Ti Kwa: RIGARDS Brings a World of Wonder to Design

 

Ti Kwa

Ti Kwa

Familiar with many cultures and contexts, Ti Kwa, owner and designer for RIGARDS eyewear, has an easy demeanour that belies his design genius.

Robots, manta rays, infinity symbols, flying buttresses: all have inspired Ti Kwa’s frame designs. This is a man rich in imagination and manifestly capable in business. A man of the world, with a rich stew of experiences that make his life and work something special, indeed.

Born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to parents who gave him a ‘strict yet liberal upbringing’, Kwa was drawn to art at a young age, inspired by his mother, who was a talented dressmaker, and his paternal grandmother and great-grandmother who were master embroiderers (think line, texture, curves, colour). At age eight, Kwa started his first business. “I created comic strips starring a gang of characters who wreaked havoc in school, and I charged my classmates five cents to read them. Business was good!”

At age 16, life took a rather drastic turn when Kwa’s parents ‘incarcerated’ him in Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, PA. Being the only Malaysian for miles around was not a problem for Kwa, who always found it easy to connect with others. However, he threw off the rigid discipline and conformity of the academy at the earliest opportunity in favour of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. What a shift! From there, Kwa moved to Seattle, attracted by the grunge music scene, where he also took a business degree from the University of Washington. So: buzz cuts, fashion, business and Smashing Pumpkins: not a bad recipe for a varied life!

Kwa worked as a designer in leather goods and footwear for several years. Lucky for us, he needed eyewear from a young age. “Having experienced the worst in frames, I thought it would be fun to make my own glasses. It became my personal project to make frames unlike any others, something I could treasure and make a part of my story, and that could evolve with me over time, not unlike my old Cordovan boots.”

Turning this personal quest into a business was natural for Kwa and so RIGARDS was born in 2012, with the goal of creating frames that speak to others in a way that is fresh but approachable.

mod: RG2020WO

mod: RG2020WO

RIGARDS frames are distinguished by finding the right balance of yin and yang. “We like to embrace contrasts, tempering hard angles with silken lines to facilitate a seamless and positive energy flow around the frame,” says Kwa. “This is good feng shui.”

mod: RG0086AL

mod: RG0086AL

Recognition from within the industry wasn’t long in coming. RIGARDS started 2018 with a bang by winning a 2018 iF Design Award, a nice complement to a SILMO d’Or Best Sunglasses Design nomination in 2017. What judges, eyecare professionals and consumers alike appreciate in RIGARDS frames is a transformational marriage of imaginative ideas with natural materials. Horn was the first material of choice for Kwa and continues to be a favourite.

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mod: RG0824

Another RIGARDS hallmark is their signature finishes. Says Kwa: “We enjoy using our own modified horn-smithing tools and like to create unique effects. Custom finishes like ‘Sanjuro, are inspired by our admiration for the Japanese ‘shibusa’ aesthetic, a concept which sees value in irregular perfection. Applied by hand, this technique produces a texture that is at once rough and refined, adding a fingerprint-like uniqueness. Our compelling ‘Plastron’ finish gives our frames a ‘scaled armor’ appearance. Exclusive finishes like these create a bespoke element to meet customer needs.”

Kwa is passionate about his brand and 100 per cent involved in the entire process. “In the six years since our launch, we have followed an organic model to progressively grow RIGARDS from a single product line (genuine horn) to a more diversified portfolio. We want to keep supporting our loyal and new-found customers with fresh innovative product lines and the same dedication to quality and artistry that they’ve come to expect of RIGARDS. In Canada we have been blessed to have the support of reputable eyecare retailers like Brass Monocle (Calgary), Bruce Eyewear (Vancouver), Gaudet Optical (Halifax), Hanley’s Eyewear Boutique (Ancaster), Alain Assedo (Montreal) and Speer Opticians (St. Catharines).”

Kwa lives in Hong Kong, with his wife and twin daughters, where most of his frames are made in his private atelier. Life is more than busy: “I try to be involved in raising the girls as much as their mother, which doesn’t leave me much time (read: no time). I also have a love of all things well-made and exploring old places and new ones.”

When asked who in all the world inspires him, either in business, art or design, Kwa earnestly points to Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto: “70-plus and still beating the system,” he enthuses. I suspect that young designers already have their eyes on Ti Kwa as a major inspiration. I know I do.

By Paddy Kamen

The Road to Blackfin: Corrado Rosson and Pramaor are Making History

Corrado-RossonBy Paddy Kamen

Corrado Rosson is a bright spark of a designer; a self-taught self-starter in a company renowned for innovation.

Born in the town of Agordo, in the dramatic and rugged Dolomite mountain area of northern Italy, Corrado Rosson simply followed his natural inclinations to a career in design. Before he even knew that eyewear manufacture was his region’s leading industry, Rosson’s path was in a sense laid out for him: “I was always incredibly attracted to sketching, drawing and any opportunity to represent something graphically,” he says. As he matured, Rosson was increasingly drawn to the combination of art and technical accuracy that is intrinsic to design.

Rosson eschewed formal post-secondary education, instead teaching himself 3D graphics. This passion led to a chance meeting with a professional designer who created bath furniture, leading him to a job in that field. From there, he easily moved into eyewear design, as a member of Luxottica’s design department (Luxottica has a major factory in Agordo), beginning in 2006.

POD_1The road to Blackfin emerged when Rosson joined forces with Pramaor Srl in 2011. Pramaor is an Agordo-based family firm, founded in 1971 and now headed by Nicola Del Din, the secondgeneration CEO. The company originally produced frames for larger eyewear companies in the region. In 1991, they began working intensively with titanium, eager to develop its potential for quality and performance. By 2008, their vision for titanium fully realized, Del Din and his team decided to concentrate their efforts on the brand that would be all their own: Blackfin. This bold move has been richly rewarded and Blackfin is on a roll, with stellar sales figures and international acclaim. The combination of a strong history and forward thinking makes for a dynamic company, true to its roots, yet always evolving.

BlackFin_GravityRosson, vice president of product and design, heads a team of four, all of whom are responsible for innovation. “We have patented many innovative solutions over the years – some aesthetic, some technical,” says Rosson. “For example: the ATOM ZERO screwless hinge can be opened and closed more than 50,000 times without becoming slack. Our SWORDFISH temple tips with break-off guides make it possible to shorten the temples by five or 10 mm in three simple moves without using any instruments. The SHARKLOCK glazing system makes it possible to fit the lenses into the 0.5-mm beta titanium inner rims without the need for screws. This is the result of the special “sharks-fin” grooving in the rim, lined with a thin sheet of metal, enabling the lenses to be locked into the frame simply with the aid of a screwdriver.”

André Bélanger’s company, Mood Eyewear, distributes Blackfin in Canada. He points out that Pramaor’s deep legacy with titanium has made all the difference. “Titanium is typically stiff and hard to adjust. In contrast, Blackfin temples are easily adjusted, making them the dispenser’s friend. The quality and comfort are outstanding.”

BlackFin_FramesBélanger notes that Blackfin meets the need for metal frames in a market over-saturated with acetate. “The frames have a lot of character, making them present on the face yet very comfortable and light. And the colours are amazing, in just the right shades and combinations.”

The firm recently established a new colouring department to build on their distinct advantage in this area, and custom-ordered colour combinations will soon be available on special order, with the customer’s name engraved on the frame as well as on the packaging.

BlackFinUnder Rosson’s leadership, the design team’s work is resonating strongly in the marketplace. Sales volume is up 62 per cent from 2013 to 2014, and they have seen a 56 per cent increase in exports. Even in the sluggish Italian market, the firm saw 29 per cent growth last year. Blackfin frames are 100 per cent Made in Italy and the company has coined the term ‘neomadeinitaly’ to describe their profound commitment to this policy. CEO Del Din notes, “Our company has grown a lot in the last few years, which gives great satisfaction to all those who help us inside and outside the company and who strongly believe in what we do. To get this result, we considered every aspect of the business: product, marketing, events, finance. Every move we made has been a good move to this point and we’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished, even if we still feel ourselves at the beginning of our journey.”

The passion and excitement of design has not abated for Rosson. “I live each day as if it is the first. I love my job and the fact that my personal inclinations and work life are so in sync. I hope that my three children find careers as rewarding for them as eyewear design is for me.”

Randy Jackson Eyewear: from American Idol to Eyewear Icon

RandyJacksonBy JoAnne Sommers

Randy Jackson believes that life is all about taking chances. That attitude guided him through a legendary career in the music industry and made him famous as the longest-serving judge on the TV show American Idol. And it continues to fuel his collaboration with Zyloware Eyewear, the New York-based company with which Jackson created his eponymous eyewear collection.

“As a noted style maker, Jackson was the perfect fit when Zyloware decided to create a new line of attractive, affordable men’s frames,” says President, Chris Shyer.

“In the early 2000s, as Randy was becoming widely known on American Idol, men were also getting more comfortable wearing bold, fashionable eyewear. However, the trend was limited to high-end, expensive brands. We noticed Randy’s affinity for eyewear and his unique style and thought he would be an ideal partner to help us create a bold, new line for the average man.”

RandyJackson1055The collection fills an important need for male consumers who want stylish ophthalmic eyewear and sunwear in on-trend shapes and colours at affordable prices. Shyer says the line is very fashionable and appeals to many different tastes.

Jackson collaborates with Zyloware’s design team on new ideas, colours, textures and materials, he notes. In addition, the company uses its 90-plus years of experience to create products with the styling, fit and quality its customers expect.

“Our team loves working with Randy because of his unique design viewpoint and his passion for eyewear. His enthusiasm, knowledge and dedication to bringing new and innovative ideas to the industry have been extremely valuable to us.”

Jackson, 58, says he loved wearing glasses from the first time he put on a pair at age 15. And he was inspired to develop his own line after struggling to find spectacles that fit properly.

“I love wearing glasses. It’s another way to tell you who I am. But there wasn’t much out there, particularly for men who needed a bigger fit, so I decided to create my own line.”

RandyJackson1042The collection includes plastic, metal and semi-rimless frames with features such as modern double bridges, two-tone colourations and extended-fit. All logos are positioned on the interior temple tip.

The Randy Jackson 3018 utilizes the vintage look of black-to-light-gray gradient on the front. The sporty temple is super-thin, extremely durable, handmade acetate. Model 1055 uses an innovative combination of stainless steel sheet metal and eyewire construction. The frame has the extended-fit feature, which makes fashion eyewear available to men who needs a larger fit. It is thin, yet creates a cool effect with a triple bar bridge. The Randy Jackson 1042 is inspired by vintage frames but uses metal and unique colorations for a frame that’s much lighter than earlier vintage products. It features a deep lens shape and multi-coloured front.

“The collection has enjoyed great success since its 2008 launch”, says Shyer. “We ve had resoundingly positive reviews for the combination of on-trend fashion and affordability. Our extended-fit frames are especially popular with men who have larger heads and our zyl frames with nosepads for people with unique facial features have been a big hit.”

Interestingly, 20 per cent of Randy Jackson eyewear consumers are women. “We believe this collection started a trend among some women who want to make a statement by wearing big, bold, fashion eyewear,” Shyer says.

RandyJackson3018Outside the U.S., the market for Randy Jackson Eyewear is excellent. That’s particularly true in Canada, where Jackson is well known from his time on American Idol. In other parts of the world, where people are less familiar with him, the line is also in demand because of its combination of style, comfort and affordability.

A native of Baton Rouge, LA, Jackson’s success in the eyewear field is the latest in a long line of outstanding accomplishments. In the late 1970s, he collaborated with jazz legends Jean-Luc Ponty and Herbie Hancock, then helped to create hit records for Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin and Madonna. Jackson recorded and performed with the likes of Bob Dylan, Journey, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia. He has over 1,000 gold and platinum plaques to his name, with collective sales exceeding 200 million copies.

Today, he is also busy with charitable work, acting as Goodwill Ambassador for Save the Children U.S. and working with Ronald McDonald House Charities.

In 2004, Jackson published the best-selling book, “What’s Up, Dawg? How to Become a Superstar in the Music Business”. When asked for the best piece of advice in his book, Jackson says, “Figure out who you are, accept it and try and make the best of that.”

With everything he undertakes, Randy Jackson proves that the formula works.

Richard Mewha Designs Unique Luxury for Bevel

RichardMewhaBy Paddy Kamen

Anyone who wants to look more handsome or beautiful will be thrilled to encounter Bevel frames, designed by president and head designer Richard Mewha.

Mewha is a designer who can’t draw, a visionary of gorgeous eyewear who works with design partners to bring his ideas to life. His aesthetic philosophy is simple: “We design eyewear to enhance the face, complexion and hair colour. I see a lot of frames, especially at the trade shows that make the wearer look like she is dressed up for Halloween. I’m not conservative, nor am I looking to create something bizarre just so it will be noticed. Our frames are creative and interesting and made to enhance the appearance of the wearer.”

Mewha didn’t set out to become a designer but instead came upon it gradually, starting with musical-cultural influences. Growing up in punk rock-era England, he was into music and the fashion that went along with it. “Then I decided to go to business school, with the aim of working for a design or fashion company,” he says.

Landing a job with Alain Mikli in 1986 marked the beginning of Mewha’s fascination with eyewear. Hired as a sales rep for Paris, he was moved to New York City in short order, where he was promoted to North American sales manager by the time he was 25. Mewha was attracted to Mikli’s high-fashion eyewear (“bordering on bizarre,” he says) and thrilled that he, personally, no longer had to endure boring frames: “I had been wearing horrible eyeglasses that I was ashamed of, before I started working with Mikli,” he admits.

His next position was with Optical Shop of Aspen, a high-end west coast American retailer. “They were just starting as an importer of Matsuda and developing a wholesale business. Over time I became involved in production meetings with the factory. I learned how the design side and the product side work together to create saleable eyewear. My experiences there helped me to establish contacts with the top manufacturers in Japan.”

Mewha is a self-proclaimed ‘Japan-snob’ and has never considered making his frames anywhere else. His Japanese design partners understand what he wants to achieve and the quality is unparalleled.

The other key to realizing Mewha’s vision is Rick Nelson, an optician of 40 years, with whom he founded New York City-based Bevel in 1999. “Rick understands frames and lenses like no one else and together we find the balance between aesthetics, comfort and excellent vision.”

BevelFramesThe Bevel brand is distinguished by minimalist design, luxury materials and, especially, colour. “I love combining colours and follow my instincts, rather than fashion trends. In titanium, I have an affinity for pastels on the inside of the frame and an exterior colour that contrasts with the complexion of the wearer. In acetates I gravitate to deep, rich colours and multiple granular effects that have an earthy, three-dimensional feel to them.”

Always innovating, Mewha believes in the value of reaching for, and realizing new levels of design and craftsmanship, confident that discerning customers will appreciate superior products.

In recognition of their commitment to the technical side of eyewear production, Bevel was recently awarded a U.S. patent on a hinge they developed for titanium frames in 2009. A second hinge with strong visual design elements was invented for acetate frames in 2012. “The original hinge was designed to better tailor the fit of the temple to the wearer,” says Mewha. “The second hinge adds flex and a distinctive design detail.”

Another technical innovation from Bevel is 3-mm moulded titanium frames, launched in spring 2014. Mewha wanted to create a chunkier look while preserving the lightness, comfort and balance that are hallmarks of Bevel frames. The manufacturing process is complex and uses a total of six dies. Mewha explains: “We start with a block of titanium, which is punched out from a titanium sheet using the cutting dies, and then pressed twice using the other two stamping dies. The burrs left after stamping are trimmed using the trimming dies and then milled using a milling machine to smooth the edges.

“Once we have the frame, we polish it very thoroughly, and then it is coloured using electroplating for the shiny colouring. We then mask a part of the frame and hand spray the rest to get the matte finish on the other part. It’s been a huge commitment and we’re thrilled with the result.”

BevelAzzuriBevel continues to innovate with materials, aesthetics and technology, drawing ever more consumers to the retailers who are selected to carry their collections. Mewha still can’t draw, but clearly he has everything he needs to bring his visions to life, making women more beautiful and men more handsome with the addition of très chic Bevel frames.

The Yin/Yang Balance at ic! berlin

Ic!berlinCEOBy Paddy Kamen

Ralph Anderl Designs with Big Picture Thinking

Ralph Anderl is ready to die. And yet, he is far from somber. In fact, his is one of the freshest, most original minds in business today.

Anderl, owner of ic! berlin, is a visionary fueled by eastern philosophies, his approach epitomized by Taoism’s yin-yang symbol with its rising and falling forces, interlocked and contained within a circle. An artist and intellectual, Anderl himself embodies the fire of creativity, while also believing that the ‘drier’ aspects of business – accounting, managing, distribution – are part of a harmonious whole.

Let’s be clear: Anderl is not unwell. His ‘ready to die’ statement refers to ‘the art of learning how to die’ and this, he says, is what motivates him to continue in business. “At the beginning of the business the founder acts, creates, develops, but he doesn’t necessarily know why. Over time the process goes to another level and the company, as an entity, needs to know why it is doing what it is doing. I will die within the next 30-40 years, and that fact is integral to everything I do.”

Can a company be a work of art? Anderl sees his company as a form of installation art. The business of creating and selling frames is the fuel that keeps the organism alive. “Our company should be like a whole art piece, even the bookkeeping and logistics. At the end of the day, if all tasks are collaborative and well organized, everything becomes part of a beautiful whole.”

Balancing different interests can lead to battles. Anderl heads a team of five designers and he says, “sometimes the designers get pissed off,” when their vision is in conflict with the people whose job is to manufacture and distribute the frames. “There’s no good and bad,” he says. “It is a pleasure to create and make beautiful things, but in the end the company survives when it makes glasses that people buy. And customers need to receive the product in time, wrapped in a nice parcel, with the invoice.”

Handcrafting frames that last is a strong imperative for Anderl. To that end, he has established a manufacturing facility in the heart of Berlin where the frames are made, sometimes before the curious eyes of tourists who are invited into the factory to view production. “We spent so much money setting up the factory that we didn’t have much left for marketing. We thought that some of Berlin’s many tourists might like to see how eyeglass frames are made in an artisanal way, and so we give them tours. They take their knowledge of our company and our product back home and may become ambassadors for us.”

This handcrafting approach is in direct contrast to frames that are made for fashion purposes only, according to Anderl. “In the fashion industry, products are produced as cheaply as possible and purchased by the consumer with the intention that they will last for only one or two seasons. We work differently. When we design we think about how a colour or design innovation will stand the test of time.”

ic!berlinFrames

ic! berlin frames are a perfect balance of the traditional and the new. Their newest metal collection for women, Something I Want to Tell You, is perfectly embodied in the words used to describe some of the models: Elegant, Innocent, Mystical, Playful, Kissable, Awesome and Divine. Subtle, modern materials marry classic shapes from the 1950s and ‘60s: pantos, browlines and cat eyes. This collection was featured at this year’s Vision Expo West. The Katalog 2014, available for viewing through the company’s website (www.ic-berlin.de), reveals strong shapes and either vibrant or subtle colours designed to suit every mood and face.

Interestingly, the models wearing the frames are not nameless, and a few words about each person (some of whom are employees) gives the impression of a company that cares about the individual. And Anderl does care very much about others: “I want to work with people who want to learn and challenge themselves. If they don’t, they won’t be a good part of the art.”

The work of art that is ic! berlin is infused with a playful air. A singer, Anderl started a company choir that meets every Monday morning. The ic! berlin website has a ‘news’ tab that is decidedly ‘un-newsy’, featuring a photo strip contest, videos of Anderl’s trip to Brazil to see the 2014 World Cup of Soccer, and a list of favourite things to do and see in Berlin. One can immediately discern that this is a unique company, informed by a distinct philosophy. It is also one that Anderl wants to last beyond his lifetime.

“If the company is real and independent, then the founder can die. And if we are not considering the possibility of death then we are not creating a relevant work of art.”

Oliver Goldsmith: Designer to Royalty and the Stars

By Paddy Kamen

Portraitofadesigner-OliverGoldSmith

Family businesses that prosper for three and four generations are rare indeed, but the current Oliver Goldsmith, head designer of the eponymous London-based company, isn’t resting on his laurels.

It’s hard to start at the beginning with the story of designer Oliver Goldsmith (b. 1942), because there are so many possibilities. There’s the 1926 beginning, when his grandfather, Philip Oliver Goldsmith, opened his London workshop and hired craftspeople to fashion frames out of tortoise shell. There’s the 1936 beginning, wherein Charles Goldsmith, son of the original Oliver, joined the family firm. That Goldsmith forged the design dynasty, that reigns to this day. Then there’s the, shall we say, humble, beginning of the presently reigning Oliver Goldsmith in his early days under his father, Charles.

Charles Goldsmith kept the business afloat during the Second World War, creating eyewear by day and monitoring the bombing in central London by night. It was after the war, however, that the real design genius of the Goldsmith family began. Charles (who changed his name to Oliver after his father’s death) wanted to attract attention to the Goldsmith brand and turned his design talents to the creation of striking and unusual designs that tapped into the 1950s post-war consumer desire for extravagance and originality. Vogue and other leading fashion magazines loved his frames and celebrities devoured them. The ‘new Oliver’, became eyewear wardrobe consultant to Princess Grace of Monaco, who owned 47 pairs of eyeglasses. The Duke of Windsor was also a customer, as was British bombshell actress Diana Dors.

Charles’ son, Andrew Oliver, originally wanted to be an architect, but his math was so poor that he was denied admission to the university program. “I was encouraged to design on a smaller scale, as they figured that any buildings I designed would fall down,” he chuckles. But when Andrew Oliver asked his father for a job designing eyewear he didn’t know he would have to serve a five-year apprenticeship learning every aspect of the business. “At age 17 I showed up for work and asked my father where the design studio was. He told me that I had to gain the respect of his craftsmen before I could give them orders so I swept the floors, made tea and learned to pack frames so that they wouldn’t break during shipping. After that I went on the road as a salesperson. I joined the firm in 1959 and didn’t do any designing until 1964.”

London in mid-1960s was an exciting place, with innovative fashion and music bringing youthful vitality to the world. Andrew Oliver’s eyewear designs fit into the zeitgeist beautifully. “My very first design, called RIP, was worn by Lord Snowdon, the husband of Princess Margaret. I also designed spectacles and sunglasses for actors: Michael Caine, Peter Sellers and Audrey Hepburn wore my frames and John Lennon wore the Oliver Oval Pro, a special metal design that did not require conventional nose pads. Princess Diana was also a customer.”

As he moved into design stardom and business maturity, Charles insisted that he Andrew Oliver (known previously as Andrew) henceforth be known as ‘Oliver’, in keeping with the company’s brand. “I said, but your name is Oliver,” he recounts. “What will you be called?” To which his father replied, I will be called ‘the old man’.”

And so the third-generation ‘Oliver’ has continued the business tradition started by his grandfather and the design tradition begun by his father. He remains the sole designer at the two licensed companies that carry his name: one in Britain and the other in Japan. Most fortunately, the retro trend of the past several years has been well served by the fact that Oliver Goldsmith kept samples of every frame he ever designed. “I never imagined in the 1960s that my frames would again become high fashion 50 years later.”

In June of this year, Oliver introduced a new collection called OGxOLIVERGOLDSMITH . These designs were created in Japan under his supervision, and he expects to launch the collection at Vision Expo West this fall.

Oliver Goldsmith will launch a new line known as the PHOTOGRAPH in spring 2015. The collection, which will be distributed in North America by Prisme Optical Group, will feature Goldsmith’s designs from the 1980s, plus some new designs that he created whilst on a Baltic cruise last year. “I’m happy to be designing again. We will test the new styles in Japan and then tweak them as necessary for the North American market. Everything is falling into place and I am very happy!”

Oliver Goldsmith is just beginning a new phase after 50+ years in the business. Clearly there is more to come from this renowned designer. He is doing his forebears proud, while also grooming his daughter, Alex (an artistic presence in her own right with a thriving photography business in London) to take over one day. Not any day soon, however, as he still has plenty to do!

Portraitofadesigner-glasses

Dean and Dan Caten Live the Dream in London and Milan

By Paddy Kamen

Dean and Dan Caten

Identical twin boys were born to an English mother and an Italian father in a suburb of Toronto. The boys, Dean and Dan Caten, were the youngest of nine children. They were also exceptionally good-looking and highly creative.

“Even as kids we knew that creativity was going to be our calling,” say Dean and Dan (I’ll have to call them D&D: they do everything together, including responding to my questions). “We loved fashion from the very beginning.”

They loved fashion so much that the boys bucked the gender trend of the day and insisted on being admitted to the home economics class at school so they could learn to sew. What an adventure their lives have been, from a short stint at Parsons The New School for Design in New York to an apprenticeship and eventual design leadership at Ports International in Toronto, then on to Milan, Paris and London. Dean and Dan Caten now head a mega-successful and outstandingly creative design house known as Dsquared2, based in Milan.

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The Caten boys didn’t grow up rich but they have a no shortage of moxie: one way they raised money for their fashion business was by working as drag queens. They explain: “In 1991, we moved to Italy where we really wanted to create and launch our brand but didn’t have enough money. Fashion is an expensive business, especially at the beginning, so we performed as drag queens in the clubs to raise money. We’re not ashamed of our past and we want to send a positive message to all young designers: the sky is the limit! If you truly believe in your dreams, nothing is impossible. And in 1995, we launched our first Dsquared2 men’s apparel collection in Paris.”

The theatrical bent that made D&D successful as performers is much in evidence in their renowned cat walk events that more resemble a mini Cirque du Soleil than anything the fashion business had seen to that point. It’s clear that their many talents would have been wasted had they not created their own business in which they enjoy full artistic control. Musicians and other artistic types have gravitated to their circle. They began by creating costumes for Madonna’s 2003 world tour and have gone on to dress other famous performers, including Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Lenny Kravitz.

While living in London, U.K. and designing in Milan, D&D have not forgotten their Canadian roots. “We visit family in Canada regularly and our homeland is always a great source of inspiration for us. We like to mix our Canadian origins, sense of humour and irony with the expertise of Italian tailoring and the attitude and edge of London. We design pieces that embody a fusion of ideas from North America and Europe. Being Canadian means the world to us and it is the founding base of our brand. A slogan for our company is: Born in Canada, Living in London, Made in Italy.”

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Jeans and T’s were the initial garments that made a name for Dsquared2. They used that success as a springboard into men’s and women’s fashion apparel, while always making their statements in clothes that are easy to wear. The brand has diversified into footwear, and fragrances. In 2008, Dean and Dan signed a licensing agreement with Marcolin Group for the production and worldwide distribution of sunwear and ophthalmic eyewear under the Dsquared2 brand. “Marcolin is one of the global leaders in the eyewear industry and we’re very happy to collaborate with them,” say D&D. “The eyewear collection completely reflects our brand identity and completes the Dsquared2 lifestyle.”

Self-identified ‘workaholics’, D&D are intimately involved with every aspect of their business and the same goes for their eyewear collections. “We are 100 per cent involved. An optical or sun frame today is used as a fashionable, trend-setting object, a key accessory to show your personality and style. The frame’s design, style and aesthetics are just as important as its quality and we leave nothing to chance.”

When asked to pick just one of their favourite frame designs D&D point to the runway style, oversized Jackie ‘O style sunglasses from the FW 14 ready-to-wear collection. This model, currently in the design phase, is defined by clip-on jewelry over the brow.

Like many people in their early 40s, Dean and Dan now wear optical frames. For themselves, they prefer a strong black frame, saying: “It gives us an intellectual, chic touch!”

Très chic, I’d say! Dean and Dan Caten are still young, always creative and, I’m sure, have plenty of surprises still to come. They do Canada proud!

Ogi Eyewear’s David Spencer: Taking it Into His Own Hands

By JoAnne Sommers

PortraitOfADesignerIf you can’t find what you want, make it yourself. That is the can-do attitude that led David Spencer, founder and frame designer for Ogi Eyewear, to launch his company in 1997.

As an optical retailer in his hometown of Minneapolis in the early ‘90s, Spencer saw a need for finely crafted, affordable frames designed to fit smaller faces. After searching unsuccessfully for a collection that met this need, he decided to fill it himself.

“For some time, I’d been sending frame designs to my suppliers,” says Spencer. “I knew that with my drawing skills and sensibility, I could design my own frames.”

Armed with nothing more than a concept and a pad of paper, he began sketching frames and shopping his idea around to various factories. In 1997, he launched the Ogi Eyewear Heritage Collection, consisting of 15 unique styles in five colours. His design approach combined small, refined shapes with bright colours to produce a line featuring modern finesse and unique craftsmanship.

PortraitOfADesigner1

The collection was unlike anything else in the market and the response was instantly favourable. Spencer says that when it debuted at Vision Expo East, Ogi’s booth was beset by a feeding frenzy of hungry buyers.

“We were in the worst location imaginable, in the back corner, near the bathrooms. While I was setting up, a designer from the booth next to me said we would be lucky to sell one piece. In fact, it was one of the busiest shows I have ever done. We were so full that someone actually came up and asked what I was giving away for free.”

Building on that initial success, Ogi introduced several new collections, featuring larger-size frames and new styles annually.

“One of our goals is to have a frame that fits and flatters every face,” says Spencer. “Finding the perfect frame for your face is exciting and the more people we are able to fit, the more we can grow.”

Ogi has added three collections to its Heritage Collection: Ogi Kids transforms the company’s stylish adult frames into smaller styles for tomorrow’s trendsetters. The Seraphin Collection revives classic, vintage shapes with modern, nature-inspired colours for a neoclassical look. Innotec, Ogi’s newest collection, is designed for the sleek, modern individual, with extremely lightweight frames created with a new and unique technology.

“We focus on innovation, originality, quality and value,” Spencer explains. “The spirit of Ogi is fresh, contemporary flair and classic-with-a-twist.”

One of the company’s key philosophies is a constant release of new products, he adds. “People are always looking for something new and Ogi never disappoints them.”

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Spencer learned a lot about how to treat customers from his father, Alan, a long-time doctor of optometry in St. Paul, MN.

“The most valuable thing he taught me was to have a high level of integrity. Treat customers and patients with respect and honesty and good things will happen to you.”

The elder Spencer also foresaw his son’s career in frame design. “My dad always said I would some day be a frame designer. As a child, while everyone else was outside playing, I was inside drawing. I also spent a lot of time helping out at my father’s optical shop.Frames came unassembled back then and I sat in the back of the store and assembled the black tops with silver bottoms and red sides, then hand painted the details.”

Today, David spends most of his time drawing frames for the coming season, along with selecting new materials and colours for those already in production.  Each frame starts with a pencil drawing, he says.

“When I sit down to draw, I might have a specific face shape in mind or I might just put pencil to paper and see what happens. It really varies from day to day.”

Spencer draws inspiration from, impressive, “seemingly impossible” architecture that challenges the mind. “I am intrigued by architecture that makes me think, ‘How did they do that?’ ”

As examples, he cites the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which cantilevers over Hennepin Avenue, and the inventive structure of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. “They are iconic examples of incredible, functional architecture,” he says.

Spencer is quick to credit Ogi’s team of 40 employees at its Minneapolis headquarters and hundreds of sales representatives around North America for the company’s success.

“A successful business takes everything – good customer service, good sales, marketing, etc. At some point, I realized I didn’t have the inclination to be a businessman because I just wanted to design frames. It wasn’t until I connected with my three business partners that the puzzle was complete. I wouldn’t be nearly where I am today without the entire team.”

When he’s not designing frames, David loves spending time with his family, including his Welsh terrier, Monty.  “I am a huge dog lover and Monty will definitely attest to that,” he laughs.

Match Eyewear’s Ethan Goodman Does it All

PortraitGoodmanEthan Goodman is both the president of Match Eyewear and the company’s chief designer. He wears both hats with aplomb, having created a distinctive contemporary look for the company’s brand and its individual collections.

The embodiment of a hands-on executive, Goodman is involved in the creation of every Match Eyewear frame from conception to completion. He tells the company’s team of five Italian and U.S. designers what he wants to accomplish with each design and every style that goes into production has his personal involvement and stamp of approval.

“My expertise lies in choosing colours and saleable shapes and working with our designers in terms of which materials to use as well as the choice of embellishments and logos,” he explains. “We believe that this personal involvement in the design details and all other areas of the company puts Match Eyewear ahead of our competitors in terms of quality, design and service.”

Goodman, a 20-year industry veteran, grew up in the midst of the optical industry. His optician father owned an eyeglass store in New York City and by age six, Goodman was a regular visitor.

“I started out sweeping the floors, which quickly led to restocking the showcases and eventually servicing customers,” he says. “Being surrounded by so many different shapes, colours and materials was fascinating to me. Even then, I had a knack for matching shapes and styles to people’s faces.”

After a year of college, Goodman decided his future lay in the optical field. He attended optician school, then got a sales job on the wholesale side with one of the industry’s big names.

“I was 21, hungry and had the fire in me to pound the pavement every day, cold calling and writing orders,” he says. “I had found my talent!”

Goodman also sought mentors who guided him and helped shape his career. Over time he worked in all areas of the business, eventually pouring his collective experiences into the design of Match Eyewear’s products, which he helped to found in 2001.

The Westbury, NY-based firm has built a portfolio of brands – including Adrienne Vittadini, PortraitHE4188Danny Gokey Eyewear, Helium Paris, Float Titanium, Float Kids, Aero by Float Milan, Match Flex Eyewear and AV Studio – each with its own unique appeal. The brands touch different demographics and each has its own embellishments, all based on the feeling of the brand, says Goodman.

“Although our company’s audience is broad, the type of consumer we appeal to is consistent. They seek superior-quality fashion eyewear at accessible price points.”

In addition to his other responsibilities, Goodman continues to work with customers in the field, which, he says, connects him to the heartbeat of the business. He believes that this hands-on involvement, which sets him apart from most other designers, is one of his greatest strengths. “I’m in touch with current fashion influences, I see what the industry leaders are doing and I recognize trends.” Those trends and influences are reflected in Match Eyewear’s stylish collections.

Adrienne Vittadini, which offers accessible luxury and easy elegance for today’s chic, sophisticated woman, features meticulous design, rich textures and colours, delicate styling and exquisite embellishments.

PortraitDG23Danny Gokey Eyewear embodies the spirit of the American Idol finalist and is inspired by his classic, individual sense of style. This unique ophthalmic and sunwear collection is retro-chic with a soulful edge, bringing effortless cool to fashion-savvy men.

In Helium Paris, adventurous French design is married to fine Italian craftsmanship, delivering a line with a chic, distinctive edge. Innovative shapes, bold styling and the finest materials create premium-quality high fashion eyewear for trend-setting men and women.

Float Titanium incorporates clean, contemporary styling with simple silhouettes, delivering impressive elegance to discerning men who demand the best. And Aero by Float Milan is a colourful, rimless collection designed and manufactured using the highest industry standards. Durable, comfortable and hypoallergenic, every model features higher temples and a single chassis design with multiple lens options to provide a perfect style for every customer.

With its acquisition of Optiq Frames in August 2012 Match Eyewear added seven additional brands to its portfolio, including Respec, Urban, Minimize, Minimize kids, Image Cafe and AKA. Goodman says the company is now focused on getting its Canadian collections, “going in the right direction. We’re streamlining them to create more of a story and directing them to make sure customers see the difference. So far, we’re getting good feedback.”

A dedicated family man, Goodman and his wife recently celebrated 10 years of marriage. The couple has two children, aged 8 and 5, and when he’s not working he enjoys spending time with family and friends.

“I love sports and get immense joy watching my son become an athlete,” he says. “My favorite time of year is summer because I love barbecuing and having fun with my wife and kids in the pool or at the beach.”

J.F.Rey: Defying Gravity!

By Paddy Kamen

In the competitive world of eyewear design there is one man who has stayed at the peak of the profession since he began. How does J.F.Rey do it? 

JFRey As someone who was quite literally born into the eyewear field, Jean-François (J.F.) Rey certainly had an excellent place from which to launch a career. His grandparents and parents were frame makers in the Jura region of France, which is world-renowned for the design and manufacture of eyeglasses. With history and family on his side, he designed his first collection for his father’s business at 16. From there he branched out and designed for some of the famous labels in ready-to-wear fashion, such as Agnès B., Issey Miyake and Marithé et François Girbaud. Not a bad start!

The year 1995 was decisive, as J.F. and his wife and business partner, Joëlle Rey, launched their own company with the amazing J.F.Rey and BOZ collections. Based in Marseille and with a plant in the Jura, it almost defies belief that this dynamic team, which conquered the eyewear world in less than 10 years, is now approaching their 20th anniversary and continues to dominate the world of eyewear design with innovations galore.

JFReyLaceWith a multi-faceted brand collection, J.F. is now the director of both BLI-DBP (with J.F.Rey and Boz brands) and SLI (with the brands Sky Eyes, Volte Face, and the license for Renoma). He leads a design team of five from the J.F.Rey Creation Studio.

“J.F.Rey is, above all, a family business with a common passion which continues today in the way we work,” he explains. “Team spirit is very important to us, at each level of the work, and it contributes to the success of our collections. The designers develop close and positive relationships, and even though each designer works on their own line, they are always exposed to the work of their colleagues, which provides cross-fertilization. Sensibilities, experience and vision are different for each designer and this makes for synergy. We have a very constructive and efficient way of working.”

Each new collection presents the opportunity for creativity and innovation for the J.F.Rey team. “In the last 10 years, in particular, we have succeeded in taking new techniques to the limits of the possible and bringing projects to fruition that even we thought were impossible,” says J.F.

One has only to look upon the collections to marvel at the immense creative energy JFReyVidainherent in the designs. Several pieces in the BOZ collection, with Joëlle Rey as artistic director, truly defy gravity with their daring temple designs. One wonders how the designers achieved balance in the attachment of the temples (the Swan, Stork, Spy and the latest Usha models must be seen to be believed), let alone creating frames that are light weight and comfortable to wear.

“This line is the exact reflection of Joëlle’s personality: original, with an explosion of passion, very elaborated, audacious and well-balanced,” notes J.F. “The art and success of this brand results from the synergy of colour, pattern and material influences. Boz is just incredible.”

Not to be outdone, the other collections – J.F.Rey, Renoma, Volte Face, and Sky Eyes – excel in their own unique ways. “The passion which characterizes our designers makes the difference,” says J.F. “Challenges bring unexpected results, which are very exciting for all, both manufacturers and buyers.”

In 2012, the company purchased the latest generation laser cutting and engraving unit for their Jura plant. “Thanks to this tool, we can rejuvenate acetate and metal, creating surprising graphics which appeal to both sight and touch,” says J.F. “It helps to cultivate a taste for new design challenges.” The benefits of the laser technology are evident in numerous pieces, including the Volte Face BlaBla 2090, where tortoiseshell acetate has been laser etched and in the striking metal Structure-Tweed collection.

The Hong Kong Optical Fair recently recognized the J.F.Rey genius made manifest in sunglass 2559, winner of Vision in Life Sunglasses Gold Award for 2013. This elegant piece is symbolic of the history of France, with a fleur de lys pattern etched onto the top of the semi-rimless eyepiece.

J.F. and Joëlle love travelling and discovering new cultures, new design influences and meeting new people. “We find inspiration everywhere,” notes J.F. “And time and again, we translate inspiration from art, architecture and the latest technologies into trendsetting designs. Our aim is to keep creating surprise and setting the trends in eyewear design.”

So that’s how he does it! But now that we know, does it seem less amazing that J.F.Rey is still on top and leading? Gravity means nothing to J.F.Rey and we can only look forward to more surprises as he and his team continue to change the face of eyewear.

J.F.Rey Canada is based in Montreal and managed by Sarah Braida and her team. They carry all collections mentioned in this article.