Creative Conversations: Plum Guide meets Matt Hranek

We sit down with the founder of Wm Brown magazine to talk print publishing, Negronis and why Italy is the best place on Earth

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Matt Hranek, founder of Wm Brown magazine

In the first installment of Creative Conversations, our brand-new interview series, we're catching up with Matt Hranek – former CN Traveler photographer and now author and publisher of men's lifestyle magazine, Wm Brown. During our conversation, Hranek shares what print publishing means to him, why a classic Negroni always wins and how Italy will always have his heart...

We’d love to hear more about your print magazine, Wm Brown. What was the main inspiration behind creating it?

The magazine was selfishly created for myself because I love print and I love magazines. I grew up in my professional adult life in the magazine world, particularly at Condé Nast and I wanted to see all of my interests under one title. I was running out and buying magazines about cars, watches, travel, food, style... But I just wanted to keep it under one umbrella. Also, as I watched legacy publishing implode on itself – a lot of it disappearing, and a lot of great talent not having outlets for print – I felt like it was my duty to keep part of that alive, and that’s how the magazine came around.

The spring 2021 edition of WM Brown magazine

The spring 2021 edition of WM Brown magazine

You’re also the author of the book, ‘A Man and His Watch’. Where did the idea behind that come from?

That really was born out of me covering the watch market for (Condé Nast) Traveler when I really toned down the photo end of my career and was more becoming an editor. I was covering the watch market quite aggressively and I was just running into these amazing brands – like Cartier and Zenith – that had these really interesting origin stories. But also, meeting all these characters that had such great stories about the watches that they were wearing. It wasn’t about how much money they were spending on the watch rather than how much emotional connection they had to the watch. What a great story book! Then, I was lucky enough that my publisher, when I pitched it, felt the same – that it was not about the world’s most expensive watch, that it was about how we covet these things and make these deep emotional connections.

Your next book ‘The Negroni: A Love Affair with a Classic Cocktail’ is about to be released (on May 24th globally). What was the most interesting thing you learnt about your favourite drink whilst researching for the book?

I guess what I realised through the exploration of it all is there really is nothing better than that original, classic combination of 1:1:1 Campari, sweet vermouth and gin. There are some terrific riffs which I enjoy, like the Boulevardier with bourbon. Or when it’s made with mezcal, I think it’s great. But I really felt like the world didn’t need a Negroni book filled with 60 different Negroni recipes. There’s probably a couple dozen riffs that I think are really successful, particularly for the home bartender - leave the pro stuff to the pros. I don’t think this book replaces your favourite bartender, but it does bring that inspiration and confidence of being able to do it at your home bar. I think that was really my intent in editing this curation of what I think are the greatest Negroni riffs.

Matt's latest book, 'The Negroni: A Love Affair with a Classic Cocktail' which is soon to be released

Matt's latest book, 'The Negroni: A Love Affair with a Classic Cocktail' which is soon to be released

It’s clear you value the printed word in our digital age. Could you tell us exactly what it means to you?

I love the tangibility of the printed page, particularly when we talk about magazines and books. There’s something nice about printed material: its portability. You bring it to the beach, it doesn’t need to be charged, it doesn’t have to be under a certain light source to read correctly. I like that you can maybe spill a drink on it and not have to be too dramatic about it. I love, for example with cookbooks, when you open up a vintage cookbook and there’s a little bit of a grease splatter and there’s some kind of artefact of someone making contact with this thing, and I feel making contact with things is still part of the human condition. I really love digital media, I’m a big fan of it, but I do think it’s in tandem with print. I don’t think it’s either/or.

What project are you working on next?

I found that I took a deep dive into what kinds of things were important to me as I was navigating the last year in this current situation. ‘A Man and His Car’ came out which was the sister or brother book of ‘A Man and His Watch’. That was printed and delivered in the last year. And my publisher, Artisan, who is just a brilliant publisher – they love the idea of pairing things, so they said 'Well, you’re writing Negroni, what do we pair this with down the road? Do you want to do a whisky book?' and I thought 'Well, there are so many whisky books... I like whisky, but it’s a very seasonal drink for me, let’s say.' So I said 'What about Martini?', and I do think there's a very similar dialogue about the Martini. People are very opinionated about it. There’s a very sketchy history like the Negroni and I think it’s one of those drinks like the Negroni that is just perfect in its simplest form. So we decided to roll out Martini in the fall, so you’ll have Negroni and Martini together.

We also saw a mention of a cookbook on Instagram…

I’d say it’s probably a year out in sum, but I am going to do a cookbook based on this food journal that I’ve been very aggressively keeping for the last year, which is something I never did before. I was really lazy about journaling and we all had all this time, and I specifically had a lot of time on my hands in this house of mine in the country. So I decided 'Well, let’s keep track of all this great food that we’re making, that we’re inspired by, that’s around us and how the conduit of this place created this food dialogue' and I kept a journal. My publisher said, ‘Well, that’s a book, and it’s already written basically!’. So we’re going to translate that journal into a cookbook around this lifestyle that was up at the William Brown farm, and that’s evolving as we speak, and I’m really excited about that.

Matt is currently working on a cookbook based on his food journal

Matt is currently working on a cookbook based on his food journal

Tell us the story behind a favourite item in your home...

The problem is I’m a bit of a hoarder, or that’s how I’m defined. I like to think of myself as an archivist. But if there was that ‘burning house’ idea and the things that I would grab... I think it would be a couple of things. I would definitely grab the watch that my father left to me which is this very simple stainless steel Datejust Rolex, and then there’s this Jean Arp lithograph signed in paper that hangs in my bedroom that I just am so inspired by every day. I look at it, and have been looking at it for a very, very long time, and I think I would not leave the house – of course I would bring dogs, children, people – but I think that Jean Arp would have to come off the wall and be with me.

What makes a house a home, to you?

I think the people in it are really important. When I start thinking about the physicality of it, it’s about light and comfort and warmth, and that can be defined in any way. For me, it’s the perfect sofa and nice lighting, and owning the fact that these things are yours. I think it’s very curious sometimes, when I walk into very decorated houses, I’m just like ‘This looks good, but I know it’s not yours’. How do you make spaces yours? And that could be done in an extremely minimal way, like Marcel Breuer minimalist. Or what I envy, and I know I could never get to that level, is those mad World of Interiors-style English houses that are so cluttered and layered but somehow feel so organised. Those kinds of spaces I really admire.

The light-filled living room at William Brown farm

The light-filled living room at William Brown farm

Where is your home away from home?

I have a deep, deep love affair with Europe. I have a house in the Southwest of France but I think I am the happiest version of myself when the wheels touch down on the tarmac of any Italian airport. I have said the only problem with the French house is that it’s not in Italy. I’m yet to be disappointed by any part of that country in terms of its food, its culture, its people. Even the graffitied streets of Catania in Sicily have their charm. I just think it’s the spirit of the place, it’s the energy that you feel there. It just makes me happy.

Who or what do you consider to be an arbiter of style?

Obviously I have these classic, iconic reference points of style. But if I think about, let’s say, in the fashion world, decade after decade I may have stepped away from it but I’m always going back and looking at Ralph Lauren. Not only as a great American icon, even though I’m a deep Italophile in terms of design and craft, but in terms of the span of taste and detail that Ralph has created not only around himself but has projected to the world. I’m just like ‘How does he keep doing it so well, for so long?'. So I would say in that iconic class, it’s definitely Ralph Lauren and the team that Ralph puts together. Just when you think they can’t make it any better, they somehow do it.

For the Plum Guide ‘Perfect Stay’ home test, we collaborate with experts from different fields — from psychologists and hospitality experts to architects and interior designers — to identify the ingredients a holiday home needs in order to deliver a perfect stay. If you were designing a test or set of criteria for the perfect holiday home, what ingredient(s) would you specify as essential for the perfect stay?

I think there’s something about the beauty of restraint. Of course, I talk about this mad British cluttered, layered thing. But when I go into a destination away from home, particularly if it’s a rental besides my own, I always appreciate the restraint of interior design, in simple thoughtfulness. And because I like cooking, I always appreciate kitchens with great pots, pans and knives. Views from places that are away from home become so much more important than the routine that we see every day in our own homes, so I always find a very important element in terms of that space is the view outward as well.

To find out more about Matt, head to his Instagram feed or visit The Wm Brown Project website.

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