mivision received an exclusive invitation to Oakley’s Californian Headquarters to preview its latest Elite collection. And, guess what? … We accepted! Sharon Smith provides this exclusive report on the Elite revolution from Orange County California.
The invitation we received to preview Oakley’s latest collection at Oakley HQ was akin to getting one of the few gold tickets to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
mivision was the only representative from the Australian media invited as part of an exclusive worldwide preview of the new Elite collection to leading fashion, design and optical journalists from around the world.
Their latest top-secret limited-edition collection, Elite, is the culmination of Oakley’s ‘best of the best’ in design and cutting edge technology
When I arrived in California our trip started in the conspicuous Oakley manner – with a convoy of four black Hummers to take the international media scrum of fashion editors to Oakley Headquarters in Orange County.
Oakley HQ looks like an enormous futuristic military ‘bunker’ perched at the top of a hill, with a fully functioning Russian tank with Oakley badging in the foreground.
Oakley is proud of their ‘design bunker’. From here the company has churned out 540 worldwide patents across multiple categories including eyewear, time-pieces, apparel, etc.
On our tour of Oakley’s Metropolis style headquarters we were taken through the fully automated Rx lens assembly plant which was built using automotive industry technology. We also saw Oakley’s ballistics and puncture testing and a special custom graphics room featuring 4D resin prototype copiers.
Deep in the bunker’s catacombs are research labs with equipment and facilities not unlike Q’s headquarters from James Bond. Products in development here are all top secret from eyewear, timepieces, apparel, luggage and specialty items for U.S. Special Forces, NASCAR and others.
Most areas were off-limits to photography, specifically their manufacturing, research labs and design floor. Aside from those who work in these areas, other Oakley employees don’t have access to “where the magic happens”.
California is a hub of manufacturing. There are 131 manufacturers of products based here however Oakley is one of the only company’s in California to do most of its manufacturing onsite.
Oakley HQ is the architectural brainchild of Oakley President Colin Baden. It includes an NBA basketball court (which has recently been acquired by the fashion design department, Oakley’s fastest growth category), a 400 seat amphitheatre and one of their best performing Oakley stores in the U.S., with warranties and repairs done on site. Here, the concept of ‘boys and their toys’ is a way of life. At HQ, there’s also a bike ‘pump’ track, electric remote control cars, a helicopter pad and, of course, the tank!
Oakley has endorsed 1500 athletes worldwide and 50 ex-sponsored athletes are now Oakley sports managers. These retired athletes work as sport talent scouts after they receive Oakley product knowledge and management skill training. Whilst their passion lies with the more rebellious sports, such as X games, these managers understand the need to attract trend influencers from the mainstream sports such as golf and tennis to influence and appeal to the mainstream.
Elite Driven by Design
Their latest top-secret limited-edition collection, Elite, is the culmination of Oakley’s ‘best of the best’ in design and cutting edge technology. What separates Oakley from the competition “is not a matter of opinion, but of science.”
Oakley is both design and personality driven. The founder, Jim Jannard was an amazing visionary who literally founded the performance eyewear category back in the 1980s. The current president, Colin Baden began his career with Oakley when his architectural designs were commissioned for Jannard’s dream home. Since then he has risen through the ranks from Director of Design to VP of Design within a year, then to President in 1999 before taking on the role of CEO in August this year.
With a designer at the helm, Oakley will continue to lead in its creativity rather than purely focusing on the commercial implications of their research.
Colin calls himself the “head mad scientist” and doesn’t believe in mission statements. Instead he has created several brand pillars which he claims “change every second week” but these guide Oakley to “wrap invention in art”.
Colin Baden was incredibly passionate and hands-on during our tour. He personally demonstrated many of their eyewear tests for the media:
- Refractive Power Test: tests how lenses change the shape of images – where he put various competitor frames on a refractive chart to compare visual clarity.
- Prism Test: which demonstrated how if this is not done correctly, you get prism headaches from making the eyes work hard at correcting the data to brain.
- Mass Impact Test: which tests a heavy material with a slow impact – testing the frame’s ability to remain intact, whereby the lens doesn’t break and stays in place.
- High Velocity Impact Test: taking a small mass where they used a lead pellet with a fast impact, such as gravel flying up from the road when cycling.
Oakley considers their eyewear as ‘sunscreen for the eye’ – their protection is inherent in the glass instead of coatings that can be scratched. They rely on a nine base curve for maximum protection for peripheral vision.
New Collection, New Icon
The Oakley ‘O’ icon has undergone numerous transformations over its history and now, at the Elite release, Oakley also unveiled their newly faceted ‘O’ which will be the marque on all their premium products.
About three and half years in the making, the Elite collection is the final legacy of Jannard’s manic pursuit of excellence and for pushing scientific boundaries.
The collection’s separate categories of shoes, watches and three sunglasses share a common theme through the use of atypical materials, specifically carbon fibre. In-house competitiveness between Oakley’s design teams has pushed the design envelope to produce Elite.
In the past something like what they created here may not have made it to production stage. The Elite collection represents Oakley’s entire philosophy to date – bridging the gap between their ideas and what isn’t yet available in the market.
Sharon Smith is mivision’s fashion writer. Her eyewear columns in Australia and New Zealand have become a ‘must-read’ for both fashion-forward optical retailers and fashion editors.
The Elite eyewear collection started as a design concept from founder Jim’s vision. It has been four years in the making and represents his desire for something aesthetically aggressive and sculpturally organic. To create Pit Boss, Oakley used forged titanium plate chiselled then bolted to the frame using the same technology from Time Bomb II ‘Reloaded’. The design team developed a frame design which used ultra lightweight titanium plates created with 200 tons of pressure which was fused to pure O Matter frame material. The High Definition polarised lens technology eliminates haze and distortion, with an iridium mirrored coating, AR coating on back, and added hydrophobic coating which provided antistatic, smudge, sweat and easy cleaning properties.
C Six Carbon Fibre
Oakley Elite C Six is considered the ‘pinnacle’ of the Elite collection. During the development of this frame, Oakley’s engineers worked with a company which uses carbon fibre material in making F1 cars.
The Elite C Six utilises pure carbon fibre, a material thinner than human hair yet stronger than high tensile steel. This breakthrough material was an innovation from the aerospace industry.
The difference between Oakley and competitors in using carbon fibre, is that they have machined carbon fibre into structures more than 40 layers thick, and mounted it to the spine, so each piece flexes and moves, whereas usually it is a material used decoratively instead of structurally. The engineers in the eyewear design team worked with carbon fibre for its lightness, durability and inherent beauty.
The team had to create special rotary cam integrated hinges using ‘Unitreks L’ polimer composite which is also used by NASA. The ‘spine’ is made of beta titanium for its memory metal properties and strength. The biggest challenge was using the stiff carbon fibre, however they created an armadillo type technology so the spine sections slightly overlap using a patent pending multi point fit system for the ultimate fit.
The cross-section of the carbon fibre when carved is like a topographic map with 80 layers so no two frames are identical. Oakley used five-axis computer numeric controlled machining which carved and shaped the composite which required more than 24 hours of continuous milling using probe telemetry with micro-precision. The machining process required 90-100 man hours per frame to make. Lance Armstrong used this frame during the last leg into Paris of the Tour De France during his comeback, which they will auction them for charity. They are bringing to market a total of 250 pairs worldwide.
C Six Aluminum
Using the technology originally developed for the manufacturing of their timepieces, the aluminium was sculpted in custom-engineered tooling processes including precise 20,000rpm cutting by computer numeric controlled robotics. The aluminium is then anodised with electricity then combined with carbon fibre components and a flexible titanium spine. This labour intensive process includes hand assembly, followed by hand finishing and hand polishing.