What does your role as chief product officer at Mondottica entail?
My role is an overarching role. The idea behind Mondottica bringing me in was to make sure that we work seamlessly from product strategy, design or product development through to quality control and the supply chain. I have end to end responsibility for the product. I work with designers, product developers, quality control personnel, factories and production teams.
How long have you worked in the eyewear industry for?
I’ve been working in the eyewear industry for 33 years, since I was 18. For the first 10 years I worked as an optician in Denmark then in 1999 I joined Pro Design as a sales director. I had been doing that for a year and a half and then the designer left. I always knew how I wanted frames to look, so for me it was one of those opportunities that I didn’t want to miss. I picked up a pen and over the weekend I did a bunch of drawings. On the Monday morning, I put them on my boss’ desk. I moved into product design and half a year later my first product came out. In the beginning, I worked as a one man band and then we started to bring in more designers. Pro Design grew to be 10 or 15 times the size over the next 18 years.
How does it feel seeing your frames go from drawings to a finished product?
You haven’t seen a frame to the end until you meet someone on the street wearing them. That takes a while. I love to see when the products are handed over the sales reps, in the shops or receiving a design award, but what really makes me happy is going to a restaurant, looking around and thinking, ‘I made that one.’
In my head when I’m designing something I always have a picture of who I’m designing it for. Then you meet someone on the street, who is absolutely not that person, wearing it even better than you imagined. I remember at the beginning of the 90s when we did some frames that we thought were pretty cool skater frames, but I met a grandmother wearing them. That is what makes me happy; when our team has made beautiful products and they are worn with pride.
What advice would you offer for choosing frames?I always say to opticians, learn from the mirror. There are plenty of opticians who bring out a lot of frames and those are the ones who probably never learn from all of the different faces they see every day. You should be able to scan a face and know where to go on the shelf to support the patient.
For the consumer, it’s about what fits your personal look. Find an optician who you trust. If the last time you bought a pair of glasses and the next day your colleagues said, ‘Oh my god, you look so beautiful with those glasses,’ go to the same optician next time. If they say, ‘Oh my god, those glasses are so beautiful,’ then you might consider going elsewhere.
What is your approach to designing eyewear?
When I come into a role like this one, I have to look at what is broken and what is working. What is working at Mondottica is design. Sam Craig [creative director] and Frederic Lassalle [head of design] are doing a fantastic job in being brand partners. My focus is on making sure that we take what they produce and get it to the market at the right time. That means going through all of the stages of development that a great idea needs to go through. It’s about me creating a partnership with Sam and Fred and sparring with them, it’s not about leading them because they know exactly what they’re doing.
It also depends on what brand I am working on. With Yohji Yamamoto, we have a brand manager who gives me the most important information and a clear direction of where the brand is going. It’s similar with Sunday Somewhere, except it is an in-house brand. We have a clear idea of what the story is and where it is going. My background as an optician makes it a lot easier for me to design because I’ve see so many faces and personalities. When a brand starts talking about a personality, I immediately see what that person is wearing and I can develop the design.
It’s important to understand the DNA of a brand. It’s the same with the rest of the Mondottica group. When Sam and Fred are creating designs for one of the 15 brands, they put their own passion and taste into it, but most of all they look at the brand and interpret it into eyewear. They’re so skilled at having their Ted Baker hat on, taking it off and putting their United Colors of Benetton hat on a minute later.
“You haven’t seen a frame to the end until you meet someone on the street wearing them”
How is the eyewear industry changing?I think we’re standing in front of the something major. Sustainability is something the industry has been talking about for many years, but now we’re seeing young people who do not want to wait any more. They don’t request it, they demand it and that will pull the industry in that direction. We’ll see a lot of material technology changing as a result. At Mondottica, our focus is on working with our factories on scrap so it is reused for other industries or our own. We’re looking at biodegradable materials to see how we can introduce that across our products. The way we produce frames is something that will change.
What trends are exciting you at the moment?If you stay in the industry for long enough, you see it all coming back in 15 to 20 year cycles. There’s always a main circle and then a reaction to that. Acetate has been dominant and so there’s only one way that can go, which is thinner. Then when they can’t go any thinner, they go to metals. At the same time, there’s a counter reaction and that’s acetate frames with thick sides.
There are periods where everybody is running in the same direction and right now no one is doing the same thing. I find that quite exciting. Everyone wants to be different, you want to stand out from the crowd. At the moment, there are huge frames, curved frames, flat frames, slim frames, chunky acetates, slim metals, light lenses and dark lenses. It is all over the place. It’ll be this way for a time because it’ll become more about the DNA of each brand.