Florida and his grandparent’s houseboat, Phillip thoughtfully carved his enormous loft into ship-proportioned spaces. The front of the space is the factory where you are greeted by sixteen metalsmiths using the building as originally intended. This room snakes into an elegant showroom/design studio, that’s wallpapered with cork, ideas are pinned up everywhere. A tiny red kitchen transitions into his private quarters that are dark and cozy, much more coast of Maine than midtown Manhattan.

What does the tattoo across your chest say?

“Je ne regrette rien”. That Edith Piaf song. It used to make me cry when I was a little kid, and when I understood what it meant, I was like, “holy shit, that’s heavy!”

What does it mean?

It means “I have no regrets”. It’s basically this kind of sad song. It’s triumphant but it’s really sad, she’s basically like, “This is my life, I made it myself. I’m not gonna regret it.” It’s a cautionary note to myself. I need to look at my life, and say “You know, you made this shit, this is your lot in life.” (laughs) Have as much fun as possible!

Does it work?

I don’t see my tattoos anymore but it does work, ‘cause people always ask me about it, so I have to tell that story and it reminds me not to regret.

Do you do many regrettable things or is it about living life to the fullest?

I think it’s really what you don’t do is the thing you regret. Like forgetting to buy Grace Jones tickets last month. That sticks with me more than the crazy shit I’ve done. You have this opportunity in your life, and you have to just take things when they come. I wanna know that I did it then. I grew up in South Florida, I had a very middle class upbringing. I was always searching for the crazy relative who lived in New York, or was a drag queen, and there just wasn’t a single one! I mean my family was nuts, but in a very suburban way.

Is that what brought you to NY? To be your own role model?

Well I went to RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] and ended up doing jewelry! It took me extra years to graduate, when I finished all my friends had moved here and it just seemed like the natural thing.

Did you start your line right away?

I was doing a lot of 20th century decorative art restoration, working for interior designers and antique dealers and on the side I was selling to clients but I don’t think that stores and magazines knew what to do with it - its time hadn’t really come. But I was showing them the work all along, and then suddenly in 2000, all of a sudden everyone was like “Wow, why didn’t you show us this before? This is so cool!”

So has the style of your apartments always been cohesive with your design work?

I always had a really strong idea of what it was, but I didn’t really know how to get there. I learned from working with decorators for years, the lie of the interior editorial.

What, like tricking out the place so it’s spectacular but has no resemblance to the owners actual place?

Yeah! I remember working on someone’s house for an Architectural Digest shoot. The antique dealers I worked with, basically loaned half the shop for the shoot! And I was like, “What! So many lies!” That kind of thing always weirded me out, decorators that invent a clients total look.

It’s actually creating a personality for them?

Yeah, they buy their books, their art, everything! But for me, it’s about layers of stuff, and it’s about the things that I’ve collected that I feel comfortable around. I don’t really make separations between my jewelry work, the art that I make, the way I dress or how I decorate my house. It’s all different versions of the same thing. So that took a while to get to that point, to realize that...

They are all aspects of the same ideas?

Yeah. I always looked at them as different things. It took ages. It was an evolving thing. I think that now it’s the place I meant it to be. I feel very comfortable here. It’s the first place I’ve ever lived where I feel that it’s totally me, 100%. It’s a cool feeling.

How long have you lived here?

Since February 2002.

And it’s officially a factory?

Yeah, it’s industrial space.

And you have a factory! (laughs)

I do have a factory, yeah! It had been vacant for years before I took it. It’s an old fur building and it was just a big open space with fluorescent lights from window to window. I took it right after September 11th, and apparently they couldn’t give the place away.

So, as far as living in your workspace, this is a new extreme, living with a factory and a showroom. How do you deal with that?

It’s pretty heavy. It can be really intense. That’s why having a place in Cherry Grove for the summer is so important, ‘cause at least I’m not “here” when I’m not working. The winter’s rough. I’m busy all the time... I’m running the business all day so I do my design work at night. I’m very regimented, so every morning I’m up, at my computer - dressed, teeth brushed, ready to go at 10 o’clock when everybody comes.

No pajama’s wandering through the factory, hung-over?

Often hung-over, but always in clothes! Even if I have the same ones from the night before I’m always dressed!

Can you explain why you have a trick sliding bed?

Oh yeah! So when I built the place, I didn’t really know whether I could live here. The only thing that was in the bedroom was that wall, and it’s actually two and a half feet off the ground, so the bed can roll all the way underneath the closet. So if I was inspected I could roll the bed under the wall so it would look like a full couch sticking out. I used to do that every morning.

Sneaky. What’s your favorite possession?

It’s these crazy House of Jansen chairs. An antique dealer that I work for owed me money and he gave me the chairs instead. Their amazing, camping-style folding chairs made from leather, and brass, and steel. My favorite room in this place is my bathroom. I think I have a real knack for the tiniest spaces, which is why I’ve cut this giant loft into, a bunch of small rooms.

You quickly forget you’re in Manhattan.

Yeah! I like the bathroom because that was the first thing that I finished that was exactly how I wanted it. I painted it black, and hung all those little pictures. I also love the kitchen, I built this tiny kitchen ‘cause I’m a bachelor, I can fry an egg just fine over there! It looks like a boat. The thing about this space that I love is that it’s very boat-shaped, long and narrow.

Is that coming from growing up in Florida?

I think so,my dad had a sailboat for a while, I always felt most comfortable by the ocean. I like the idea of a houseboat, my grandparents lived on one when I was a kid.

So you divide your giant loft into houseboat proportions? (laughs)

Yeah, like a tiny boat kitchen, and the tiniest bathroom in the world! I remember when we finally got the toilet in there, you can touch all the walls with your knees while you’re sitting on the toilet, I think that’s perfect.

Do you think black in a small room gives the feeling of infinite space?

My grandmother was a decorator in Miami, Christine Crangi, and her idea was always “If it’s small, put mirrors on the wall, and paint it bright colors.” I would never want to see that much of myself and I’m not into bright colors, if it’s smaller, really accentuate what’s most prominent about the space. And I love a black ceiling.

So you rebel against your grandmother?

She was very Florida!

Is she alive still?

She’s alive still, she still works. She’s 96, the most incredible woman. Her aesthetic is very WHITE. It’s a very scroll-y, Italian aesthetic. Growing up, I was constantly looking for the secret compartments in my house! I was waiting to find a dungeon or something. I watched the Addams Family allot. In 1976 this family moved across the street their son, Jeremy, became my best friend and his Mom, Mrs. Jones, was the craziest nutter I had ever met. She was always in these flowery Laura Ashley dresses that looked like nightgowns, and she had on all this jewelry. She wore her mother’s engagement ring, her grandmother’s engagement ring and her husband’s grandmother’s engagement ring. She wore these baby rings that I’d never seen before, and she wore them on the tops of her fingers. She had so much amazing antique jewelry, she wore it all the time, she never took it off. She’d be in the garden, digging, and she’d have the jewelry on. And her house was all antiques, and weird old crap, but in a Florida house with terrazzo floors and jalousie windows. It looked amazing to me! It was, like, this mythical thing. She was really my inspiration. And it wasn’t to that extent, but my mother was always really into decorating and making things for the house. We’d stay up all night rearranging all the furniture. So it’s kind of a combination of those influences. I like the mix of it all. The fun part is fitting things together, As I’ve gotten older though, it’s cleaned up a lot. I don’t want it to be that Steampunk, or I call it Erie Canal, that style that’s been so popularized at the moment. It’s really become NY’s overarching aesthetic, like the Freeman’s (a trendy NYC restaurant) kind of look. I mean I love a patina on a wall, I love a great old thing, but I’m not so interested in a lot of that aesthetic. It becomes boring if it isn’t countered with something chicer, or more vulgar. The three together make...

...up your style?

A little bad taste goes a long way, and I think it’s really important.

What do you think is bad taste in here?

Probably that kangaroo claw bottle opener that hangs on the wall over there. I have things that are kind of gaudy, like this crazy giant rhinestone letter M that’s from some theater. It’s tacky, but it’s also kind of gorgeous. That Indian chief pillow is pretty bad taste. It’s freaking ancient. People gave me looks at the flea market when I bought it.

Is it annoying to you that your aesthetic that has been growing over so long out of the life you lead and the things you make, gets grouped with this trendy New York moment you were talking about?

It’s a little bit annoying, but actually though, it’s the same thing as when you open up a magazine and see something that looks exactly like something you’re making by somebody else. At first you’re like, “oh, they’re knocking me off”, but I don’t really think that way. I think we’re all kind of connected... this sounds really...

Go for it!

Well, I really think that there’s kind of an evolution of aesthetic, of creativity. I’ll be working on something, and I’ll see that someone else is working on the same thing. I don’t know that person and they’re in Japan and I’m in New York, but we’re responding in exactly the same way to the world that we live in. That makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. When I open up Bazaar and there’s somebody making the earrings that look exactly like the earrings I’m making or I just made. It makes me realize that I’m connected to something bigger, I’m on-trend, as they say!

Well, it goes two ways, you’re a part of an international creative community, and you’re working from similar ideas because maybe you know each other or maybe your sharing the same references, it’s a dialogue that’s thoughtful and how culture develops but then there’s something much different, an indus- try that takes those ideas and capitalizes on whatever you’re making cause it’s cool and new. They don’t go through any process to get there.

Yes, but that’s the thing that pushes you forward, ‘cause then you’re like “Oh, this doesn’t look like me anymore.” So then your pushed to make something new.

I’ve never heard anyone say it like that before.

I joke that I’m most motivated by vanity and envy. (M laughs) If I see somebody doing something - whatever it is, an interior or a look, jewelry, whatever - if it’s a thing I wish I had made, in a sense then I can go to the next step with the thing. I was gonna make it, had I thought of it. And then I can move on to the next idea. It’s like I don’t have to make it - they made it. When I make something, when I finish decorating a room, or I do whatever, as soon as I’m done, I’m like, “oh, now I get how I should have done it.” Now I’m on to the next idea - it’s an evolution. And so I love to see work by other people and be like, “oh my God, I wish I had made that.” - but why make it when someone else already made it? Plus I can only make the things that only I can make, I’m gonna be thinking about that piece when I make my work, it’s gonna inform decisions about my next project. I love that flow. Without being inspired by how brilliant people are around you, would be so depressing! (M laughs)

You know what I mean? It really makes me crazy when I hear people talking about “Oh, they tried to rip me off”, or, “Oh, I’m so over this”. You know, haters, who always have something negative to say. It’s like - open your eyes, man! There is crazy shit going on out there! And if you’re good you’ll be able to make a better thing next!

Well, I like this positive take on...

The world at large?

Yeah. Well, obviously it’s nicer.

I dunno, I mean, I feel lucky that I’m getting to live the life that I live.

This is a stupid question to ask at this point but I don’t know if your name is Philip or Beau?

I think my Mom always wanted to name her son Beau, and my dad wanted Philip and so there’s some kind of passive-aggressive power-play by my mother, like, “sure, he can be named Philip, but we’re gonna call him Beau!” No one has ever called me Phillip. Philip is somebody else that I put on when I have to go be a professional person. (laughs)

I see, like Jack Spade... Andy Spade called his line “Jack Spade” just because he saw that his wife always had to be “Kate Spade” wherever she went, and he didn’t want that for himself!

I don’t want that! I don’t think it’s being duplicitous. I’m not being fake when I’m that person. It’s another part of me, but it’s not who I am when I’m with friends.

It’s a different mode of operation?

My nom de guerre. (both laugh) Actually, at the beginning I just felt like, I dunno, “Beau Crangi” - was a kid with crazy hair, who bartended in the East Village. And I felt like whenever I’d go to 47th Street, I could pretend to be Philip’s assistant Beau if I needed to be. You know, they never saw Philip! (M laughs) I was very influenced by Remington Steele.

Ah! Quality inspiration! Is there anything you haven’t said? Any closing ideas you would like to get out there?

Oh my God - yeah! Hmm....I think I have a theory about creativity, and the idea about the flow of information, and what you need to learn. I feel like as a designer I had to learn how to swim in the current and now I know the only way to make important work is to make the work that only you can make. Only you can do that thing. And it doesn’t matter what’s going on around you. Sometimes you’re in perfect sync, and sometimes you’re in total discordance, but that’s the most important thing I’ve learned to date. Do the thing only I can do. And it’s not just jewelry, it’s anything in my life. You know, I think that’s the most important thing.

That’s a nice lesson!

It took me a long time to figure that out. I wish somebody had just sat me down.

Is that wisdom from Philip Crangi or wisdom from Beau? (laughs)


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