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HomemifashionAustralian Eyewear Designers: Inspiring New Looks in Face Jewellery

Australian Eyewear Designers: Inspiring New Looks in Face Jewellery

Australian eyewear designers may take their inspiration from Europe and the States but inevitably, that inspiration is overlaid with features to suit the unique environmental conditions we live in, our multi-cultural make-up and the daring of individuals within our population. The result is a “very Australian look – brighter colours, thicker frames, remakes of vintage frames”, said Graz Mulcahy, the founder and lead designer at Sydney’s eyewear company Graz.

Jonathon Sceats believes that Australian eyewear designers, in general, are more creative than their European counterparts. “Australian designers can have more creative freedom because of our beach culture and lifestyle… we’re game enough to make what we’re excited about, and to create trends – not just follow them. As a result, I see people on the street in Sydney who are years ahead of what is happening in Europe in fashion.”

“I suspect that European brands may have more pressure to comply to Italian brands, because of their strength and mass market reach,” commented Catherine Federici at Isson. “Having a small immediate market to play with and being so far away from the rest of world, in my opinion, allows us a certain freedom to be more experimental and less affected by expectations.”

Fritz Schwarz, the ‘Realizer’ at Fritz Frames, says he enjoys “the freedom to blend European confidence with an Australian fortitude”. He grew up in Germany and learned the techniques he uses to craft timber eyewear while working as a boat-builder. Mr. Schwarz says that while “eyewear globally seems preoccupied with modern silhouettes verses vintage inspirations right now, Australian designs tend to have a liveliness and spirit that’s not found as readily overseas”.

For women, the larger the better, think Twiggy and for men, think Steve McQueen and Jack Nicholson

Climate A Design Factor

Understandably, long sunny Australian days and the accompanying damaging UV rays, are a big driver in the design process.

Emily Klein, a designer at Sunshades, says our climate is also a massive factor in the attitude Australians have towards wearing sunnies. “Given our sunny climate, Australian’s really know sunglasses… and as designers, we really know how to have fun with design – we’re not afraid to push the boundaries.”

“As designers we need to offer greater protection from Australia’s harsh sun, while still being fashionable, so we only use Premium Polarised Columbia Resin (CR-39) and Crown Glass,” commented Frank Militec, a sales representative and design influencer at Victorian-based Spotters. “When designing a new shape, we look at style, technical features and optics, then we take into account the average face width, bridge and depth and make sure that what we design will suit the majority of our customers.”

Working to a typical face shape can be a challenge in a country as culturally diverse as Australia, but for some eyewear influencers, like Jacque Katsieris from ProOptics, this is all just part of the fun. “I think we’re lucky in Australia to have such a vast range of nationalities and shapes and sizes so instead of having to stick with one clear design model we can experiment and design for small bridges, large faces, dark skin, fair features and so on,” she said. “Aussies are all so colourful and used to expressing themselves through their clothing and accessories, so we don’t have to be too tame in shapes and colours.”

Seeking Inspiration

Movies, architecture, fashion and digital art conspire to influence creative people around the world, however in the Australian eyewear profession each of the designers we spoke to had a different source of inspiration for their frames.

“In an environment where most designers around the world are playing it safe, we’re really looking at pushing the boundaries and offering something new and exciting. Whether it be innovative quirky shapes, new construction techniques or bold unexpected use of colour, we want to do what no-one has done before. So for inspiration, at Sunshades we look to street style domestically and internationally, vintage markets, blogs, books, exhibitions, nature –everywhere,” said Ms. Klein.

Newcomer Chris Savage at Vision Ink said he looks to our great local eyewear designers for inspiration. “Their innovation has allowed me to think outside the box and incorporate new materials in combination with old ones, such as recycled timbers, mixed with other mediums like aluminium and acetate – a blend of innovation from, and for, the environment.”

However Tiger Vision takes a different approach. “Design is not so much an inspiration but a collaboration with fashion designers Leona Edmiston and Wayne Cooper. Style development and colour choice often reflect the direction of their clothing. Throughout the collaboration process, importance is placed on designing sophisticated but wearable front shapes, with colour and temple detail making the point of difference,” said Anthony Ghosen.

And at Spotters, it’s more a case of following fashion trends and listening to customer feedback. “You make a product which is a balance of both,” said Mr. Militec. “We follow the latest fashion trends to a certain degree and then tweak the designs to suit our customers’ requirements.”

Optique Line’s Diana Taranto takes a similar approach. “I am constantly speaking with the optometrists and dispensers who are dealing with customers every day. Designing eyewear is more than how it looks. It’s not only imperative that it fits well, is comfortable, and value for money – it also must provide our retailers with excellent financial returns.”

Others take a more relaxed, completely artistic approach to the process. “Sometimes I see really unique things in old movies and I will pause it. But generally I just start drawing. And what comes out, comes out,” said Mr. Mulcahy of Graz.

“I’m influenced by many things and nothing in particular,” commented Ms. Federici. “My background in Industrial Design has definitely given me a unique perception of design, products, consumers and how they relate to commercial reality. Ultimately when I sit down to design in the library without distraction, I am just with myself, free to daydream, explore and hopefully innovate; pushing boundaries, being as experimental and wearable as possible.”

According to Mr. Schwarz, “to be truly inspired, you must learn to trust your instinct, and your creative empathy. Hard work and routine is important, but that comes before inspiration. The most inspiring thing is to see human ingenuity in action – it’s all around us. You also need to love the effect over its cause.”

A Look Ahead

So with all that inspiration in mind, where will Australia’s spirited eyewear designers take our frames in the next 12 months?

“As always when we see too much of one thing it’s time for a flip. The retro Malcolm X look that took so long to take hold has already started a decline or at least a shift. Metals will definitely become more popular,” suggested Ms. Federici, whose company turns 10 this year. To celebrate, Isson will launch a comprehensive 22 model ophthalmic frame collection at MIDO this month.

Most designers mivision spoke to agreed that sunglasses will get bigger.

“For 2012, sunglasses will be a throw back to the sexy 70s,” said Mr. Ghosen from Tiger Vision. “For women, the larger the better, think Twiggy and for men, think Steve McQueen and Jack Nicholson.”

At Sunshades, Ms. Klein and her team have coined new descriptors for the hybrid shapes emerging. “Due to the current retail market, many designers are playing it safe, so we’re seeing trends that are more about evolution rather than revolution… creating hybrid shapes such as the squovcal (square + oval) and the catsfarer (cats-eye and wayfarer) – it’s a melting pot of existing styles that become new again,” she said.

Ms. Klein predicts the arrival of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby in time for Christmas will spark renewed interest in 1920s round preppy styles. “Angular frames are another emerging trend with sharp lines and modern silhouettes,” she added.

The designers at Fritz Frames are also looking to the past to influence future designs. “Fashion eyewear is always about revisiting, reinventing and appropriation to a point. I always find this creative process exciting. New trends will include a multiplicity of aviator, cats-eye and oversized square forms,” said Mr. Schwarz.

Shrinking Optical Frames

When it comes to optical, Tiger Vision is banking on frames reducing in size. “Expect a move away from heavier retro frames with simple metal frames and rimless making a comeback. Bold colours, especially reds, blues and yellows will be big in 2012,” said Mr. Ghosen.

Graz Mulcahy is also shrinking his frames. “I think smaller is cooler, although much harder to design.”

And Optique Line is working on a ‘petite collection’ in titantium and TX5 for its women’s range of Stepper Eyewear. They’ll also introduce a collection of Convertibles eyewear in titanium for women to complement the men’s range.

Patterns and Textures

Patterning and texture is an important tool when it comes to reinventing existing shapes. “We have some great leopard print acetates coming through and flash lenses being used in more sophisticated ways,” said Ms. Klein.

“Round frames and cats-eyes are still featuring heavily, but made fresh by playing with scale and proportion, using materials in new ways and applying unexpected colour combinations,” she added.

“I think there is much bigger focus on practicality in design,” said Sean Rosenberg at Frames Etc. “So we’re still focussed on acetates with retro shapes but with new emphasis on smart colour combinations that don’t clash – not just traditional blacks and browns. When it comes to metals we’re focusing on lightweight materials in earthy colours for the guys and more bold colours for women. We’ll use less embellishment and focus more on the materials and the smart, professional nature of the look.”

Jono Hennessy’s latest collections are very much detail oriented. “Textured materials are the most interesting development in eyewear, where frames are made like jewellery,” Mr. Hennessy told mivision.

The Temple

At Fritz Frames, Mr. Schwarz admits to being fixated by temple design. “This has been a natural progression from designing our new spring hinge. We’re now working with a wider gap between the front and the temple, which leaves a window where the metal is visible; I love the reveal between the timber pieces. Our next boutique range of sunglasses will also play with temple shapes.”

He said the next collection for the 18-month old company would consist of five sunglasses and 10 optical frames in fixed colour combinations. All frames will showcase the designer’s favourite timbers, feature a matt finish and the larger temple gap.

Vision Ink is also working with combinations of timber and aluminium for its inaugural collection. “It will include a series of frames made from salvaged hardwood and aluminium,” said Mr. Savage. “The wood comes from various old buildings on the east coast of Australia, such as ironbark and Red Cedar for the temples. The frame fronts are made from melted down aircraft aluminium and lawnmower engine blocks.”

With so many shapes, sizes, materials, colours, patterns and textures being put forward, its difficult to pinpoint any one trend, but, as Ms. Taranto said, that’s the great thing about fashion eyewear… “Diversity is the trend. Thankfully we are no longer in a marketplace which is fixated on one look, as we experienced in the 90s with panto and oval shapes!”

Designed for Safety Too

The Australian climate, particularly for those involved in outdoor work such as mining,construction, fishing and farming, is one of the harshest anywhere in the world.

As a consequence, protection for the eyes is paramount. Australian eyewear manufacturer Eyres focuses on designing eyewear that both meets the toughest expectations for safety and style. .

Eyres Managing Director and designer Michel Audry has spent many years working to grow the overall ballistic eyewear market.

“Our standards in Australia are much higher than that of any other standards worldwide, and our country’s diverse and unique climate along with our lifestyle and work habits demand an individual design based on our specific needs,” said Mr. Audry.

“Inspiration is dictated by the Australian Standards and aesthetically we try to replicate the fine and diverse lines of the Australian landscape. Our ultimate goal is to make every popular material and design available to the Occupational Health and Safety Market. So this summer we introduced vibrant colours – not just for frames but also for lenses and big frames with retro shapes for women.” He added that in line with fashion eyewear “performance sport eyewear is getting bigger with specific purpose, ergonomic frames and lens tints for performance.”

“Our recent expansion into prescription eyewear through I-OPTIXX has seen us make unprecedented advances in technology and style… While we have yet to reach the limits of performance in safety technology, we are looking beyond to the next technology breakthrough that will change the industry.”

What I’m Wearing Now

We asked our eyewear designers to tell us about the frames they currently favour and why.“Simple shapes that fit – I think a really nice simple shape always says more than something with lots of tricks and decorations.” Graz Mulcahy, Graz.

“The new Sundowner, an aviator optical frame, showcases the enormous strengths of our timber composite material, it is light and comfortable and the big lenses give you plenty of window to look through.” Fritz Schwarz, Fritz Frames.“Even though we are all moving to thinner acetates, I still love my thick acetate retro frames – although when I pass a window or a mirror I see my father – geeze, growing up is a pain.” Jonathon Sceats.

“I enjoy wearing the Spotters Transformer – it is stylish and offers fantastic protection from the sun. The wraparound frame is also super comfortable and has a fully adjustable bridge.” Frank Militec, Spotters.

“All of them – I’m a mood dresser, so depending on how I feel that day, I might want to hide behind some oversized dark wayfarers (Ksubi ‘Al-tarf’), or if I’m feeling bold, a crystal clear oversized aviator (Sass & Bide ‘Accra’).” Emily Klein, Sunshades.

“I’m choosing between two frames at the moment – both Seraphin acetates. A groovy cats-eye in a light pearl called Marquette when I’m feeling funky and a black acetate called Emerson that is the most comfortable frame I’ve ever worn. I love the comfort and look of acetate and I think it will have to be a pretty special frame to get me back to metal.” Jacque Katsieris, Pro-Optics.

“I always tend to wear eyewear with an element of surprise, be it shape, colour or interesting effect/detail however I love to wear frames that are playful and sometimes a little comical – purely because “why not!”. Too much of life is serious and contrived – does our eyewear have to be as well? Who could we possibly offend with a pair of kooktastic frames!” Catherine Federici, Isson.“I enjoy wearing a revamped retro style. I like the new Holbrook design by Oakley. Made from light-weight plastic and with no screws, they’re innovative yet they still have a classic style about them.” Chris Savage, Vision Ink.

“Definitely a pair of Convertibles Eyewear – they’re comfortable and stylish for the office and when I hop in the car and head for the golf course, I have polarised sunglasses with one easy click!” Diana Taranto, Optique Line.

“I’m currently wearing a black acetate frame, it’s easy to wear in any situation, which is important,” Sean Rosenberg, Frames Etc.