Detailed minimalism: designing new frames inspired by old ways

Nicolas Berne, eyewear designer at Charmant, tells OT  about the inspiration behind Minamoto’s designs

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Following the introduction of Charmant’s new brand, Minamoto, last year, OT sought to find out more about the design inspirations behind the brand, built in homage to the eyewear company’s Japanese heritage. Nicolas Berne, eyewear designer at Charmant, explains.

What influences did you draw on in Minamoto’s first eyewear collection? What was core to your design ethos for the new brand?

Nicolas Berne, eyewear designer at Charmant: When we started to work on that brand, we knew from the beginning that we wanted to create a collection which could represent our origin as a Japanese manufacturer.

The Minamoto design ethos was then built around two key words which were ‘craftmanship’ and ‘zen.’ The craftsmanship side of this collection could be found in the highly detailed parts, from engraved end pieces and bridges to double side press temples. 

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Nicolas Berne

Such level of detail is also visible on the kanji logo we apply on the end tip and top bar design. On top of that, we use unique and decorated rims on several of our styles to complete the legacy of ‘craftsmanship’.

On the other hand, ‘zen’ heritage can be seen in the fact that we wanted to create a timeless product which is intended to last a long time. That’s why we worked on a limited colour palette (antique/gold, silver and rose gold plating) which enhances our key material of titanium.

My work as a designer was to find the perfect balance between decorated handcrafted elements and a minimal eyewear design approach. I think the Minamoto design language could be described as ‘detailed minimalism.’

Have you taken away any lessons from Japan’s history of eyewear craftsmanship to apply to your own work?

NB: During several trips to Japan, I had the chance to discover the private museum in our headquarters in Sabae. A major part of the displayed collection are glasses from the early 18th to mid-20th centuries. That truly helped me to understand the essence of Japanese eyewear history. The Minamoto collection was inspired by metal engraved patterns, which are one of the symbols of Japanese craftmanship and knowhow. At the same time, Minamoto is also born from a long-lasting teamwork with my Japanese colleague, Hajime, who is as big a fan of eyewear as I am. I stopped counting how many times we had discussions about inspiration, brand philosophy, technical detail or even manufacturing processes. Thanks to him, I know that I can’t go wrong on this collection. It’s important to me that Minamoto remains true to the origin.

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Did COVID-19 have an impact on the development of the Minamoto brand and launch collection?

NB: Yes – we started to work on this collection at end of 2019 and beginning of 2020. This is exactly when COVID-19 started to spread around the world.

At the time, it did not change fundamentally my daily work as I used to work remotely with Japan, but it made every part of the process longer. Our original idea was to launch this collection for Opti Munich 2021, but we had to wait until Silmo 2021 to introduce it properly. In a way, it has given us some extra time to fine-tune every detail, from the products to the marketing, to ensure a successful release.

What do you think is unique about the new collection, in terms of the technical details?

NB: Our technical approach on this collection was mainly the focus on titanium, which is, if we look over the years, Charmant Group’s key material. Therefore, it made sense to make that material the essential element of Minamoto DNA. Then, all choices we made were to enhance that material in one way or another. All styles in the collection feature integrated rim lock and custom-made hinges. Sides are completely made of beta titanium, which is an amazing material, well known for its flexibility but also for its capacity to be extremely thin. Every part of the frame is made of titanium including pads, which are available in its natural colour.

Is there anything that is particularly inspiring you for the next collection?

NB: We are still in the process as we speak. The only thing I can say is that we enjoyed working on it as much as we did the first collection. The global idea remains the same: we want to create long lasting products, which our final consumer will love wearing over the years.

There is one concept in Japanese culture, called Ai-Chaku. This is to describe a deep emotional relationship that you can build with an object over time. It could be, for example, your favourite fountain pen or your old teddy bear. With Minamoto eyewear, we would like to develop such deep and long-term bonds between the frame and the wearer, which is the exact opposite of today’s fast fashion.