A Female Design Talk
By the time I arrive, Olivia already stands waiting outside the cafe by the Spree river canal in Berlin Kreuzberg. It’s a cold and windy day in the German capital, and although I have never met Olivia in person, I can tell from far away that it’s her I will be interviewing. The giveaway? Perhaps it’s her signature French charms, or the distinct ØRGREEN glasses that pointed me in the right direction. After exchanging initial pleasantries as the blustering wind picks up momentum, we head inside the warm comforts of Café Spindler to talk about Olivia’s career, her personal approach to eyewear, and what’s in store from ØRGREEN in 2016.
Olivia, you were the one who picked this cafe as the meet up for the interview. Nice choice! Very tasteful, and with lots of love for detail. Is there a particular reason you chose Café Spindler?
There is, indeed. This cafe is really elegant and modern, without coming across as uptight. The quality is really on point, from the interior decorations all the way to the food and service. I find it all rather well executed, a subtle mixture of refinement and industrial chic. Cool, but well-maintained.
Any connection to your professional life?
Okay, here’s the connection to ØRGREEN: Our collections also reflect the goal of creating dynamic and innovative designs with a minimalist aesthetic. We also take great care in choosing every single small detail. And we also pursue high standards when it comes to offering comfort to our customers. That’s why we’ve come to the perfect place for talking about my work at ØRGREEN.
Hold up, let’s take it back a quick notch. Who are you and what do you do?
I was born on the Côte d’Azur and studied art at the Art Academy in Brittany. Today I work as the Senior Product Designer at ØRGREEN.
But the company is headquartered in Copenhagen. How did you end up in Berlin?
Right after earning my diploma, I found a job with a Berlin-based eyewear company.
That was an invaluable experience and offered so many insights. Then I met Tobias Wandrup (Head of Design) and Henrik Ørgreen (CEO and Creative Director) from ØRGREEN at an eyewear tradeshow. The timing for our meeting could not have been any more perfect: They were looking for a new designer – I was looking for new challenges. We instantly got along swimmingly; the chemistry was perfect right from the start. A few weeks later they invited me to meet them in Copenhagen and it was just like at the tradeshow – we were instantly on the same wavelength. We ate Danish smørrebrød and I sketched up a few designs, and it was pretty much already clear that we would be working together.
What’s your collaborative workflow with your remote set-up?
We worked out a pretty good deal. I work in Berlin, but I fly out to Copenhagen and stay there half of the time. That’s been working well for us for over three-and-a-half years now. And whenever we’re about to finalize a new collection or receive prototypes, I take multiple trips.
Speaking of new collections, how many are there each year?
We work on an exact plan for when and how many new styles we’ll be releasing over the course of a year. We know when to start designing so everything gets done on time. We really work pretty far in advance. We’re currently working on late 2016 collections. We have five launches, three major collections for each big tradeshow. For opti in Munich, Mido in Milan, and Silmo in Paris. We work with a strong teamspirit and in the end, it is Tobias, Head of Design, and I, who are in charge of designing all the styles, for men and women – from sunglasses to prescription.
That must take close cooperation in order to keep everyone on the same page. What’s a typical day like when it comes to connecting Berlin and Copenhagen?
We’re pretty much communicating all the time. Email, texts… Skype is always open – it’s as if I was at the office! Although I have my own life here in Berlin, I often wonder if it would make more sense to just move out to Copenhagen… It’s such an incredible city with amazing people. Most of the design trends originate in Scandinavia, especially product and fashion designs. So I’m definitely tempted.
Where do you find inspiration for your own design process? In Scandinavia?
Most definitely! I love Scandinavian furniture – the minimalism and clear lines definitely have a major impact on my eyewear collections. But for me, inspiration mostly comes from people, facial expressions, personalities… Whenever I meet people that have a special something about them, or that are creating something out of the ordinary, or have a unique lifestyle – it’s inspiring to me. In multi-cultural metropolitan cities such as Berlin there are plenty of unique individuals – one of a kind faces, if you will – which I find super exciting and inspiring. So it’s all about creating a frame for unique faces.
After all, a pair of glasses ultimately has to emphasize existing facial features. Glasses should never conceal; they shouldn’t be a mask. They need to complement the wearer’s face by subtly following the facial features.
Where do you start your designs? Please walk us through the creative stages towards a finished eyewear design.
The creative process always starts out with a meeting in the Copenhagen office, where I together with Tobias and Henrik decide on the direction. We also have the sales team as part of the meeting to give us some of their input. However it is
Tobias and I, who at the end of the day filters all the input from all people involved and then use our own inspiration combined with a list of customer needs, detailing which market or which country currently lacks a certain design; and in which size and style category. Do they need something rather eccentric or conservative? Tobias and I work off of this list simultaneously by starting our own sketches and having a close dialogue. It’s all about the teamwork. Our initial drafts are then digitized to serve as the basis for the first round of prototypes made from stainless steel. That’s the point when I get on a plane and fly out to Copenhagen to look at the prototypes with the team. We get to choose the best models from a line-up of 50 to 100 samples. Then we create the technical design drafts, which we send to Japan for manufacturing a second prototype. About two months later, they send us the prototypes which usually are subject to a few more tweaks and changes. From that point onwards, it’s all about working on the lines until we arrive at the final designs. Getting there can require up to three additional rounds of prototypes. But we have high standards when it comes to the quality of our lines.
We also use a 3D-printer to get quick results and get an initial impression whether or not a certain model is going to work out. We always fine-tune our lines until everyone involved is satisfied with the results. It’s a real precision job, someone with an untrained eye would never catch all the relevant details. A pair of glasses not only has to be innovative, but also work in the wearer’s face. It has to fit. All of that takes some time and we create up to 3-400 prototypes every year to get it right.
What kind of materials do you work with? Do you get to introduce new ones into the collection?
We have a reputation as experts in titanium eyewear, but we’ve also worked with wood or acetate before. Through it all, the most important factor for us is that our glasses need to feel great and have a function. Our customers always point out the comfort of their ØRGREEN glasses, together with their ability to accentuate facial features, but also stand back where it’s appropriate.
Many of your glasses are unisex designs. Does that require a different approach? After all, the glasses need to work with softer, feminine faces just as much as rugged men’s features.
Interesting question. The entire unisex theme is really important and currently gaining relevance with the growing androgynous movement. It’s a real challenge. For instance, you need to make sure that the outer line does not curve too far upward, as that would be too feminine, while the lower line refrains from bending too strongly.
And it gets really interesting once you realize that these kinds of perceptions differ greatly from country to country. What’s construed as feminine in one country, is considered masculine in the next. The majority of people in Asia are wearing women’s eyewear, even the men wear what we in Europe would call a female design. But even in between Asian countries there can be striking differences, as the facial shapes vary just as much as the regional tastes in terms of colourways. Creating eyewear for different countries is a whole different story. And even within Europe, demands vary greatly by region. Italian customers prefer different shapes and colors compared to Scandinavians or Germans, and so on.
However I would not say we have many unisex frames, we of course have some, but it is pretty evenly balanced between men and women.
What are the special features of your new 2016 collection that will premiere at opti?
We here at ØRGREEN always strive to evolve and optimize our portfolio in order to create as much diversity as possible. The launch at opti is a great example of how closely we are connected to our customers, the opticians. We always listen and respond to their experiences when it comes to expanding our collections with a new palette of styles and sizes. After all, the ultimate goal is to help end-consumers find the perfect pair of glasses for their face. And to make sure that our implementation of overall trends and specific wishes is in-line with market demands, we also put an emphasis of capturing the essence of ØRGREEN in each new collection.
However we also design in a different direction, where we would like to surprise our customers, with something they do not know is on the market, a new direction they have not seen before – so it’s a good balance where we try to make sure we always introduce something new, that was unexpected.
You were kind enough to bring some of the new styles to our meeting. What are your favorites in the 2016 line – and why?
This frame is the essence of femininity. A woman wearing these glasses radiates an aura of inner strength and self-confidence. The curved upper line complements the somewhat square lower line, connected via a slated bridge in the middle – a cheeky frame that goes against the grain.»Kreuzberg«
The exact part of town we’re in right now! It’s a provocative design with unconventional details such as the “step down” nose bridge and slanted lines along the edges. An equally cool and modern look, and definitely my favorite opti newcomer. The »Kreuzberg« is a great example of the ØRGREEN offering: Modernity paired with timelessness, perfect lines, elegance and minimalism, as well as carefully implemented details that create an exciting as well as wearable pair of glasses. »Rhapsody«
A mid-sized, classic frame with a pretty, elegant, and smooth upper edge to subtly accentuate the eyebrows. Meanwile, the lower part of the frame is rectangular and angled. It embodies the typical, clean-minimalist ØRGREEN-Look!»Webster«
The perfect pair of glasses for self-confident men. The rectangular shape is ultra-masculine, with prominent, strong lines and a subtle indention in the nose bridge. These glasses add a dash of excitement to every face!
Thank you kindly, Olivia for sharing your insights!