Clothes & Personal: Matt Hranek

A few lessons on the art of dressing sharp and living well

By Shari Gab

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21 November 2017

This is Clothes and Personal, in which we sit down with one of the brightest names in menswear to talk about the articles every man should have in his closet.

Matt Hranek is a renowned photographer, style critic and the author of the recently released A Man and His Watch, which tells the stories behind iconic men and the tickers they wore. He’s been around the world and back, and along the way, he’s picked up more than a few tips on dressing — and living — like a gentleman.

We recently sat him down to get his thoughts on everything from buying your first watch to Martin Luther King’s other ticker to how to dress for a first-class upgrade.

Given it’s peak travel season, you should probably listen up.

InsideHook: So what’s the book all about?

Matt Hranek: A Man and His Watch is really about the emotional connections that we as men have with timepieces. Whether it's a brand story, or an individual story, I found that there was all this kind of “emotional DNA” and emotional weight behind the watches that men chose to wear or collect. And once I started talking to people about it, it became very intimate. And I thought, "What a great way to profile beautiful watches," through the stories of how the owners are connected to them.

IH: Is there anything that didn’t make it into the book?

MH: First of all, we had incredible cooperation. I would say 99.9% of our inquiries were accepted with, "Yes, this is a great project to be a part of." But there were a couple things that slipped through the cracks.

One of them was this Martin Luther King Timex that was on display in the Atlanta Airport. I'd seen pictures of Martin Luther King with a Rolex on heavily documented. But I never saw this Timex before. So I got in touch with the foundation, and they were so great, and so sweet, and it was like, "Yes, of course. Yes, yes, yes." Then I got to legal, and it was like, "No," without much explanation.

I liked how humble the watch was — this kind of great, simple Timex. There was a quote from his wife about how in his most complex and stressful negotiations, he was wearing that watch, watching time go by. And I was like, “Oh my God, it's so perfect.”

So that kind of slipped through the cracks. But it's a great story for an interview.

IH: Is it true that you can judge a man by his watch and shoes?

MH: I do think it's true. I think a watch, first of all, tells the world a little bit about who you are, and how you want the world to see you, and what you represent. And I think men think about that. I think about it. And men who I talk to — particularly about this book — think about it.

And if I see somebody walking on the street, I can tell at least a little bit of who he is, and what kind of personality he has, based on his shoe choice. If it is a work boot, a sneaker, a brogue, a loafer. I think if you're dialed into that, you can kind of make an assumption [about that man] — in terms of the importance of function versus aesthetic.

IH: What’s more important in a watch — function or aesthetic?

MH: I own a [Cartier] Quartz Tank, but to me, a mechanical Tank is just a more beautiful, elegant object. And I am never really looking on the inside of it — it's just a feeling that I have. And I like to know that a Ferrari has a V12 engine, but that's not the stuff that excites me as much as the overall aesthetic design of the car. So I would say I lean towards the aesthetic choice over the technical choice.

IH: What are some tips when looking for a timeless timepiece?

MH: I think when you're looking for something to be timeless — I don't care if it's a sport jacket, a pair of shoes or a watch — I think you lean to the classics. Or at least I would advise leaning to the classics, in terms of design. Look at what's been around the longest time: that’s probably because the design was great to begin with. Again, I bring up the Cartier Tank, which has been around 100 years. The Omega Speedmaster's been around for 60 years. Even G-Shock — that’s been around like 35 years. I would call those classics. They're unchanged, and for me, those are always solid purchases.

IH: What tips would you offer a first-time buyer?

MH: Find what you like. What is your aesthetic point of view, and what’s your budget? I think you navigate based on those things. And like most things, I think you should buy the best version of that thing. Don't buy the second best version. Save your money. Buy the thing you want, that's gonna have longevity.

IH: Sommeliers have told us that the trick is to find a $100 quality bottle of wine for $50. Is there a watch equivalent to that $50 bottle?

MH: I think like wine, watches should be navigated by your taste, and what you like. Right? And I think there are great quote bargains out there in terms of watches. Look at Swatch. Look at G-Shock. I hold those watches to equal aesthetics and intrinsic value — and in this book, many men held them with even greater emotional value — than some of the most expensive watches.

IH: What’s the best travel bag out there?

MH: I always travel with this Marimekko satchel. I love it. I've had five varieties of that bag. That thing goes on every single trip with me regardless if I carry on a roller bag or check a duffel. In that bag: sunglasses, earbuds, backup meds and computer. It's incredibly well organized. There's lots of pockets and zippers and Velcro. The best travel bag ever. I never leave home without it.

IH: What should a fella be wearing on a flight these days?

MH: Not shorts, not Crocs, not flip-flops. Sweatpants are sort of okay. I feel plane travel has become so not glamorous. Right? And I understand comfort. But I do think there's a great way to be comfortable, and still feel presentable.

I talk to gate agents all the time. And gate agents have the most power in any airline. That person can change the fate of your flight. And nine times out of 10 when I ask, “Hey — the random upgrade that you give that's not to someone of status or some kind of frequent flyer is who?” And they're like, "The best dressed person in the room." Because they want that represented in the plane. And I think going on looking good is the least you could do for yourself and the flight attendants … And other passengers. (Laughs.)

IH: And now on to the speed round. Thoughts on the cheap gold watch?

MH: When you buy a cheap gold watch, it cannot ever pretend to be anything but a cheap gold watch.

IH: A watch from a pawn shop?

MH: You roll the dice. Either it's not a big investment, you're willing to lose on it, or you know the pawn shop.

IH: From an estate sale?

MH: Definitely buy a watch from an estate auction.

IH: Pocket watches?

MH: Not for me.

IH: Monogramming before marriage?

MH: Be confident in all decisions.

IH: Murses?

MH: Hm? I don’t know what that is.

IH: A man purse.

MH: I’m really glad I didn’t know what that was immediately. So, no.

IH: Sweater vests?

MH: Yes.

IH: Sweater vests without shirts under them?

MH: Oh no.

IH: Silver or gold?

MH: Silver.

IH: Superman or Batman?

MH: Superman.

IH: Digital or analog?

MH: Analog-ish.

IH: Love or money?

MH: Love.

IH: Rolex means …

MH: Rolex means a connection to my dad.

IH: Men overspend on …

MH: Tech.

IH: Men should overspend on …

MH: Their wardrobe.

IH: Men should never …

MH: Wear Crocs.

IH: What did you want to be when you grew up?

MH: When I was young, I wanted to be one of two things: A vet (which would have made my mother really proud, to say “doctor,” even though I would have been, like, castrating cats most of the time), or a photographer. And I'm really happy that I pursued being a photographer. I spent one internship with a local vet, and I was bitten by more dogs and cats, and I was like, “This is not the life for me.” So I went to school and studied art history and photography, and that's what I did for a good, well, 25 years of my adult life.

IH: A place that inspires you …

MH: My farm in upstate New York is one of the most magical places on earth, and where I really ground myself. And I love Old World Europe for the same reasons.

IH: A film that inspires you …

MH: One of my favorite films ever is A Year of Living Dangerously with Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson. I think not only is it a beautiful, romantic, charming story, I also think aesthetically, it's just so beautifully done. I think about that film a lot.

IH: A book that inspires you …

MH: I love books on survival, and I love books on adventure. And I think Shackleton would be a great example of that.

IH: A person who inspires you …

MH: I'm inspired by the people that I run into daily in my life, but I think I was most inspired by my dad.

IH: The last thing you Google’d

MH: The last thing I Googled was not hemorrhoid. Never Google hemorrhoid. (Laughs.) I Google addresses all the time. I've become so lazy. So I think the last thing I Googled was how to get to the 21 Club. And I should know that by now.

IH: A menswear trend that you embrace is ...

MH: I really love that these great classics are coming back, because essentially I can dress like I did in high school, but with a slightly better version of those things. I think the fact that Harris Tweeds and Barbours and Shetlands and all these great classics have become the framework of what is considered a modern, well-dressed guy is amazing.

IH: A menswear trend that needs to go is ...

MH: People always ask, “What's the evolution of menswear?” And you see movies that were made in the past projecting what menswear and fashion will be in the future, and how we'd all be in Mylar suits without collars. That idea that we're gonna suddenly walk out of Woody Allen Sleepers — I think that’s ridiculous. I think stick to the classics, and things we love. And stick with natural fibers.

IH: Do you have a white whale watch?

MH: I just love vintage [Rolex] Submariners, and I think my grail watch — one that I'm really aspiring to own one day — is a very early Submariner 5508.

IH: What’s next?

MH: I think next is A Man With His Car. I think there are a lot of interesting connections that I found in the watch world, that easily transcend into the car world.

IH: What would be your car?

MH: I'm a Porsche 911 guy.

IH: Anything else?

MH: The book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and your local bookstore. Get it while it's there, because it's going so fast. And in the meantime, if there's a love affair with watches, cars, menswear and Negronis, you can follow me on my Instagram, which is @WMBrownProject.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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