Me and my glasses

“Eyewear is for living and moving”

Eyewear and image creative director for Emmanuelle Khanh, Eva Gaumé, tells OT  about her journey into eyewear, her sunglasses collection, and designing a collection in lockdown

Eva Gaume

What sparked your interest in eyewear?

I don't wear spectacles. I have never needed them but as a child, I always wanted to wear a pair of frames. I thought they made every child a little bit more special. When I was in high school, one of my best friends had sight issues so she used to wear spectacles and made it very fashionable and a real statement. It’s something I think about today with some nostalgia, and it makes me happy to remember this time and see where I am today.

What was your journey into frame design?

I grew up in Lyon, which is quite a big city, but not as large as Paris. My family did not work in the fashion industry, but I had broad exposure to artistic expression. I knew that I wanted to work in a creative field: in the fashion world, but not necessarily clothing, experimenting with materials and playing with identity and styles.

After studying economics, I entered a bachelor programme in industrial design in Geneva, Switzerland, with a focus on jewellery, accessories and watch design. The course provided a state-of-the-art craftsman’s training as well as an industrial approach using high tech machines. For me, eyewear was the perfect in-between field across traditional craft and industry, fashion and accessory. We’re fortunate in France to have a vibrant eyewear industry.

As Emmanuelle Khanh was being relaunched, mainly through the eyewear collections, I had the chance to be part of the new story. I started to design for EK as a freelancer while I was still a student. I collaborated with Tarian and joined the luxury house, Piaget, right after graduation in watch design. A few months later, I came back to Paris and joined Emmanuelle Khanh full time. It felt like a perfect creative opportunity for me.

I was working on a variety of projects and in 2016 Madam Emmanuelle Khanh herself consulted on one of them. It was a special moment in my young career, and it allowed me to have a deeper understanding of many aspects of the brand. We shared a strong desire to design for real women. Today, as the artistic director of the brand, my work isn’t limited to frame design, but it allows me to have a 360° vision towards the image and brand environment, in addition to eyewear and accessory design.

How many pairs of sunglasses do you own?

I started collecting vintage frames, with a lot of Emmanuelle Khanh, of course. Usually I play with between three or four different shades. I like to wear some very light lenses during winter, and when there is a little ray of sunshine it looks really cool.

I love to collect vintage frames because they feel like treasures from the past. I know they have a history, and the fact that you can pass them on through generations makes them very special to me.

I also feel that I own every frame that I design. I always draw a little bit for myself but also think about people that I love, and I get very excited seeing people wearing my creations. The frames really come to life.

What frame shapes, colours or styles do you usually go for?

It really depends on my mood, my look, and the season. Eyewear is a fashion accessory and an extension of yourself. I like to be stylish but comfortable; eyewear is for living and moving. I’ve been working a lot on the weight, comfort and balance of our frames. I love the large but thin structure of the Zig-Zag edition. It’s a light and fashionable piece to wear. The silhouette of the temple is feminine and sculpted to wear, with a chain to create a perfect look.

A bold frame is also a must-have and the signature of Emmanuelle Khanh’s style. Oversized shapes highlight the distinctive work of the colours and the shine of the acetate. I think deep tortoiseshells or off-blacks are always very elegant. With some very subtle choices, I try to bring the same versatility we can have in clothing and fabrics.

What inspires your designs?

Emmanuelle Khanh is the brand which expresses my mindset. Eyewear should be fun, colourful and playful. It should be any colour and shape you feel comfortable wearing. In this challenging period of time, fashion has to bring some happiness. With the latest collection, I focused on opticals and many accessories to create a playful eyewear selection that brings you a lot of confidence, while allowing you to remain yourself.

The EK archives are an infinite source of inspiration to me, as are the couple: Emmanuelle Khanh and her husband, Quasar. The way they worked together and inspired each other was very much infused by the 70s-80s spirit. This particular period inspires me a lot.

I feel fortunate to play a role in bringing Emmanuelle Khanh’s name and history back before the public with timeless and fashionable frames.

Who would you pick as your style icon of glasses wearers and why?

I don’t have a specific icon, I like to think about the women that inspire me, some historic personalities, but also my contemporaries. In the 80s, EK’s most iconic frames were worn by famous men like Ray Charles and David Bowie and I love the boldness and glamour of these artists. I think French people have a way of wearing glasses that is a bit more classic and yet chic. Both inspire me. I think Emmanuelle Khanh has a very sensitive approach, very elegant, but also striking and about not taking yourself too seriously.

What styles, colours or materials do you anticipate will be key for 2021?

With the last collection, I focused on the mix-and-match of very classic and signature colours of Emmanuelle Khanh: black, tortoiseshell, Havanas. When you look at the eyewear market, the majority of the sales are made of black frames, and I thought I could bring a lot of subtlety to these classics.

Today, Emmanuelle Khanh is known for its beautiful tortoiseshell and creative coloured-Havanas, which have become a new contemporary signature for the past seasons. My love for colour and material research has led me to develop our own acetate colours and patterns with a French artisanal factory based in Oyonnax. It also follows the sustainable commitments we want to reach.

We’re planning to continue developing the mix-and-match idea with our spectacle chains. Personally, I’ve attached my face mask to mine. I feel it represents what Emmanuelle Khanh is about in a way: if you have to wear it, why not do so in a way that makes you feel good? 

How has COVID-19 impacted Emmanuelle Khanh? How have you adapted to the challenges?

The first lockdown in France went from mid-March until mid-May. Everything stopped quite suddenly, right before several international shows such as Milan and New York, which we were looking forward to attending.

The whole team was working from home and we tried to make to most out of it, developing the new models and materials for the next collection and thinking about new initiatives to strengthen our partnerships with all our clients, consumers, brand ambassadors, factories, and working on our communication and image.

This period reinforced the values Emmanuelle Khanh and our team stand for, and so far we’ve come out of it stronger. Emmanuelle Khanh claims creativity, independence and French savoir-faire. Beyond luxury, it has a real desire to create beautiful products and to bring a unique experience.

We’re also focusing on bringing an offer that is made to last. The lockdown confirmed the fact that having a local, small batch, human-scale production was a real strength. It made us stronger because consumers are concerned about where their products are coming from. If you buy a nice pair of glasses, you’re also contributing to making a living for people that work in your country.

We’re lucky and thankful to be able to say that we have been in a period of growth. The new collection has been very well received. I think the strategy of bringing less, but really good, precise products, helped. We’re looking forward to all the projects that 2021 will bring.