Robert William Morris is the main force and creative spirit behind the strikingly stylish UK eyewear label William Morris.
More English than the English, the founder of William Morris is stylish, gently spoken and passionate about his ‘Family Affair’ – a collection of frames that are more an accessory than spectacle, with styles and colours for every age.
We had a chat with Robert Morris about his passion for eyewear and the inspiration behind the brand he established 15 years ago.
Q: How would you describe the William Morris brand?
A: Our brand is very much ‘London’ – even our packaging is very traditionally British.
Our brand is very much ‘London’ – even our packaging is very traditionally British…
(He hands over a gorgeous over-sized William Morris carry bag, which proudly features the Union Jack on one side and a traditional London double-decker on the other).
It has also been described as conservatively different… We go a little bit crazy on colour sometimes and we push the boundaries in terms of design. The attitude to eyewear is changing in the UK and Australia is very like the UK market – a little bit conservative but wanting to be more progressive…. Surprisingly, it’s often the really way out styles that we sell the most of… it’s an exciting time.
Q: William Morris has won a number of awards including the 2011 UK OptraFair award for best women’s ophthalmic frames and a second award for men’s frames. What is the appeal of your brand?
A: The optometrists I talked to in Australia (while at ODMA) love William Morris because while our styling is different, they know they can sell it – and that’s what’s getting them excited. They’re also excited when I tell them the price. We’re premium but very well presented, very nice quality – but not a high-end price. That’s part of the appeal.”
Q: What is big in design for William Morris right now?
A: The big thing for us at the moment is retro design – it’s absolutely massive. And colour – our customers really love the way we’re lifting the retro shapes with exciting colours.
Q: What do you love about using colour?
A: What I love about using colour is that it can transform a relatively safe design into some thing quite spectacular! It creates interest, gives warmth and says something about the character of the frame and the person wearing it. The use of colour does not have to be overly dramatic it can be very subtle, delicate but very precise.
Q: What do you consider when choosing colour and style for individuals?
A: When I choose a frame or colour for an individual there are many things to consider and they are not always the obvious things!
Naturally I would look at their skin tones as well as hair colouring but the more interesting things are the person’s character, especially those who want to be more daring in their frame/colour selection but need to be encouraged to express there inner self – they want to be individuals but are some times too shy or self aware to express themselves.
Being interested in people really helps – especially when there is not always a great deal of time to analyse the person you are with.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about the eyewear design process?
A: Everything! From the initialdrawingthrough to the finished product and seeing it on someone’s face. One very important thing in the process is to always ensure that the frame design and colour remain progressive, different, challenging, fun… saleable for the eyewear professionals and wearable for the consumer.
Q: How would you describe your typical wearer?
A: It’s absolutely people who love designand colour – colour is a big part of our brand and its something we love to play with – whereas with retro shapes, our options are limited.
In terms of age groups, the question is difficult to answer because we have what we call A Family Affair – we start from teenagers – very retro, very trendy and we go into young adults with the London collection which incorporates retro and appeals to ages from 19 to 36, or even older. Our classic gents and ladies line includes a multi focal that’s deeper but still fashionable. So we’re covering all ages.
Q: What dangers do you believe today’s eyewear profession faces?
A: I believe the main danger for eyewear is in playing it too safe. Some eyewear professionals can be nervous about investing in fashion – but they need to go with new colours and designs. Consumers trust an optometrist to check their eyes properly and provide the best lens, but they like to make the decision when it comes to choosing frames. They’re concerned to have frames that make them look younger, and they’re concerned about what their colleagues or partners will think. Once they have their prescription, if they don’t find the right frames in your practice, customers will take that prescription somewhere else. They’re prepared to shop around. It’s a danger for optometrists who are not in touch with fashion.
Q: What are the highlights of that range?
A: The highlights of our new collection being launched at the Silmo show in Paris are more and interesting colour-ways. We are really mixing colours to generate even more interest in the Retro collection. It’s our way of changing heavy looking retro acetates into feminine things of beauty!
We have also been working very hard on the Men’s Classic collection and the Ladies Classic frames (Eternal). In many ways this segment is the most challenging and dynamic. These consumers really want to look younger and are often more daring than younger wearers. They are more individual and really appreciate the importance of looking and feeling great in a frame. They’re also serious about the image they are trying to portray.
William Morris is distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Frames Etcetera (AUS) 08 9248 1882.