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HomemifashionThe Art of Colour & Design

The Art of Colour & Design

There’s a new world of eyewear out there and it’s all about colour. The aisles of SILMO 2014 were glowing with pinks, oranges, reds, greens, yellows and blues. Fluoros, crystals, opaques, solid gloss and matt. You name it, every colour under the sun being celebrated at France’s annual optical eyewear fair in Paris from 26–30 September.

“There has been too much darkness for too long,” Hugues Poillerat, CEO and designer of the new German brand Struktur told me from his vintage caravan situated in the Village, hall five. It was his view that the new colours so prominent at SILMO, and within his own collection, were a sign of happier times ahead.

The collection of British born, French residing designer Alyson Magee is brimming with crystal colour. Alyson trained as a jewellery designer before transitioning to eyewear design, working with the likes of Alain Mikli, La Font and later Face à Face. She says the colours across her range are not selected for reasons of fashion, but rather an evolution of her style.

“I really love working with colour – different colour associations, quite often a tone on tone or contrasting the density of colour, or else complete contrasts of colour. I sometimes put colours that won’t really match together but the whole combination does work – it’s nice to have that little twist of contrasting colours on an object for the face.

This current range is too easy for me, but the reps love it because it is very saleable

“The vibrant colours are new to my collection – last year was more autumnal and somber. It’s not really a fashion thing it’s more a progression from my last collection… that’s usually how I work. A pair of glasses is something you keep for more than one season, you’ve got to live with it for a while, so it’s not fashion that determines my colour choices, it’s more intuition.”

Anne et Valentin continues to work with delicious crystal and opaque acetates, that delicately interplay with metal. New to the repertoire is a collection of fine metal frames, reminiscent of spectacles from the late1900s.

At Kirk and Kirk, the colours are more subdued, in keeping with the inspiration behind this brother and sister first collection. ‘Vivarium, designer Karen Kirk told me, is inspired by the Victorian obsession with science and nature. This collection has a rich luster and a metallic finish that draws on the surrounding environment and catches eye.

“Our collection is completely made in France. It is made from acrylic, which is totally unique in optics – this is much lighter and also lets us control the material – so we can have more design input… It gives us more versatility because we can create the material from scratch rather than using existing sheets of acetate.”

Australian boutique eyewear designer Colin Redmond and his brand Niloca were the talk of Silmo with several eyewear aficionados, including Wim Somer from Theo and Christophe Gilabert from Anne et Valentin commenting on the quality and creativity of Colin’s designs as well as his approach to building a niche brand. Niloca has an extraordinary new collection, which is distinct from his previous frames in both colour and shape. Bold colours have been replaced with softer tones delicately patterned, reminiscent I thought of Monet’s Water Lilies series. The frames themselves are truly sculptural with the upper edge of the frame a daring 14–16mm in depth, tapering toward the lower edge. This was the first time I’d ever seen, handled and tried on Colin’s frames. I have to say, I’ve always loved the look of them but always been sure they’d be too outlandish for me. Having tried on every frame in the collection, I was pleasantly surprised and very excited to find that I’d feel absolutely comfortable wearing any of them. They are truly original – it’s so exciting to see such forward thinking design.

“I’ve been playing with the sculptural qualities of frames for some time,” said Colin, “in the past by layering metals, and more recently by layering the acetate then scratching swathes through the front surface for the Scratch Core collection. This time I decided to create a much thicker upper rim. It was difficult to source the acetate at that thickness – in fact I had to have it specially made – and then to get the production underway but as an industrial designer, I knew it was possible. I made the prototypes and sent them to my French manufacturer to demonstrate the potential was there.”

Pushing the Boundaries of Design

The idea of pushing the boundaries in design / manufacturing is not new to this Melbourne-based creative. “I designed my first collection – the Clockwork Bigglesworth titanium range – but I couldn’t find any eyewear manufacturer to take it on. I ended up using a Japanese bicycle factory,” he said, showing me the frame which looks as good today as it did when it was first prototyped in 2009. It was initially shown at Mido in 2013 then released at Silmo that same year.

Adelaide eyewear designer Peter Coombs had the same problem when he decided to commission his first commercial collection. A fine jeweller by trade (one of his pieces has traveled five million kilometres around the earth on a space shuttle with astronaut Andy Thomas), Peter has been hand making unique frames for 30 years. They’ve won design awards and graced the faces of celebrities that include Elton John. Crafted from sterling silver, gold and titanium, with simple forms, these pieces take the concept of jewellery for the face one step further than anything I’ve seen before. Until now, each piece has been hand made by Peter himself, taking anywhere from one to five days to complete. That’s changed with the development of Peter and Rebecca’s first commercial collection – the Four-O’clock range, named to reflect that special time on a Friday when we all love to down tools and enjoy a drink with friends.

The frames still have Peter’s personal touch. “We make the sterling silver and gold hinges in Adelaide and the titanium component is made in Japan in one piece for strength,” Peter told me.

With a background in metalsmithingPeter was able to convince the dubious but enthusiastic manufacturer to take on the challenge of production. “I understand the way metal moves, so I was able to prototype the frame in titanium and go to the manufacturer and say I understand this is what your machines can do and this is what I would like you to do – it’s usually the other way around, they tell you what is and isn’t possible.

“The potential is now here (with this collection) to manufacture in greater numbers. So we’ve come to Silmo for the first time to build awareness,” he said, adding that the response from buyers around the world had been encouraging.

Jono Hennessey’s label is renowned for colour. At Silmo, Jono pulled out his favourite frame of the moment, a transparent acetate with rivers of blue and gold – inspired by looking into the sea.

Belgium eyewear designers would have to be the masters of colour – Theo, based in the fashion mecca of Antwerp, has most notably led the way with striking solid neons that I saw emulated throughout Silmo. One newcomer to the market from Belgium is the family company PH&F, which stands for Fanny and Philippe Hoet. The optician husband and wife, along with their children, manage every aspect of design inhouse, from frames through to point of sale and packaging. The designs Fanny creates for scarves are often used to detail the inside of the temples. Despite the extremely bold colour palette of the PH&F collection, the range is entirely wearable, inspired by particular facial types to enhance the wearers’ natural lines and structure.

“We made the colour combinations ourselves and we are finding that even a woman who is not ready for colour, can wear these because of the way we have built up the colours and found the balance,” Philip told me. Fanny added, “The little details make the difference – they give character but not too much – it’s only a frame on the face, it cannot detract from the face, or the expression.”

Philip’s cousin Patrick Hoet has his own family company, Hoet Eyewear, which designs and manufacturers exclusive eyewear including extraordinary 3D printed titanium frames (more about that above ). He also designs for Theo – in fact he started the company with Wim Somers. When I spoke to Wim, he told me his latest collection, Mille, though featuring Theo’s signature bright colours, was not his favourite.

“This current range is too easy for me, but the reps love it because it is very saleable. It’s very strange when you work from the paper (in design) because you have a feeling of what it will be and sometimes it does not work… when you get the final product there are some changes.”

He said the problem with having 30 years’ experience in designing eyewear is that you understand the rules of design and manufacturing all too well. “You learn over time and then you know too much – and you follow the rules for production and so on – and so you limit yourself. It’s nice when you work with young designers because they have no limit – they think that everything is possible – and that’s good – there are still possibilities.”

At ic! berlin, designer and founder Ralph Anderi says not understanding the limitations of production was exactly how his company got started. “My friends developed the idea of very delicate frames from sheet metal and they wanted to give the idea away – they didn’t want to start a company. Luckily no-one wanted to take up the idea.

“So we started the whole thing from zero by opening the yellow pages and working out how to cut sheet metal, how to make the pattern.” Seventeen years on, Ralph has become the expert in eyewear who knows all the rules. To ensure he remains open to pushing the boundaries of design, he says he works collaboratively with people outside the industry.

“We’re asking people who have no clue about glasses – so it’s a very open platform – fashion designers, architects – they bring very interesting ideas into the company. The knowledge, the tradition of making eyewear is as important as not having the knowledge – you can’t have one without the other. We need to improve our collection every day – it’s a never-ending story – we also need stupid ideas – something really crazy that can jump into the collection,” he told me.

As well as interesting shapes and colours, there were a few innovative materials in use among exhibitors at Silmo. Hungarian brand Vinylize was one. The founder Zack Tipton created his niche by affixing the vinyl from old albums he’d found at his parents’ place to the acetate face of his frames – by its very nature, each frame is absolutely unique. Woodone has refined its timber frame manufacturing process by sandwiching eight sheets of timber with glue then molding it into the U shape of a frame using moisture. The frame face and temple is cut from the molded wood in one piece before the temples are separated and rejoined with hinges. According to Woodone founders Thomas Oberegger and Klaus Tavella this is the world’s first timber eyewear collection that can be adjusted by the optometrist thanks to the glue that’s been used.

This constant desire to push the boundaries of design and manufacturing, according to Wim Somers, is the only way to survive in a competitive market that’s dominated by bigger eyewear houses.

“You cannot (successfully) go on the market with a frame that sells this year and is out the next. It’s about creating a niche by designing saleable accessories.”

Coming up with a new and innovative design is one thing, convincing customers to take the risk to buy and wear them is another. According to Alyson Magee this is where optometrists who are passionate about their product can be of greatest value. “Consumers tend to go to the safest thing, but optometrists should be encouraging people to have fun and try frames on in the shop – when you look at glasses in windows, in trays or on the internet you have no idea until you try them on.

“Frames can look totally different on one face to another – and also how you imagine it. Anyway, people should have more than one frame – they should have different glasses for different occasions.”

Google Glass Limitations Overcome

Eyewear designer Simon Chim, seen roller-skating through Silmo several times, has worked with manufacturing labs Rochester in the US, and Waterside in the UK, to come up with the first wearable frames for Google Glass, and they’re made from metal and acetate.

“The Google Glass itself is not designed to have frames on – so the difficulty was to make frames to contour to the existing Google brow bar. We have come up with a system that is very minimal that we can attach to the bar.”

“Google Glass is for the 21st century – it looks a bit space-like… I have managed to balance that… to enhance the whole idea of the object on your head without looking so odd. You have to respect the Google design by creating something that blends into the existing design rather than saying ‘this is my sunglass frame that looks stunning on its own’.”

Rochester and Waterside have also collaborated to come up with a Smart Gold lens technology to overcome the significant problem encountered by those requiring vision correction. “When you use Google Glass you need to look up to the right to see the virtual screen. That doesn’t work for people who wear prescription glasses… they get optical distortion,” Steve Nicholson from Waterside Lab said.

“It gives you another optical centre in the top right of the lens, then there can be a bifocal, vari focal, or multi focal in the bottom of the lens. Because your left eye glances up as your right eye does, we have also developed a compensative zone on the left lens so your brain doesn’t get confused.”

3D Printed Eyewear

This year’s Silmo D’Or award for innovation went to 3D eyewear brand Morgenrot. While the frames weren’t beautiful, they certainly demonstrated the potential for design and manufacture. The winning frame came with four different faces that had been magnetised, enabling faces to be stacked on top of one another for different effects.

More impressive in terms of finish were the 3D titanium frames created by the icon of Belgium eyewear, Patrick Hoet. “Our design office has always been looking out of the box, out of the eyewear industry for techniques. Six years ago I heard about teeth being printed in metal and so I thought… it would be possible in our business. You can make designs with this technique that will never be made with traditional techniques – 5mm thick but because of the structure you can see through it. However, the disadvantage is it is very expensive – it takes a lot of time to print because the layers are very, very thin.” He said it took four years to perfect the first frame.

“The idea is we will be able to really individualise the frame… the optician will have one frame in the shop for the customer to try, feel. Then we will make a scan of the customer’s head… so we can make all the fine adjustments to suit that person.” Patrick currently has four titanium frames in the range and they sell for around AU$2,600.

Danish company Monoqool has also come up with a 3D printed frame, however, this company prints only the face, which is then hinged to a metal temple. The colour and finish on these frames was equal to most traditionally manufactured frames on exhibit at Silmo and achieved through a series of lengthy steps: the glasses are printed within a solid block of polymid, the excess of which is broken away. The frames are then cleaned with glass blasting, followed by tumbling, then hand polishing before the colouring process begins.
Why bother? “We are in the business for innovation so we want to do something different,” Monoqool co-founder, Allan Petersen explained. “These frames are much lighter than acetate (6–10g) and they have rubber end tips and nose pads so they are much more comfortable, plus there are no screws,” he said demonstrating the spiral hinge mechanism. “They satisfy the end user and the optometrist because the end tips can be easily adjusted to suit the customer.”