If you’re not overly familiar with the name ‘Miansai’, you’ve probably seen one of their most famous designs without knowing it. A coloured nautical cord bracelet with a metallic fish hook or anchor detailing was, a few years ago, as ubiquitous as Stan Smiths and skinny jeans.
It was one of the few jewellery designs and brands that managed to cut through to the mainstream while still being desirable for guys to wear on their wrists. It was a sweet spot of pricing and branding that made it something that wasn’t throwaway, yet was affordable enough to be worn carefree.
Left - Michael Saiger Founder & Creative Director of Miansai, TheChicGeek wears Harrington Jacket - Grenfell, Cardigan - Pretty Green X John Smedley, T-Shirt - Vintage Helmut Lang, Tracksuit Trousers - adidas from ASOS, Trainers - Diadora Made in Italy
I caught up with the founder, Michael Saiger, in London, to find out how he achieved something that is so difficult, today, and see what’s next for Miansai:
Originally from New York, Michael Andrew Saiger - it’s the MI-AN-SAI of his name that gives the brand its name, “All the domains were taken until I circled these parts of my name. Everybody thought it was asian, but it’s not”, he says, is dressed in a simple sweater and chinos and surrounded by the salon style hanging of the Berners Tavern restaurant.
Michael’s attention to detail can be seen by his perfectly manicured beard and not a hair out of place on his head. “I put my handprint on everything I do. I’m OCD, I’m obsessive”, he says.
How did he get started and where did his eye come from? “My mum has an antique store, she’s an interior decorator and I grew up around estate sales my whole life. So, then when I went to the University of Miami and I started making some bracelets. This was 2007,” says Michael.
“I was looking for a bracelet and there was nothing out there. So, I started making bracelets for myself and then I would take these World War II pendants and medallions that I would find at estate sales and make them into necklaces. All my friends really loved it and wanted them.
“I took them to the concept store, Base, in Miami. They were like, ‘oh yeah, we love this stuff’. This was right before I went on holiday for the summer, and when I went back after, they said they’d sold out in like a week or two,”
Right - This bracelet design has done the difficult thing of being common while still looking fresh and has become something of a men's classic - Miansai - Anchor Cord Silver-Plated Wrap Bracelet - £55 from MRPORTER
The company started officially in 2008 and, then, the product that catapulted Miansai onto the wrists of men worldwide was born. “I took all that money and bought various machines, equipment, everything, so, then me and one of my best friends had a 300 sq ft work studio and we started making everything and selling to some of the best boutiques around the US.
“After that and I graduated - the degree was in marketing - we were bursting out, so we found a 10,000 sq ft warehouse, and built it out and set up our whole manufacturing operation. Then, I started taking our nautical rope and, at the time, nobody used nautical rope for anything unless you went to a summer camp and had a little tie-on bracelet.
“We launched in 2009, in Barney’s & Bergdorf’s ,and then GQ featured one of our rope bracelets. I started using the rope in 2008, but the hook and anchor came in 2009. I didn't want to launch it until I knew I had manufacturing, as I knew it would be very popular. I didn't want to come out with a product and not be able to deliver it.
“We were the first to do anything like this with price points between $55 to $500. It had to be for a 15 year old, it had to be for a 70 year old, it had to be for a 20 year old: anyone and everyone.
Asked how many he thinks he’s sold of his signature product, we quickly discredit the hundreds of thousands and move into the millions. Next came his own retail outlets. “In 2012, we started a mobile retail unit, an old vintage airstream. In 2013, we opened a store in New York, Soho, and we've just opened another store in Venice Beach in LA".
Michael understands the future of retail and that traditional bricks and mortar US retail is suffering. “Retailers are hurting, especially in the US, with everybody shopping online. We have our food delivered, we, literally, don't got to the store, at all. The industry is changing”.
How do you see your stores then? “It’s more about experiential retail. I built our two stores to be galleries. I didn’t want jewellery fixtures, I designed furniture to house jewellery. It feels like a furniture store inside. That’s the future of retail,”.
Left - Miansai - Harbour Rucksack Tobacco Leather - £506.35 This was the bag Michael was carrying in London. He says the bags are made in the same factories as Prada, using the same leather as Louis Vuitton
He cites Aesop as a brand he admires. He’s coy about naming anybody that touches on his accessorises world, but he’s clearly an admire of good design.
He knows that he needs to go to where the consumers are, so he’s launching 5 more mobile units of classically restored Airstreams, Piaggio's and a Fiat at various locations such as JFK, LAX, Soho House Malibu and Newport, Rhode Island. He says it’s all about, “High traffic in an authentic way without selling out,”.
The brand has just expanded into leather bags and fine jewellery. “We launched leather bags: Italian leather, all cut and sewn in Turkey. We use some of the same factories as Prada and the some of the same leather as Louis Vuitton. I always collected bags from my estate sale days and knew what I wanted in a bag”.
As for the fine jewellery. It’s not currently available in the UK, but how does that fit in? “It’s marketed to women, but anyone can wear it,” he says, “For first 5 year’s of the brand, I never said whether it was men’s or women’s,". Is it made by your? "We do make some of the solid gold jewellery ourselves and some of the fine jewellery with the Pavé diamonds, we also work with a very high end factory in Thailand”.
Right - Arduin Cuff Bracelet, 14K Gold/Pave - £2978.54
What advice can he give to men with regards to wearing jewellery? “Keep it simple. Keep it to two pieces, unless you have a thin bracelet. For me, personally, I never wear more that two bracelets and a watch”.
So, what’s next for Miansai? “I definitely want to stay in the accessories realm, I don't want to go into ready-to-wear. We have a very good niche and I’d like to stay there”.
Michael currently has 55 employees, he doesn’t disclose his turnover, but if he’s shifting £60 bracelets by the million, then it’s going to be pretty high. He obviously knows his market and exactly how to expose his brand without it feeling like it is everywear, devaluing it and worst of all, millennials I'm looking at you here, boredom kicks in.
To sell millions of the same bracelet yet retain its desirability is a skill many retailers or brands would love to know. I don’t think it’ll be long before we see a converted vintage van - how about a Morris Traveller? That’s very British - at Wilderness or one of those more monied festivals emblazoned with ‘Miansai’ on the side.
We’re going to take our warm weather inspiration from Michael Fassbender, today. This is how you want your polo shirt to look this summer. Of course, it helps if you have the body, but a knitted polo shirt with stretch will compliment most body types.
You want it to cling in the right places, so the chest and arms, so go for something fitted, but not too tight. The high-street are doing some great knitted polos at affordable prices or opt for something pricier in a bold colour. Go for a fine knit wool, even in summer, or a silk mix.
Left - Michael Fassbender at SXSW showing us how something so simple can look so good
Here are TheChicGeek’s favourites of the season:
Left - William Lockie for L+M Ecru Fine Knit Cotton Polo - £43 from Trouva
Left - Pretty Green - Stone Fortrose Knitted Polo - £65
Left - Prada - Slim-Fit Jacquard-Knit Wool Polo Shirt - £545 from MRPORTER.COM
Below - Reiss 'Manor' Merino Wool Polo Shirt - £75
Left - Fred Perry - Tipped Knitted Shirt - £70
Left - ASOS - Knitted Short Sleeve Textured Polo In Muscle Fit - £20
Below - River Island - Ecru Knitted Polo Shirt - £20
Left - Pretty Green X John Smedley - Chartham - £135
Left - H&M - Silk-Blend Polo Shirt - £24.99
Below - Peter Werth - SS17
Maybe it’s in homage to the latest Oasis documentary, but the roll-with-it thin-knit roll neck is the default easy menswear knitwear trend of the season. (That was quite a mouthful, or in this case, a neck full).
I'm not sure whether Liam or Noel would do a louche jewel-coloured rollneck with contrasting velvet jacket, but I'm sure they'll agree that it looks pretty good. Go for something fine, maybe a Merino wool or cashmere silk mix, if your budget allows for it. Look for golds, reds, pinks or oatmeal and team with a contrasting jacket like in Tom Ford's latest advertising campaign. This is easy, but cool dressing. Trust me, between now and next summer, you'll reach for the reliable rollneck and it'll leave you feeling supersonic!
Left - Tom Ford - Classic Cashmere Turtleneck - $1290
Left - John Smedley - Connell Deep Claret - £145
Below - Hymn - Maximum Roll Neck Burgundy - £50 From John Lewis
Left - Gucci - Cashmere Turtleneck - £485
Left - River Island - Light Brown Ribbed Roll Neck Jumper - £25
Left - Topman Premium - Pink Roll Neck Jumper - £35
Nothing says ‘London’ or ‘Business’ quite like pinstripes. This classic tailoring material is having a renaissance, right now, in new slimmer shapes and contemporary cuts.
On my daily pilgrimage to ChicGeek Towers, every sartorial i is dotted and t crossed before I leave the house. Today, I've opted for a bespoke grey Loro Piana made bespoke by Kingdom and teamed this with a pop of brightly coloured merino knitwear. The rest is classic London - bowler hat, monk strap shoes and briefcase. And, TheChicGeek's blogging day begin...
Credits – Suit – Kingdom, Suit Pin – Alice Made This, Knitted Polo – John Smedley, Watch – Omega 'De Ville Prestige Power Reserve', Bowler Hat – Hackett, Shoes – Russell & Bromley, Umbrella – Aramis, Pocket Square – Atelier Scotch, Socks – Ede & Ravenscroft, Briefcase – Swaine Adeney Brigg at MR PORTER.COM
Shot by Robin Forster
With thanks to Rocket Gallery
John Smedley shows us how to care for your knitwear.
Quality comes at a certain price, but does not necessarily need to be preciously treated. With a degree of care and attention all John Smedley (Look at the care instructions on other knitwear brands)garments can be machine washed and will continue to look good and last well for many years to come.Top tips for John Smedley's merino wool knitwear:
1.Remove surface soiling by gentle brushing, this will help the stain later on.
Treat stains immediately with cold water, blot dry with a clean cloth - never paper.
3. Air wool after wearing by laying the garment flat , as this helps to get rid of odours.
4. Always try to store lightweight wool folded and allow breathing space.
5. Clean your garments before storing, the dreaded moths, seemingly love top quality fibres, but they are actually feeding off the body oils and dirt, not the actual fibre. Use natural remedies to combat moth attack- the old ones are the best and smell the best- cloves, lavender, rosemary and thyme, orange peel and cedar, can all help deter the munchers. Never put these in direct contact with the knitwear, tie them in a gauze bag and hang in your cupboard or wardrobe. It is worth noting that as we have ditched our carpets in favour of floor boards, the moths no longer have carpets to attack, so are more inclined towards your clothes.
6. Try to rest your wool garment between wearing, (if you can bear to!), 24 hours allows the natural fibres to spring back and preserve its natural resilience.
7. Turn the garment inside out to protect the outer surface.
8. 30 degrees C is all you need on a reduced cycle. Merino wool has natural self cleaning properties, so you don't have to wash so often and all of this in turn helps the environment.
9. Use a mild, non-biological detergent. Biological enzymes eat away the natural fibres, causing long term damage.
10. Dry flat, or I prefer a good line dry on a windy day, the fibre almost returns to its natural habitat!
11. Gentle, warm iron with steam should just return the shape- though again straight from the washing line no ironing is necessary.
John Smedley's Sea Island Cotton needs less precautions. A beautiful, long fibre staple length, with a luxurious handle can be machine washed.
As we dye all of our colours at the mill in Derbyshire, the colours stay true and fixed. Still wash dark and lights separately, keep the temperatures low and never hang black and dark colours on the washing line in bright sunshine. Natural sunshine is the best natural bleaching agent- so perfect to keep your whites white!
For stain s and soiling, cold soak prior to washing. This loosens the dirt and prevents it fixing permanently with hot water.
A British Insititution, John Smedley has been manufacturing the finest knitwear since 1784. Still proudly Made in England at their factory at Lea Mills in Matlock, Derbyshire, the family owned company today, exports to over 35 countries worldwide.
The body panels and sleeves of the wool and cotton garments are linked together by hand, stitch for stitch, to create the impeccable neat seams which remain one of the hallmarks of real luxury knitwear.
After knitting, the garments are scoured or washed using water from John Smedley's three springs - this is a crucial stage in the manufacturing process giving the garments their characteristic 'soft handle'. Additional processes render the garments shrink resistant and machine washable, a unique feature considering such delicate techniques are applied.