A little shop of wonders nestled in the heart of New York City’s Meatpacking District, The Crangi Family Project, boasted windows filled with artfully handmade jewelry ranging from bracelets made of brass railroad spikes to collars born of the delicate marriage between gold and leather. Created by Philip Crangi and his sister and partner, Courtney Crangi, the beloved boutique closed its doors in 2010.
After hearing about plans to close The Crangi Family Project, MAKER Magazine sat down with Philip in his Chelsea studio to discuss what lies in store for the Crangi Family and what continues to inspire him to create what he playfully calls his “pirate’s booty”.
Crangi, the consummate craftsmen, melds his affinity for the rugged and weathered with an eye for elegance and the touch of a master artist. His passion, intelligence, and sense of humor shine through as he discusses his family, his inspirations and happy accidents that make him the MAKER he is today.
What makes up your creative soundtrack – what is playing on your headphones when you’re making these treasures?
[laughing] Yeah, my soundtrack is um, well I’m a real dork and I actually can’t listen to music when I work because music is very emotional to me. I actually like to be really passive with music, which is very unlike me in every aspect of my life; I like someone with a strong musical personality to makeup a soundtrack. But when I work I can only listen to spoken word. I listen to a lot of books on tape and a lot of old time mystery radio.
Like Radio Lab?
Love Radio Lab! And The Moth, I listen to a lot of The Moth. I’ve been really into the BBC listener on my iPad and it’s like all of these BBC sport shows. And there’s this one particular show called In Our Times. Interviewer Melvyn Bragg who discusses historical events and people in history and he’s very, very British and you can’t tell when he’s being funny or just being kind of a dick. He’s got the most amazing people on the show, talking about all kinds of random things. Today I downloaded Death on the Nile and I’ve been listening since 10 o’clock this morning!
Do you have any rituals that inspire your process?
That is hard because it is never the same for me. Old ideas that I’m sort of haunted by begin to fade and turn into new ones that are unformed. So that’s when I start sort of figuring it out. I spend a lot of time looking through books, movies, or traveling. Just leaving the city sometimes brings a change of perspective. You come back and everything is the same as you left it, but you’re a little bit different. I’m not always inspired on schedule. I guess everyone has a hard time with that. I have to wait, just look and be open to things; let the ideas come to me. It’s usually through drawing that I can work out the basic engineering, the pattern that takes form. I do love drawing, that’s always been my great passion, but there’s only so much I can draw on paper. So then I have to start drawing in material because a lot of what I do comes from the material and comes from technique.
During this process, what is your favorite moment?
Oh! The moment where it actually clicks! That’s when I can start drawing, once I understand the thing. For years I’ve been obsessed with the aesthetics of Japanese armor. At first it was just the aesthetics of it, then I started to really look at the actual engineering and the way they are made. I realized the shape, but wasn’t sure if it would work, like mechanically work. So I studied how it would actually move, how big the pieces needed to be to make a bracelet. It can also be really fun, because that’s the challenging part! It needs to function on people.
Do you always continue a theme from one season to the next?
Always. Very rarely we do make radical changes. I guess it has to do with the idea of really exploring a technique, process, and aesthetic.
When you finish a new design, and it’s a masterpiece, who is the first person you call to celebrate?
I’ll carry something around with me to show [to people]. I’m going to dinner with my best friend tonight and I really wanted to finish this piece so I could just pull it out at the table.
My boyfriend, Darren, and my sister, Courtney, are the two closest people to me, along with my friend, Susie Cho, who I went to school with. Usually those are the three people who I’m like ‘you got to see this thing I just made!’
As a child, what were your dreams and desires?
At ten years old my great wish in life was to become the head designer for Industrial Light & Magic, making Star Wars movies! I was six years old when Star Wars came out and it changed my visual world completely. The way those movies were made, as opposed to modern computer generated images, it just blows my mind. Someone actually got paid to sit there and make crazy models of things? And now I realize actually that’s kind of what I do...I make articulated, intricate things. So I guess in a way I didn’t know this is what I wanted to do. When I visited the jewelry studio at my college, I had this moment of complete transformation, but not transformation like enlightenment. I saw what the studio was like and understood that I could make the things that I just was drawing. It changed me. I kind of stumbled into it.
Do you feel that your life is completely satisfactory in a creative way? What do you hope the future holds?
I mean, I definitely sometimes get in those dark moods where I’m like, ‘Oh what I am I doing, I have to just create? I can’t do this anymore!’ and then I’m like, ‘Oh wait, I’m actually really lucky, I’m really lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to like make this work, and I’m lucky because people want to hear what I have to say. That I’ve got this great studio that I can do this work in; I get to work with great people.’ I have fun, I just have to remind myself sometimes that I’m having fun. I want to just keep making great things, but I want opportunities to explore new ideas, and I definitely want to open more stores. I really like having stores. So that would be part of my fantasy. I like how close it is to the customer and being able to have those relationships with people. I think also for me, fine jewelry, which is now a very small part of what we do, but that’s sort of where we started. It’s very personal for me. For me, that jewelry is super personal for the person buying it, and for me to make it. And so, it’s difficult for me to just make a collection and throw it out there. I don’t relate to fine jewelry that way. It’s very personal stuff.
What would you like Wikipedia to say about you?
To have a reputation as a thoughtful designer, I guess.
That means a lot to me. When we first started, I made everything by myself. Now it’s more about developing the ideas. I still make the prototypes myself, which I enjoy much more.
You’re a maker!
I’m a maker, yes exactly, and I think I want to be known as that. I want to be remembered as a thoughtful craftsman and a maker of things. A maker of ideas.