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HomemieventsSilmo: Inspiring, Exhausting, Enlightening… and so very French

Silmo: Inspiring, Exhausting, Enlightening… and so very French

Their mission (and, yes, they did choose to accept it) was to seek out eyewear with an edge, to scour Silmo for design trends, to speak with leading optical innovators and the world’s top designers and find the “next big thing”. A tough gig for two young Aussie optoms…

Incredible. Overwhelming. Silmo is an optometrist’s dream. And, it’s in Paris! Could it get any better?!

Like two little schoolgirls, we wandered wide-eyed through the halls of Silmo’s large halls. To quote Billy Barton of Barton-Perreira, Silmo is “the best showcase of fashion eyewear in the world”.

Silmo welcomed more than 34,500 visitors this year through the halls of Nord Villepinte exhibition centre. We were both physically and sensorially overwhelmed and could have spent weeks speaking to designers, innovators and producers of all things optics.

We ploughed through the halls of 900 exhibitors, 100 of whom were attending for the first time.

We don’t know many of our colleagues who have been to Silmo but for us, from our perspectives as optometrists, this is definitely a must. To report for mivision as optometrists and to be able to meet and interview some of the world’s top eyewear designers was the icing, the cherry and the whipped cream, on the cake. Oh, and did we mention Silmo is in Paris?

We wanted to find designers of cool, but unpretentious, styles. The creators of the innovative; but the understated. We wanted unique but wearable designs. We wanted to get to the heart and soul behind the brands.

We ploughed through the halls of 900 exhibitors, 100 of whom were attending for the first time. Some stands radiated colour and vibrancy, some exuded cool, and some stands were just simple and bare-naked. Most were ready to offer a drink or three and a chat, so we were well buzzed on coffee (and, of course, French champagne and delicious pâté from the media room).

And so we found them. The designers that impressed us the most with their philosophies, brand and vision – in Paris!

Lotho

Launched in 2009 at Silmo, Lotho is headed by artistic duo Coco Tsuji and Aroun Ducroux. Coco is a visual artist at heart, a graduate of the reknown F.I.T in New York City. With a background in art installation, video and sculpture, she teamed up with Aroun, a producer of music and film, to create Lotho, a French brand hand-made in Japan.

We spoke to Aroun who chatted passionately about his colleague, describing Coco as a ‘pure’ designer, a conceptual artist. Coco derives inspiration from all sorts of media, whether it be music, art or film. The 2013 summer/spring collection is inspired by the world of 50s and 60s cinema. Their frames fit a certain type of character, a personality that can pull it off with attitude – people with their own unapologetic sense of style and cinematic glamour.

We were intrigued by the origin of the name Lotho. “We wanted a name that wasn’t immediately French or Japanese sounding,” said Aroun. “Lotho is actually a character from one of the artist William Blake’s poems. Musicians like The Doors and Rolling Stones were referencing William Blake and we were inspired by this visionary artist’s work ourselves. Coco also wanted a logo that looked visually balanced.”

Lotho is certainly a brand that values a strong narrative behind its frame design. We were chuffed to be able to marry the topic of optics with music and film and to meet a young brand built on such strong pure artistic drive.

Very French Gangsters
A fresh designer is Karoline Bothorel-Bolzinger who released her first collection in France in April this year for Very French Gangsters. She has been pleasantly surprised by the high demand locally and overseas. We were on a lookout for a kids’ designer and Very French Gangsters caught our eye as it was one of the few artisan brands entirely devoted to kids’ eyewear.

Karoline was a consultant fashion designer for 12 years and saw there was a gap in the market for children’s glasses. She wanted to create style and comfort for children, not just a smaller frame. So the frame is specifically designed for children: the heights are in the middle of the lenses, the arms are adjustable, and the nose pads are specific for children. She has two girls of her own; she understands kids behaviour.

Very French Gangster’s style is slightly vintage and retro with a modern twist. “My inspiration for the first collection came from the 50s, but my ideas flow from everywhere. I just love beautiful products and wanted to have a bit of fun. I’ve used bold, but not flashy colours for the collection,” says Karoline.

Very French Gangsters was nominated for a Silmo d’OR award in the children’s category this year. Not bad for a brand only six months old and exhibiting at Silmo for the first time!

GRAZ
GRAZ is the nickname for designer Graeme Mulcahy – an Aussie designer of enormous worldwide repute. He has been hailed the next big thing in spectacle design for many years.

Graz is tall but, as he was talking with us in his baseball cap, we discovered that he is very unassuming. He was brought up in Byron Bay, in the tropical northern end of New South Wales, and saw a niche in optics after working in the highly competitive clothing industry. He initially started drawing shapes and sending them off to a factory, receiving awful products in return and found he was getting nowhere. He ended up going directly to the factory where the huge learning curve began. To this day, he visits his factory in China regularly, doing four point checks himself with most orders.

GRAZ started with AM eyewear in Sydney in 2003, did collections with the more established Oliver Peoples and Adidas, then started his own masterpiece GRAZ a few years ago.

The current GRAZ collection is edgy, distinctively industrial and simple. The pieces in his collection feel as if they are from the same signature, tying in from start to finish and centred around a small theme. GRAZ refuses to be pigeonholed and believes design should be simply beautiful, timeless and transcend genders. He never looks at emerging trends: “If it’s been recognised as a trend, it’s too late,” he says.

Barton Perreira
Patty Perreira is a warm adorable soul that makes everyone around her feel happy. Patty learned her trade during her 18-year tenure at Oliver Peoples, eventually landing the role of head designer. Billy Barton was ex-CEO of Oliver Peoples. When OP was sold to Oakley and in turn, Luxottica, Patty and Billy packed up and started their own company – Barton Perreira.

Patty’s husband, Fred, describes Patty as “prolific, like a fountain”. It was Fred who had to drag Patty along to Silmo to celebrate Barton Perriera’s fifth anniversary, as she doesn’t like attending trade shows.

Patty churns out numerous designs every year and works one to two years in advance from her LA base. She didn’t go to art school and says trends and themes don’t seem to make much sense. She designs on instinct, inspired by “anything and everything”. The current collection is inspired by music such as The English Beat and by her mourning of the iconic Amy Winehouse. And don’t get her started on her intense love for Johnny Depp!

Patty has always been creative; making jewellery and painting. As a little girl she’d accompany her mother to the fabric shop and help modernise second-hand clothing. Perhaps it is her childhood experiences that have cemented her intricate eye for quality and her literal ‘hands-on’ approach. Barton Perreira frames are handmade in Japan, collaborating with a fourth generation factory that has kept her integrity and protected her designs. She personally examines prototypes herself and is there every step of the way, from design to production.

Barton Perriera frame designs are clean and subtle but extremely elegant. Perhaps best suited for a non-label oriented person who still appreciates a luxury product that exudes quality. The balance and fit of both their products are superior. Just like Johnny Depp, they exude natural, effortless style.

Leisure Society
Shane Baum, who designs for both Leisure Society and Paul Frank, is a true rags-to-riches story. He was incredibly candid during our rather long interview, sharing a bit about his views on life, his love of surfing and how he has arrived to where he is now.

Baum, now based in LA, initially started off life in a small town of just 25,000. His mother was a choreographer and he happily admits he’d seen every Roger and Hammerstein musical before he was 10.

Good at maths, he studied industrial design at school but hated it. A chance beachside meeting with Mossimo Giannuli saw Baum helping out at the Mossimo warehouse over summer. He gradually shone bright through the tiers, running the back-end of the business and quickly became Vice President of Mossimo’s eyewear division while still in his mid-twenties.

It seems a tad mismatched that such a down-to-earth, small town lad like Shane Baum wanted to compete in the high-end, luxury market. He wanted to attract customers obsessed with heirloom quality. “I wanted to design and make something once, with absolute quality, with the intention to last forever”, he explains. “My customer is somebody who looks at chrome hearts and throws up!”

His frames are hand-made in Japan, constructed with platinum titanium gold platinum insets. Some even have diamonds and sustainably sourced buffalo horn. Truly luxurious indeed!

Leisure Society is the name of a social group Baum and his mates dreamt up. He would put social itineraries together – itineraries that involved limousines and pheasant shooting in Northern Scotland – with invitations signed: “By the Order of the Royal and Ancient Leisure Society”.

He spent three years developing his first collection and holds dear that his brand is his personal philosophy. Leisure Society is currently not distributed in Asia or Australia but Baum looks forward to finding the right partner upon our shores very soon.

Ogi/Seraphin
Ogi/Seraphin is a brand familiar to us and it was a privilege to meet the shy and ‘Minnesota nice’ David Spencer. An optician since 1977, David is the fourth generation in optics. His father was an optometrist and as a young boy, David would dissemble and assemble frames to create his own originals in his dad’s workshop.

With a history so rich in optics, it’s no surprise that Dave is a master of shape, angle and fit. He has lived his whole life in Minnesota and drew inspiration from Scandinavian designs he observed from the large Scandinavian immigrant population in his home state.

Ogi eyewear launched Seraphin last year. Priding itself on its on-trend neoclassic designs, Seraphin is now Dave’s passion. Seraphin is understated and elegant, aimed at the baby boomers market. There is a touch of the sombre, with its lack of decadence and embellishment. David mainly works with titanium, acetate and stainless steel and his products feel high-end but they’re still affordable.

When asked how he maintains quality control after so many years, David says he “pays the staff well and aims for perfection, using the best hinges and plastics”. The majority of the frames are made in Japan, with the rest in Korea and China. He personally teaches his staff about quality control and is often the first to check his product at the distribution centre. ‘Minnesota nice’ becomes ‘New York nasty’ when perfection isn’t achieved.

Oliver Peoples
We were already huge fans of Oliver Peoples and were excited to finally meet its founder Larry Leight. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the powerhouse brand seems as popular as ever. Its huge display at Silmo was flooded with delegates. The latest range celebrates the brand’s history by revisiting some of its older library of sketches, bringing them back to fit the current OP ideal. This collection focuses on the heavier bold plastic, aiming for the intellectual with a touch of luxury. OP continues to release about three collections per year, adding pieces to its past collections or building from its archives of drawings.

A certified optician himself, Larry is continually keeping it fresh with a young team and says he’s always trying to ‘keep it honest’. The Oliver Peoples brand is renowned for it’s understanding of balance, fit and soft curves. Judging by the ‘oo-ing and ah-ing’ as we tried on the latest collection of optical and sunglass frames, we think we’ll remain fans for life.

Their mission (and, yes, they did choose to accept it) was to seek out eyewear with an edge, to scour Silmo
for design trends, to speak with leading optical innovators and the world’s top designers and find
the “next big thing”. A tough gig for two young Aussie optoms…

Changed Perspectives
As two optometrists with little previous exposure to cutting edge fashion eyewear, we were surprised at how entertained we were at Silmo. There is no doubt that this experience is going to change the way we look at a frame next time we’re in our own practices.

Our conversations with these designers were incredibly motivating. Conversations where creativity is foremost, where the form and function of optical science is enveloped by art and dreams. There were life stories that truly amazed us. We met characters who truly entertained us and were unexpectedly humbling.

Silmo was inspiring, exhausting and enlightening. It was memorable and fun!

See you in Paris in 2013?