Photography by Andy Ryan
Past the cluttered workroom of a fourth-floor studio in Chelsea, Courtney Crangi -- a tangle of blonde hair, burnished skin, blue button-up shirt, and white jeans--leans over a computer and fires off an email. Her brother, Philip, reclines in a chair, fiddling with his phone. "Have a seat," Courtney says brightly as her brother peers up, a pair of crystal blue eyes identical to his sister's.
It's here that the duo run two accessories lines -- Philip Crangi Fine Jewelry and Giles & Brother -- that they began operating in the fall of 2001. It was an inopportune time to launch, but it served as a test of their creative and commercial acumen. Philip's rustic, hardware-inspired aesthetic was in stark contrast to the precious accessories of the Parisian maisons that ruled the wrists and lobes of the day, and possessed a folksy, casual charm that has since proliferated. With his signature railroad spike bracelet, an answer to Cartier's Juste un Clou, he injected some much-needed L.E.S. attitude into the market.
The familial patter that underscores a tour of the two dusty, artfully jumbled floors that house their professional lives can feel suspicious, like a media-savvy put-on. No sibling spats? Of late no, but histrionics led them to this peaceful state. "We beat the shit out of each other," Courtney recalls of their childhood in south Florida with two craft-happy art teacher parents. "It was blood and gore and hair-pulling and scratching."
Despite juvenile battles, there was a deeper bond in place, one that took on unexpected depth when Philip moved away for college. "I came out first," Courtney says, before Philip interjects: "All the firsts!"
"When I told him," she continues, "he said, 'Oh, poor mom and dad... I've been meaning to tell you: I'm gay, too.' "
But a same-sex commonality does not a successful business partnership make, and can't account for the industry accolades (Philip took home the CFDA Swarovski Award for Accessories in 2008 and was a runner-up for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund the year prior) and the roster of retailers, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's, that have picked up their jewelry.
"Courtney's my muse," Philip explains. "She has this amazing personal style. It's the attitude of a woman wearing her history -- her personal experiences -- in physical objects." Courtney's wrist jangles with trinkets that have special meaning, like an owl ring Philip gave her shortly after the birth of her daughter, Coco, engraved with two Cs inside.
Most recently the pair began using their work for a philanthropic cause, working with Peter Thum on Liberty United, which takes firearms off the streets and recycles the metal to create jewelry. "When you buy a bracelet, it's actually a gun that's no longer on the street. You can wrap your head around that," Philip says. "I feel much better about what we're doing with the company now that we can potentially save lives with jewelry," Courtney adds.
At the end of the guided tour, Courtney and Philip switch from doting siblings to business partners and back again without missing a beat. There are decisions to be made about whether or not to produce a double-banded cuff, and Coco will be having her first sleepover at Uncle Philip's this week; Courtney -- who is dating J. Crew Creative Director Jenna Lyons -- seems more worried for her brother than her daughter. "She'll be OK," she says, before pausing. "Will you?"