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.

The Power of Two

By JoAnne Sommers

designerBorn of an entrepreneurial spirit combined with native artistic vision, AYA eyewear and accessories is a unique Canadian eyewear brand that reflects a collaboration between two dynamic women: Vancouver entrepreneur Carla D’Angelo and award-winning First Nations artist Corrine Hunt. AYA is the brainchild of D’Angelo, founder and president of Claudia Alan Inc., a 10-year-old company whose products have garnered rave reviews for their artistic quality as well as the money they’ve raised for charity.

D’Angelo comes by her gifts naturally. Her father, Antony D’Angelo, was a guest conductor with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and a successful entrepreneur who created private label footwear for Eaton’s and Woodward’s stores. Her mother, also a musician, was a partner in the family business.

Carla D’Angelo studied fashion merchandising at Ryerson Polytechnic (now Ryerson University) in Toronto, graduating in the early ‘90s with a degree and, “lots of creative ideas, plus marketing and business skills.” She worked for Future Shop/Best Buy, doing layout, planning and store design, then moved to Vancouver-based Suntech Optics, where she was quickly promoted to VP, purchasing and marketing. While she loved her first foray into the eyewear industry, D’Angelo wanted a family. So she took a hiatus, moving to St. Louis in 2002 with her husband, Peter, a software engineer. Her daughter, Chloe, was born later that year.

Even then, D’Angelo was looking to the future. In 2003, she formed Claudia Alan – her middle name combined with Peter’s – and began planning the initial collections. And while visiting Vancouver that year, D’Angelo met Hunt at a One-of-a-Kind craft show.

“I loved her design aesthetic, her passion and her integrity. When Peter and I moved back to Vancouver in 2004, she and I discussed my idea for AYA Eyewear and I commissioned some artwork from her.”

D’Angelo’s idea was for “wearable art” that integrates the aesthetic of the Pacific Northwest. She admits that she wasn’t sure of the market for such a collection, “but I like to take chances so I decided to go ahead with it anyway.”

Launched in 2007, the AYA collection is inspired by D’Angelo’s love of aboriginal art. Each frame features First Nations-inspired artwork etched on the temples; the nature-inspired designs include Sun, Eagle, Hummingbird, Raven, Wolf and Killer Whale. Each has a deeper meaning: Sun, for instance, symbolizes nourishment, truth, honesty and clarity, while Wolf represents family togetherness and communication.

The design process is a joint effort between the two women. “I know the type of collection I want, based on trends and the direction of the eyewear industry,” says D’Angelo, who is responsible for the colour development and construction of the frames. “Corrine does preliminary drawings, we review them and then work together to integrate her artwork.”

Hunt, who co-created the medals for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic games in Vancouver, is a member of B.C.’s Komoyue Nation. Inspired by her uncle, engraver Norman Brotchie, she began designing jewelry at 24. Her work, which includes furnishings in carved stainless steel and reclaimed wood, modern totem poles and sculptural installations, is collected around the world and appears in the Smithsonian in Washington and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

“When Carla approached me about creating eyewear with native motifs I loved the idea,” says Hunt. “I want people to look at these west coast designs and see the world I live in. Our culture is a living thing – adaptable, modern and fresh. »

Hunt is inspired by the natural world and her First Nations Komoyue and Tingit heritage. “I also want to create something new that people will see, wear and enjoy.”

D’Angelo says that AYA’s market is about 60 per cent female with an age range of 35-55, although the collection also appeals to younger people. While Canada remains the primary market, the frames also sell well in the U.S., Germany and Australia.

The next AYA collection will be a bit of a departure, says D’Angelo. “It will have a social theme – “community” – and we plan to interview children to see what that means to them. I don’t want to give away too much, but it should be very interesting and I’ll share more when we’re further along.”

The new collection is motivated in part by the Reconciliation movement, whose purpose is to build new relationships among Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians, she adds.

Partial proceeds from the sale of all AYA eyewear and accessory items are donated to ONE X ONE, a First Nations breakfast program. To date, the company has raised almost $100,000 for the program.

As D’Angelo, who was recently nominated for an RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Award, explains: “Our mission is to create beautiful products that make a difference. I believe strongly in the importance of integrity in relationships and of giving back. It’s essential for me to feel good about what I do and to create products that I’m proud of.”

Thierry Lasry: Feeling the Love

By Paddy Kamen

Is anyone feeling as much love as Thierry Lasry? The list of celebrities wearing his sunglasses is long indeed, and includes Christina Hendricks, Elle MacPherson, Fergie, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Alicia Keys and Anne Hathaway. This is just a taste, and surely new names are added daily because Thierry Lasry is the designer to watch.

But who exactly is Thierry Lasry and what accounts for the spectacular popularity of his designs?

Well, for one thing, he hails from a family known for both design and optical acumen. Born in Paris to a designer mother and an optician father, Lasry was raised in a home bustling with creative and business energies. “My mother designed many different kinds of accessories, including handbags and sunglasses, and my father has an optical store just outside of Paris where he carries the best brands in the market. I knew from an early age that fashion and design were important ways for me to express myself.”

Lasry is a self-taught designer who has been working with his father’s brand, Harry Lary’s (HL), since 2000. I have always wondered about the origins of the name ‘Harry Lary’s’ and Lasry filled me in: “My father launched this brand in reference to his first name, Harry, and he flipped the ‘S’ in  Lasry from the middle to the end. Thus ‘Lasry’  became ‘Lary’s’.”

Harry Lary’s is where Thierry began designing frames in 2002, and in 2006, he launched Thierry Lasry-branded (TL) sunglasses. “I run the Harry Lary’s brand the same way I run TL except that HL is for the optical market only, so it doesn’t have the same exposure. TL is sunglasses only, so the two brands are very complementary for our accounts,” explains Lasry.

Inspiration comes to Lasry from the 1980s. “I was born in 1977, so I’m a kid of the ‘80s. Everything from  that decade inspires me: the music, the fashion and especially the graphic art of that era. I draw on marble, mosaic and confetti patterns which were prominent then.”

Building with Lego was a passion of Lasry’s as a child and he sees this influence showing up in his designs as well. “Lego is so creative and I’ve been fascinated with it all my life. I even kept some photos of things I built with Lego as a kid and display them in my office. I use the Lego reference in the way different pieces of the frame are assembled.”

Thierry Lasry sunglasses are aimed at the kind of woman Lasry is attracted to: “Powerful, bitchy, sexy and elegant,” as he puts it. What can we say, except we hope he’s careful! When asked about his personal life, Lasry (with his movie-star good looks) only says that he’s single, and not wanting to be tied down at the moment. Certainly, women are responding to his sunwear designs in droves. He must be in demand on several levels.

“We are growing very fast, with sales increasing four-fold in the last few years,” says Lasry, who is very much in charge of his brand and intimate with every aspect of the company. “I’m pretty hands on,” he says, “even though I have amazing people working for me, whom I greatly appreciate.”

When asked how he plans on staying ahead of the curve, considering the fickle affections of his target market, Lasry responds: “We are not where we are thanks to fashionistas and celebrities. Celebrities give you exposure in term of communication and create strong brand awareness with the public. What makes the difference is the product. As long as we’re creative and keep this level of quality, I expect our customer base to keep growing worldwide.”

Clearly, success is Lasry’s full-time partner. “I’m ambitious and I work hard,” he allows. “Seeing the main celebrities on the planet wearing TL sunglasses and having the collection sold at the most prestigious stores is indeed very rewarding.” Thierry Lasry and Harry Lary’s are distributed in Canada by Kore Brands.

Argyleculture by Frame Impresario Russell Simmons

By Paddy Kamen

Russell Simmons

The story of Argyleculture is the story of Russell Simmons, design guru to young adults with an urban, hip hop sensibility. And, by the way, Argyleculture’s eyewear frames are stunning.

But how did a young man who grew up on the fringes of illicit business dealings become one of America’s leading designers and entrepreneurs?

After more than 10 years writing about eyewear designers, I can promise you I’ve never come across anyone like Russell Simmons. His background is far from art school, not at all couture. Simmons has a simple honesty about him that is disarming. When asked how he began establishing himself as a designer he is frank: “I would buy things I liked, borrow ideas, tweak them a bit and knock them off under my own label.”

Phat Farm Fashions was that label, now a well-known brand. Simmons sold his stake in that business for a hefty sum in the late ‘90s.

But fashion design and manufacture was Simmons’ second or even third career (you will see that it’s a challenge to pin down this fellow’s many ventures and story lines). Simmons first became famous as the impresario for hip-hop music back in the 1980s, with his concert promotion and artist management company, known as Rush Management, and his record company, Def Jam. He helped to launch the careers of leading artists like the Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C.

Add film producer, cell phone designer, political activist, yoga practitioner, writer, energy soda creator, and prepaid Visa debit card (the Rush card) originator to Simmons’ list of accomplishments and you can perhaps see how challenging it is to keep an interview with him on the subject of eyewear fashion. Not that he isn’t focused and articulate. Simmons recently spoke with Envision: seeing beyond magazine while driving from one meeting to another in New York.

Argyleculture eyewear embodies the aesthetic of the brand, which began with apparel. Simmons realized that his primary market in the music business – hip hop lovers who were maturing – needed a brand they could identify with as adults. He went for preppy, but on ‘steroids’, emboldening a look that was done so well by Ralph Lauren, adding bolder colours and design features that spoke surprise, thereby redefining the term ‘American classic’.

“Hip hop brands made billions of dollars but then they went out of style and there were no more brands for the adults who had been hip hop youth,” he says. “I call this market the urban graduate. This customer was underserved. There was no design representation in the market.”

Simmons works with many designers on his apparel and accessories collections. The Argyleculture frames are designed by Laura Khligh for licensee The McGee Group, based in Marietta,GA.

Simmons is effusive about Khligh. “She is so talented and really does get our brand. For me, it is a luxury to have a designer who understands the DNA of our company. It’s a dream to work with her.”

The inspiration for each season comes from storyboards and apparel images sent from Simmons’ head office in New York. “I translate their storyboards into frame drawings and we get together several times a year,” says Khligh. “Russell is incredible to work with, because he knows immediately what will work for the brand’s customer.”

Diddley is one of Khligh’s favourite models for the current season. “This is an updated clubmaster style that will work for either male or female faces. We worked with beautiful Italian and Japanese acetates. One is a honey tortoise, triple laminated with bright blue in the middle. Many of the Argyleculture frames show a lot of colour when held in the hand but they blend in and become more subtle when on the face.”

Argyleculture frames achieve a perfect mix of art and design, with comfort and weight among the prime considerations. Says Khligh, “I’m always looking to achieve that blend of current fashion and great technological design. The larger frames may have a weighty look but they are light and comfortable.”

Simmons sums up his work with Khligh, the place of Argyleculture in the market and also hints at the secret of his success: “As a creative person, there are moments when I am very sure that what I am doing is original and new and will still be accepted. I feel that way about our frames. Khligh shows me inspiring frames, with combinations you do not see elsewhere. I can look at them and see the ‘wow’ factor and I know that they fill a gap in the market. The design is new, yet it belongs.”

An Argyleculture sunglass collection is expected next year. Stand by for something original, and keep on eye on Simmons as he redefines style for a new generation.

Keplinger Brings New Design Dimensions to Silhouette

By Paddy Kamen

Roland Keplinger

When an already renowned eyewear manufacturer like Silhouette brings on a new head of design, you can be sure that synergy between the parties is of utmost importance.

Roland Keplinger came to his interview for the position of Silhouette’s head of design with a set of drawings. “I was envisioning where we could take the Titan Minimal Art collection and wanted to share my ideas with them,” he explains. “Interestingly, the prototype they showed me was exactly as I proposed. We were definitely on the same wavelength.”

Keplinger has been with Silhouette since early 2012. While the Titan Minimal Art redesign was already underway, he guided it to its launch one year later in the spring of 2013. The collection was first revealed to the public in January and highlighted at MIDO in March. What the new Titan Minimal Art reveals is an edgier, more masculine style, in a revision of the groundbreaking materials Silhouette is known for.

Quite possibly a genius in the design department, Keplinger certainly brings a strong background to Silhouette. He has a master’s degree in industrial design from FH Joanneum in Graz,Austria, and worked for several years for a design house in Germany where he created a wide variety of products. “I made both micro- and macro-sized products, from a 1 cm hearing aid to a 50 metre display booth for a trade show,” notes Keplinger.  Somewhat tongue in cheek, he refers to himself ‘a head specialist’: “I created many products for the head in addition to the hearing aid, including headphones and Bluetooth headsets, and I have filed several patents having to do with fixing hearing aids and headphones on the head. I understand the ergonomics of the head, having an ability to think of the head and products for it in a three-dimensional way. I also bring experience with solving problems with a wide variety of products and new ideas for production and material use.”

The interaction between the design and engineering departments at Silhouette makes for an exciting tension, says Keplinger. “The new Titan Minimal Art frame had to accommodate the larger lens shapes that have come onto the market and that presented quite a research and development challenge. We use a special beta-stabilized titanium alloy that is a modification of the material we previously used for the frames. We had to make sure that in the cold-forming process (swaging, pressing, bending and surface treatment) we achieved a highly precise flex zone with a perfect durability and elasticity. For the temple end, we use our specially developed SPX material as a hard component and an anti-allergic soft polymer for the inner side. The solutions involved high-end engineering, and new tooling was required to have the materials bond together.”

Of course, good design always looks simple. But problem solving is the order of the day and the back and forth between R&D and design is a dynamic process. As Keplinger explains, “It’s easy for the designer to say what he wants, but we have to squeeze out what is technically possible to achieve the look we want. The process is very creative and allows new ideas to come in. In the case of the Titan Minimal Art, combining two materials with SPX fusion technology has provided the added option of two-tone colours on the temples.”

The Titan Minimal Art’s dynamic new look with defined edges brings a contemporary element to collection: “In touch with the now,” notes Keplinger. “Our direction now is for a slightly edgier look that appeals to a younger generation.”

Still young himself, Keplinger, 34, has a long working life ahead of him, with plenty of opportunity to make a contribution to Silhouette. He and his team of four designers have more products in the development pipeline that will push the already top-of-its-game company to a new level. His vision is clear: “My aim is to find something really new in the eyewear industry. What comes next after hinge-less and screw-less frames? We’re currently testing something that isn’t yet on the market and I’m excited to see where that goes.”

Feel Lite, Show Style is the promise of the Silhouette eyewear brand, and they’ve been fulfilling that promise with the world’s lightest eyewear for almost 50 years. With Keplinger heading the design team and a new Titan Minimal Art on the market, there’s no stopping this eyewear dynamo.

The Accidental Designer: Cynthia Shapiro Comes into Her Own

By Paddy Kamen

Cynthia Shapiro is a woman coming into her own power: personally and professionally. She’s been doing so all her life. A designer of frames and a highly successful businesswoman, Shapiro is multi-faceted and dynamic.

Shapiro’s mother was an artist, as is her brother, and although she has always seen herself as a creative person, it was several years before this side of her personality married the capable business woman in her.

The first step in her development was as the inside manager of Europa International, an eyewear distribution company founded by Cynthia and her husband, Alan Shapiro (now deceased). “Alan had a background in the optical industry so we took a chance on an offer of partnership to start our own distribution company,” she explains. “We never looked back.”

Shapiro might never have taken up designing, except for the fact that much of the design and production that used to be done in Europe shifted to China. “At that point, we knew what our customers wanted and I was confident that I could deliver it,” explains Shapiro, whose design aesthetic is inspired by architecture. “I love clean, straight shapes and my designs are somewhat minimal. I like things that last a long time and I look for colours that will go with everything so that the eyewear carries the customer from one season to the next.”

Europa has always created their own brands; they now have seven ophthalmic eyewear collections:Côte D’Azur, Scott Harris, Scott Harris Vintage, Michael Ryen, David Benjamin, db4k (for kids), Cinzia Ophthalmic and Adin Thomas. Shapiro heads a team of designers, with her main focus of late on Cinzia Ophthalmic. “We re-launched the collection at Vision Expo East last year. The new, more defined frames have been very well-received within the industry.”

Business savvy is a gift that Shapiro has in spades. As just one example, she pioneered a product that is now taken for granted in the optical marketplace: fashionable readers. “I could see the demographic trend toward people needing readers and realized that there was nothing attractive on the market, let alone good quality at a reasonable price.”

Shapiro’s answer to this need was innovative: she saw the link between fashionable readers and matching accessories and so created Cinzia Designs. Just as there is an outfit for every occasion, just so there is a scarf, necklace, watch, handbag and attractive reader case for every woman with Cinzia readers.

At first, optical professionals turned a cold shoulder to the Cinzia concept. “They didn’t want readers at that time,” Shapiro allows. Undaunted, she sold the collection to fashion boutiques. Designers from around the world were eager to contribute their accessories to the Cinzia collections. “This has been very creative work and quite rewarding on many levels,” says Shapiro.

Optical grade readers and sunglasses for both men and women are available within the flagship Cinzia and Trendies collections. While Cinzia tends to be more conservative, with pieces designed to appeal for many years to come, Trendies offers light-hearted and playful pieces in line with the most current colour trends and fashions.

Cinzia and the other Europa brands are distributed in Canada by Rob Soloway of Cenoco/Central Optical Company. “Rob has been in the optical laboratory business for many years and he reviews every frame from an optical perspective,” says Shapiro. “He has made many changes to our designs over the years, and we love working with him and his family.”

The majority of Cinzia readers and sunglasses allow for easy replacement of their lenses with prescription product.

Since her husband’s passing three years ago, Shapiro has taken up the challenge of meeting life in a new way. “Alan said I should pour myself into our business and I’ve done that. After a hiatus to deal with his loss, I came out of my shell and put more energy into Cinzia Designs. I’m enjoying international travel with my staff. Our son stepped up to the plate after Alan’s passing and has taken to the business with great alacrity. His presence has made my life so much warmer and I am fortunate to get to see another side of him.”

Dividing her time between the Europa International headquarters nearChicago, and the design center and showroom in Scottsdale, AZ, Cynthia Shapiro continues to create a life of meaning centered around her family and business. The accomplished businesswoman and fashion designer is someone to watch, for she marries business acumen with the creative side of life. When asked what she does for fun, outside of business, she quickly responds: “Business is my fun. My heart and soul belong to the optical business.”

Tim Van Steenbergen: Old Values in a New World

By JoAnne Sommers

Tim Van Steenbergen was fated to become a designer.  Just ask the award-winning Belgian creator of the sunwear line, ‘theo by Tim Van Steenbergen’, himself.

“It was inevitable that I would do this,” Van Steenbergen says of his career. “I come from a family of architects who were always seeking harmony and beauty in their surroundings. My grandfather, René, taught me how to draw, and my mother is a painter, who encouraged me to draw and paint. When I was four, she took me to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, where we lived, and where I later spent five years studying fashion, textile creation and theatre costume.”

After graduation, Van Steenbergen, now 35, worked as the first assistant to Belgian fashion designer Olivier Theyskens, studied drapery and couture techniques, then worked in Paris and later,New York. 2001 was a year of milestones: he returned to Antwerp, establishing his company, Mitzlavv bvba, and his first collection of women’s clothing was launched in Paris.

But Van Steenbergen’s creative gifts are much too varied to be channelled into a single art form. Among other achievements, he has displayed haute couture dresses in the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, the Louvre in Paris and at the Cannes film festival. He created an installation, « Stills », at the 2003 Venice Biennale. As well, Van Steenbergen has created costumes for Richard Wagner’s opera cycle, ‘Ring of the Nibelungen’, to be performed at La Scala in Milan and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin.

So what led him into eyewear design?

“Several years ago, while flying to Moscow on business, I met some people from theo. As we talked, I realized that we shared a sense of curiosity and excitement about what was new and creative. I felt there was a match and thought it would be great to collaborate with them.”

The people at theo thought so too, and Van Steenbergen has since collaborated with the company’s designers to create seven sunwear collections. The most recent – Limited Edition René – honours the grandfather and mentor who showed Van Steenbergen how to look at and appreciate art.

Limited Edition René, which is available at select locations across Canada, reflects René Van Steenbergen’s application of modern architectural design and building materials to religious architecture. Another source of inspiration came from the sunglasses popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s: heavy, black acetate sunwear that lent ordinary people an instant diva-allure. With that look in mind, Van Steenbergen created four models – three distinctly feminine and one masculine – each available in a full black model and a black/transparent variation. Each model has geometric details in a primary colour. The metal temples are not solid but have a structure that refers to concrete stained-glass windows. Only 150 sets have been released worldwide.

Van Steenbergen says his sunwear creations attract an intellectual clientele, “people who are interested in art, rather than in consumption for its own sake. They know why they choose these glasses. It’s not only about glamour – it’s about the concept behind it.”

Tim’s approach to work has changed over the years. At first, he says, he tried to put all his ideas into a single collection but as he developed, he learned to make choices, becoming more selective and self-critical in the process. The result is that each collection is now “more pure.”

Today, Van Steenbergen’s atelier is located in an old sewing factory in the suburbs ofAntwerp. During the ‘60s the building was the workshop of a traditional couture label that designed and produced every garment in that factory. Today, it is maintained as it was years ago and it reflects the history and the philosophy Tim believes in when creating his designs.

“The challenge in my work is the search for authenticity and artisanship,” he explains. “My motivation is to transfer craftsmanship and the old values into different and modern designs. I’m in search of old values in a new world.”

That search recently led him to create ‘Metronome’, a first light design for Delta Light, and an interior collection in collaboration with Aristide. “I don’t want to focus only on glasses or fashion,” he says. “I’m most interested in how creative fields communicate with one another and how they come together. You can’t work in isolation, you must be part of the world.”

Other new fields beckon, including the world of film.

When he’s not working, Van Steenbergen enjoys running, doing yoga and reading, especially the novels of Dickens and Tolstoy. “I can reread them again and again, always discovering new things,” he says. Again, that happy marriage of the old and the new.

GANT: The Hip And Historical Brand

By Paddy Kamen

How can a brand that began over 60 years ago have such a fresh, strong appeal today? A strong team, from the founder on through to the current creative leadership, makes GANT stand above the crowd.

It was an industrious Bernard Gantmacher who discovered quite by accident that he had a gift for sewing and apparel design. After immigrating to the U.S.in 1914 from his native Ukraine, Gantmacher studied to become a pharmacist, but it was at his night job in a garment factory in New York City that he discovered both his life partner and his ideal profession. Gantmacher’s first job was sewing shirt collars, while his soon-to-be wife specialized in buttons and buttonholes. Who knew that they would later become known for men’s shirts with a distinctive twist: a button on the back collar to help keep a necktie in place?

The couple started their independent business as subcontractors, known as GANT, making shirts for other labels and soon became renowned for their quality craftsmanship. Gantmacher began labeling his shirts with a logo: a diamond with a ‘G’, which was printed on the shirttail. This distinctive sign of superior quality helped to make his signature shirts coveted bestsellers, with demand far outstripping supply.

The couple’s sons joined the business after active service in World War II and created the GANT of New Haven label in 1949. They brought button-down collars to the American market, complete with the distinctive back-collar button, innovative box pleat and their other invention, the locker loop. Their innovations won a dedicated following for the label. Students and professors at Yale University in New Haven were big fans of the comfortable, relaxed shirts from GANT (the factory was located near the campus) and the now-legendary Yale Co-op shirt was originally made exclusively for the university in the 1960s. It’s still going strong, as are the famous GANT Rugger shirts. America’s sportswear heritage simply cannot be discussed without the name GANT figuring prominently.

The Gantmacher family sold the business in 1967 and since then, growth has been exponential. GANT has furthered its association with apparel, accessories, footwear, fragrances and home furnishings that are defined by a casual yet classy aesthetic, combining the best of itsNew Englandroots with a European touch.

Christopher Bastin is the new creative director at GANT, where he has played a key role in many company milestones since 2005. He is credited with the successful re-launch of the company’s GANT Rugger collection and its subsequent market resurgence. His work infused a modern sensibility into the company that has been integral in helping it reach a new generation of customers who have discovered and embraced GANT. According to Viva International Group’s Public Relations Manager Jon Martinez, Bastin is now responsible for providing seasonal inspiration and design direction for all collections. “He serves as global brand spokesperson for all activities relating to design and creative direction.”

Viva was the first and only licensee for GANT eyewear, which launched in 2001. “The partnership between Viva and GANT is a perfect fit,” notesMartinez.

Like the apparel, the eyewear collections fall into three distinct categories: GANT, GANT Rugger and GANT Michael Bastian.

GANT’s collaboration with renowned American designer Michael Bastian began in 2010 with a menswear line under the GANT by Michael Bastian brand. This collaboration led to a GANT by Michael Bastian Spring/Summer 2011 women’s wear collection, which also developed into the bold and edgy GANT by Michael Bastian Eyewear collection with Viva International Group.

The latest eyewear collections from GANT are a mixture of preppy, vintage and mod. Nicole Durda, global brand manager for GANT Eyewear at Viva, sums up the ongoing appeal of this wonderful brand: “The GANT Eyewear collection offers the perfect blend of classic and fashion styling for both men and women, all at a competitive price.”

The Fall 2012 GANT by Michael Bastian Eyewear collection features the G MB Copley front and center with its bold design. A double bridge highlights the frame’s deep angular front shape, which is finished in handmade acetate.

The GANT men’s eyewear collection remains deeply rooted in the heritage of the brand. A distinctive round shape is emphasized in the design of the G Tupper model. A keyhole bridge adds a vintage element to this contemporary style, along with two metal studs on each corner of the frame’s front.

For women, the GW Juvet is a new GANT Eyewear style featuring chunkier plastics in a vintage-inspired shape, with laser-engraved logo treatments on the temples and metal stud detailing.

Round shapes maintain their appeal and the GR Borea from GANT Rugger Eyewear stands out with a slightly modified retro feel married to a more polished look. Horn colorations in brown and crystal, as well as light tortoise and black add depth to the relaxed styling of this handmade acetate frame.

The GANT brand continues to increase its retail expansion, including plans to open a GANT store inCanada.  Eponymous stores are located in all of the world’s major capitals. This high-end exposure only increases the perceived value of the brand in the eyes of consumers, creating a cachet that infuses GANT Eyewear collections. Jon Martinez notes: “The eyewear provides an entry into the brand’s fashion and a great opportunity to get into the spirit of GANT.”

Passion Has Always Been in Fashion at Ferragamo

By Paddy Kamen

designer_ferragamoPassion is the key to understanding the allure and success of the Salvatore Ferragamo brand. It all began with the founder, Ferragamo himself, who was born in 1898 in Bonito,Italy. His passion for shoes and shoemaking was such that he became an apprentice to a shoemaker at age 11 and opened his first shop in Bonito when only 13. Ferragamo really came to prominence, in the U.S., however, when he opened the ‘Hollywood Boot Shop’ in Tinseltown in 1923. From there he soared from one success to another, fitting the stars associated with the burgeoning film industry and becoming, arguably, the first global name in elegant footware.

Continuing his legacy, Massimiliano Giornetti was appointed creative director in 2010 after spending over 10 years with the label. Previously overseeing the men’s collection, Giornetti has brought a rich and revitalized understanding to the Salvatore Ferragamo heritage through the collections since assuming his new role.

From ready to wear to shoes and accessories, Giornetti has a clear understanding and vision of the Salvatore Ferragamo brand, which is translated into the new Salvatore Ferragamo Eyewear Collection. Giornetti works closely with Giancarla Agnoli, Marchon Italia managing director and senior vice president design, who shares the passion of this iconic fashion house.

Agnoli, like Ferragamo himself, had an early inclination toward design and creativity. « Already in my childhood I showed a passion for interior design, photography, pottery. Later, in my teens, I started designing and making my own clothing, from sewing to knitting – all by hand.”

Agnoli was dissuaded from a career in architecture by her parents and steered instead toward international business economics. “This definitely helped me to widen my horizons,” she allows. “I was fortunate to grow up and study inSwitzerlandand subsequently in theUK, which gave me an international background. In 1981 I started working in the eyewear industry with Marchon and one year later, I was put in charge of developing theU.S.business. This allowed me to become more involved in product design in order to optimize sales.

“My natural inclination finally found expression and my passion was rewarded,” she continues. “In 1992, when Marchon signed the global license for Calvin Klein Eyewear, I was completely involved in developing the collection. In 1995, I established theItalianDesignCenterto foster the research and development of all global brands within Marchon’s brand portfolio. Working directly with world-class designers like Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Silvia Venturini Fendi, Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri, and Massimiliano Giornetti  — just to mention a few — is a continuous source of stimulation. My love of traveling, nature, architecture, art and lifestyle did the rest.”

Agnoli works closely with extensive design teams throughout Marchon’s global design centers inItaly,New YorkandTokyo. Together, they work to ensure that all the designer’s and the brand’s aspirations are translated into the current season’s eyewear collection.

Claudio Gottardi, president and CEO, said, “In order to guarantee the brand identity is fully captured in eyewear, our design team and myself believe in supporting a collaborative process. We’re very proud of all that our partnerships have accomplished throughout our entire global portfolio.”

Marchon became the licensee for the eyewear line of Salvatore Ferragamo quite recently, with the product first seeing distribution in January 2012. The agreement covers the design, distribution, promotion and sale worldwide of sunglasses and prescription eyewear for both men and women. Agnoli works closely with the Ferragamo team and peers to marry all aspects of the creation of Ferragamo eyewear. Her comprehensive abilities have stood her in good stead as she shepherds this iconic brand into reality, with sensual and glamorous shapes, refined materials and warm, deep, and rich colours. The collection is vibrant and detailed, with adornments that are the quintessence of Ferragamo’s heritage. The collection targets men and women, aged 25-plus, who are self-confident, elegant, refined, and appreciate classic craftsmanship.

Craftsmanship is a word that harkens back to the brand’s founding father, who began learning his craft as a young man; he never stopped learning and never looked back. Agnoli is likewise a dynamic and curious person with a youthful spirit. “I’m a working mother with two sons who are currently in college,” she says. “Their youth and vitality inspire me to remain young-spirited, a quality that is essential to design, where we have to be in touch with both current and future generations.”

Bruno Palmegiani: Aspiring to More

By JoAnne Sommers

DesignerPalmegianiEven as a teenager, Bruno Palmegiani sensed what a pair of glasses could do for a person’s image. As an aspiring rock musician, he always wore sunglasses while playing the guitar to help project the persona of a cool, hip rock star. Today, as the designer behind the Ermenegildo Zegna eyewear collection, Palmegiani creates the glasses and sunwear for the luxury brand, worn by such style icons as George Clooney, Denzel Washington and Laurence Fishburne.

Palmegiani, 62, comes from a long line of creative people: he inherited his passion for music from his grandfather, who played six instruments. His mother was also an artist: “She had a soprano voice and performed at the theatre but she couldn’t study because she had to care for me, my sister and brother.”

Like many young men, Palmegiani’s passion for rock and roll eventually burned out. By then he was an 18-year-old student in Turin. Fascinated by fashion and creativity and needing money to pay for his studies, he began working with his uncle, a designer of men’s made-to-measure clothing.

“That was the beginning of an exquisite love affair with haute couture,” he says. “My uncle worked for important fashion houses and I helped him research fabrics and colours. Soon I was organizing shows for veteran designers, including Versace and Armani.”

While Palmegiani’s sense of style evolved through his experiences in music and the fashion business, he learned about eyewear by studying to be an optometrist. After graduation he owned and operated an optical store in his native Rome for seven years.

It was a chance meeting with someone who worked for Essilor that led him into eyewear sales. “I started as a sales representative and that’s where I discovered my love for frames and lenses. In eight years at Essilor, I learned all the processes involved in manufacturing and the special qualities of the different lenses available.”

Palmegiani’s Essilor experience provided him with invaluable insight into the world of glasses. But, he says, “I was a man who was never satisfied with what I got and always aspired to more.”

That aspiration led him to De Rigo Vision in 1980. It was a crucial time in the evolution of sunglasses, which were morphing from simple eye protection to fashion accessories, and Palmegiani was looking for a company on the cusp of that change. He joined De Rigo as a sales rep but his big break came when the company’s sunglass designer unexpectedly left the company.

“As a frames salesman, I needed good sunglasses to sell so I decided to design them myself. At that time the Italian sunglass market was dominated by a craze for a particular frame or brand that would sell heavily for a couple of years before being superseded by the next hot product. I realized that a big gap in the market was opening so I took a vintage pair of New York Police Department sunglasses, changed many of the design elements, and a new brand – POLICE – was born.”

POLICE, featuring the classic mirrored blue lenses, was an immediate – and enormous – international success. “In the sunglass industry, blue is inextricably linked to POLICE,” says Palmegiani. “The brand turned that colour into a ‘must have’ in the late 1980s-early 1990s. For about 10 years, the blue mirrored lenses were met with incredible success and acknowledged all over the world as a symbol of freedom and life ‘on the road’, a new and revolutionary look.”

Since then, Palmegiani has worked for the Vuitton group, designing eyewear collections for Givenchy, Celine and Loewe. And since 2005, he has designed the Ermenegildo Zegna eyewear collections, interpreting the core values of the Italian design heritage – craftsmanship, style and quality – and transferring them to eyewear.

Zegna was created to produce the world’s best fabrics and is best known for its men’s clothing line. Their tailored suits focus on creating a perfect fit and the same high standards are applied to every eyeglass frame.

Says Palmegiani: “The most beautiful and the most difficult part of my job is to interpret the language of the people: what they like and would wear. Ermenegildo Zegna gives me the chance to achieve elegance in style, by the continued research of raw materials and new techniques.”

Ronor Occhialli recently obtained the Canadian distribution rights from De Rigo Vision for the collections and Ontario Sales Manager Pat Salamat says the response has been outstanding.

“Of all the brands I’ve launched, including Calvin Klein, Fendi and Coach, this has been the most exciting. We started showing product in April and there has been a phenomenal response based on pre-booking orders across Canada.”

Part of Zegna’s appeal is its image, which Salamat describes as, “superb quality and fit, sophistication and prestige for the man who pursues excellence.”

The brand is uniquely positioned as male luxury, classical, stylish, and elegant. It’s classic style sits ideally between the designer and bridge segments.

“It’s one of a very few brands in the marketplace with that positioning, which means competition is limited,” says Salamat. “Our demographic is men 30-55 — high-end consumers who pay attention to detail and are brand- and product-sensitive.”

Salamat believes that the prestige and outstanding quality of Zegna eyewear will elevate the image of any dispensary that carries it. “Those eyecare professionals will be offering something unique, available only at selective optical locations,” he says. “And that, in turn, will attract an exclusive clientele for whom Zegna is a byword for superior quality, exclusivity, attention to detail and prestige.”