Founder and creative director, Michael Saiger, reflects on the Miami jeweller’s design process

It began with a bracelet. Tired of the limited jewellery options for men, Michael Saiger began crafting his own whilst studying at the University of Miami, quickly turning heads with sleek, utilitarian, minimal designs. A couple of years later, and Miansai had been formally established. Offering hardware, nautical and architectural inspired pieces designed entirely in-house, a team of artisans sketch, mould, melt and assemble each concept using the high-tech machinery and tools that Saiger has been steadily amassing. The skilled use of precious metals, silvers and golds are what has propelled the Miami-based company over the last decade, often coupled with beautiful Italian and French leather and custom-made US marine grade rope. For the discerning man (and woman too), the range has been expanded to everything from steel watches, rings, necklaces, brass cuffs, portfolios and journals.  

Port caught up with Saiger to discuss Miansai’s conception, design process and whether the fight for men’s jewellery has finally been won.

How did Miansai start?

Although I officially created the company in 2008, I was selling pieces in my senior year of college, back in 2006. I saw that there was really nothing out there for guys, and how often in the fashion industry can you say that something hadn’t been done properly? I started making my own jewellery and it began, really, with a bracelet I wore that everyone just happened to love, so I continued making other pieces and selling them in a couple of great stores in Miami. Before I was done with college, I already had a couple people working with me and it went from there.

How would you describe the brand?

It’s where curiosity and creativity come together, in a playful, artful, evolving journey. We focus on turning raw input into refined output, ultimately crafting something that is wearable and effortless.

Where do you draw inspiration from and what’s the design process?

We take a lot of cues from hardware and architecture. The design process will start with the inspiration for the season, then we have a team of 30 skilled craftsmen in Miami who take over. We invested a lot into our machinery so we’re able to prototype and sample rapidly. We can then turn around to tell whatever factory that we’re working with – whether it’s in Italy or Thailand – exactly how this piece should be manufactured, because we know and understand the process from start to finish.

Too many businesses throw the word ‘handmade’ around, but it’s clearly an important part of yours?

From day one, I saw the importance of putting any money I would make right back into the business, purchasing machinery and tools to allow us to produce creative, consistent, handmade pieces. This level of range and control also allows us to experiment with new things and keep us moving forward. We’ve been lucky to work with some suppliers from the beginning and I take a lot of pride in our long-term Asian, French and Italian partners, who we rely on and trust to deliver beautiful materials.

Has the fight been won with men’s jewellery? 

When I first started, my initial thought was – if a guy will wear a watch or wedding band, why won’t he wear a bracelet? My main focus was to make a piece that anyone would feel comfortable wearing every single day. Previously, there was male reluctance when it came to bracelets and necklaces, but I feel like that barrier has been broken down since. Across the board, we’ve seen that change dramatically, that stigma is largely gone now. I like to think we’ve not only ridden that wave, but defined it too.


Jewelled Wit

Artemis Fontana’s new show highlights humorous artworks at the crossroads between jewellery, installation and sculpture
Classical music knows the humoresque genre: a small piece combining fine symphonic writing and entertaining content, such were Tchaikovsky, Grieg or Schumann’s humoresques. And it is with their works that one might compare the Der Ring group show in the Artemis Fontana gallery, curated by artist Pauline Beaudemont alongside critic Sylvain Menétrey, focused as it is on the relationship between artists’ jewellery and wit.
Trompe l’oeil, mixing of high- and low-register, size manipulation – the whole arsenal of humour has been abundantly used by its 15 participants, starting with the fact that the exhibition, intentionally announced as a jewellery show, takes place in a small venue with grey concrete walls, next to the garages. It is difficult to discern which one of Der Ring’s artworks is the most hilarious: a giant 1 meter ring, by Antoine Renard, a heart-shaped potato, placed in a jewel box and dedicated to an unknown sweet lady called Agnès by Adrien Missika, the “philosophical” golden necklaces by Saâdane Afif, on which, in the the form of pendants, we discover the pairs of words “nature – culture” and “penis – vagina”, almost taken from Claude Levi-Strauss’ structuralism, or a huge oyster shell with a suspicious yellow liquid, which turns out to be a delicious lemon cocktail, by Julie Favreau.
Meanwhile, Pauline Curnier-Jardin’s artwork – the show’s fixture – has a different, more ambivalent set of qualities. Performer and film director endowed with great comic talent and taste for absurdity, this 39 year old artist is mainly known for her videos. On one of them, currently shown at the City of Paris’ Museum of Modern Art as part of the You exhibition, Curnier-Jardin, dressed up as a lobster, stages an eccentric dance in the middle of an underground cave. Accompanied by a man wearing a huge hat in the form of a bunch of excrements, the artist urges the public to unite itself in sexual ecstasy with the whole universe, including plants and stones. Artemis Fontana’s show, in turn, highlights a more subtle side of Curnier-Jardin‘s personality. Her tinted with lipstick cigarette butts necklace, fabricated specifically on this occasion, is an ironic, erotic and dramatic object, where the cigarette butt – according to its symbolic significance in the Nouvelle Vague Parisian culture, think of Coco Chanel, Simone de Beauvoir and Godard’s films! – suggests a romantic disaster, a relationship which has no future but to be broken. For Curnier-Jardin, who as being pregnant quit smoking a few months ago, this necklace seems to be a farewell to her past, a farewell which in the multitude of its connotations – from self-sarcasm and regrets to nostalgia – serves as a powerful counterpoint for all the surrounding artworks.
The Der Ring group show in the Artemis Fontana gallery (1 Passage de l’Asile, 75011 Paris) is open until November 3rd

Tumi: The Global Citizen

Creative Director of lifestyle brand Tumi, Victor Sanz, chats to Port about the role of technology in luggage design, keeping the customer at the forefront, and what to expect from the Spring ’18 collection

When creative director Victor Sanz joined Tumi in 2003, the company was very much focused on luggage. Founded in 1975 by a Peace Corps volunteer, Tumi had its origins in importing leather bags from South America before moving into designing its own luxury executive travel cases and bags. Yet it was not till Sanz joined that Tumi could position itself fully as a lifestyle brand – a move that saw the company leading the premium-luggage segment of the industry and, last year, being acquired by Samsonite.

Sanz, who trained as an artist before finding himself drawn to product design, worked at Kodak designing award-winning digital cameras in the early 2000s, but he felt “the itch” to try fashion. Tumi arrived conveniently and, apart from a brief hiatus working at Olivet International, designing collections for Tommy Hilfiger, Nicole Miller and Joseph Abboud, he has been with the company ever since. As he launches the new Spring collection, Port caught up with Sanz in London to discuss designing for the global citizen, collaborating with MVP stars, and sending suitcases into space.

Would you say Tumi was a luggage brand, or is that too restrictive?

I see Tumi as a lifestyle brand for the global traveller, the global citizen. It’s about giving people the tools to make their lives easier, keeping them elevated and inspired and able to push themselves.

How new is this within the industry? What is Tumi doing which is different to other brands?

I think the key has been understanding the customer. That is at the heart of what the brand has been about, looking at how the customer’s life is changing, how travel is changing, how business is changing, and creating the solutions for that. For me, that’s been one of those things that has kept me at the brand, the world is changing with it. And now we’re creating products that are more fashion forward and lifestyle driven, it’s not just about the functionality. 

It’s interesting to see how people’s lives are changing. How do you think technology is going to impact what you do in the future?

The rise of the iPad and the smartphone represents a global, cultural shift in how we handle business and communicate with one another. People aren’t carrying so many heavy products, laptops are getting lighter, more work is being done on our phones. People want a bag to go to the office and then to the gym afterwards, it needs to suit both places. People want things that are reliable, durable and lightweight, that are an expression of themselves, that are stylish, that are refined. We’re three dimensional individuals.

Tell me about your market.

In the past, we were very focused on the business traveller segment of the market. Yet, the more we learned and understood, the more we realised that DJs and CEOs were also carrying our bags. Our customers are interested in art, music, architecture, food, travelling – their world is much larger than just the particular city they’re living in. It’s really about this world experience. We collaborated with Russell Westbrook, a professional athlete, the MVP of the NBA, a fashion icon, but he’s also a Tumi fan.

How do your collaborations come about, and what form do they take?

Collaborations always start off with a conversation: about life, culture, food, music, the way we live our lives. That ping-ponging of ideas is very fluid, it’s never one-sided. At the end of the day the product needs to be born out of both people, we’re not able to do it on our own, and neither are they. So it’s the best of both worlds. When we did a collaboration with Eva Fehren, a jewellery designer, the bag is true to how she travels, with a hidden compartment underneath for jewellery. That’s why it has this leather drape to it, these oversized details, this hardware, the functionality of it ties directly into what she does. That’s very Tumi. We work with people who are trailblazers in their industry, whether it’s MBA stars or jewellery designers, fashion icons like Public School or artists like Anish Kapoor.

How important are collaborations for you as a designer? How useful are they in inspiring new designs, new ways of thinking?

The best part about collaborating is the conversations with people outside your own field. They spark new energies, new ideas, new flow, new ways of looking at the process. The customer also appreciates seeing something different, something unexpected. I think that’s why you see so many collaborations out there in the marketplace as well, it’s a great way to generate new creative energy.

What are some of the challenges that you face, in terms of innovation?

We never sit still, we’re always looking to improve the collections. We like to reach out to other industries for material knowledge, to understand different engineering techniques, to make the product work at a higher level than ever before. That’s an ongoing challenge because materials are always developing. For example, the aerospace industry is going through its second phase, like what Elon Musk is doing. We’re thinking about how to tap into that knowledge of material and technology, and how to get that into products like luggage.

I wonder what a suitcase that you’d take into space would look like.

You’ll have to wait and see! We’ll be there sooner rather than later, as the human race progresses… So we might as well prepare for that now.

In the less distant future, what’s the idea behind the spring collection?

As a brand, we’re still grounded in travel, so we definitely look to different destinations as everybody gears up each season. So, for our spring collection we’re looking to go to some warmer places, looking for energy and some life. That’s what you’re going to be seeing in the new collection, there’s a lot of bright colours and freshness. The world has had a very interesting 2017, and I think everyone needs this kind of refresher.