INSPIRED BY NATURE
SALT. designs by David Rose
California-based eyewear brand SALT. commands a unique position among today’s top-shelf independent labels: On one hand, the company’s frames are exclusively available at only the finest optical stores. On the other hand, the brand from Costa Mesa cultivates a deep, down-to-earth connection to nature. SALT. designer David Rose calls this delicate balance between fashion and reductionism, “fashionable, but not in a flashy way.” Although the California brand feels most at home in a cosmopolitan environment, its fundamentals and design inspirations are forever rooted in nature. This is also a reflection of David Rose’s upbringing and personal environmental background. It’s also highly interesting to note that his frequent excursions into the great outdoors always yield a fresh bounty of new design ideas. Which is actually not that unusual, keeping in mind that David came into eyewear design via various detours. Going with the flow, for this SPECTR interview and photo shoot we accompanied the self-educated designer into his natural getaway close to company headquarters. Here’s a first-hand look at where fresh ideas grow – and the road that led SALT. to where it is today – as David provides a glimpse into his personal design process.
Interview: Stefan Dongus | Photos: Marie Schmidt | Stills: Raphael Schmitz
ABOUT DAVID ROSE
Name: David Rose
Born in: California
Professional Education: High School
Worked for: Optical Shop of Aspen (OSA) & Oliver Peoples
Designer since: 2006
Sports: Surfing, Running, Cycling, Fishing
SALT. is an acronym for Sea, Air, Land & Timeless. True to its name, the California eyewear label draws inspiration from the effortless beauty of nature that is an endless source of shapes, details, and colorways for new designs. Read more about the brand here.
Photos: Marie Schmidt
Stills: Raphael Schmitz
David, thanks for taking us out here. Please give us a short introduction – some hard facts.
I was born and raised in Southern California and currently reside in Costa Mesa, California.
What is your professional background? How did you come into eyewear design?
I started working at Optical Shop of Aspen in 1998 as a warehouse worker, picking, packing and adjusting frames. I had no optical background whatsoever, other than I loved eyewear. I still have the first pair of skiing sunglasses that I purchased when I was ten. In 2002 I moved to Oliver Peoples and handled all of their manufacturing for brands like Oliver Peoples, Paul Smith, and Mosley Tribes. It was a multi-faceted role where I took the information from the designer and transferred all the specifics to the manufacturers. As my interest in eyewear design grew, I started soaking everything up like a sponge. I didn’t do any designing for Oliver Peoples but the knowledge I gained in manufacturing and design process was invaluable. The first time I started designing was in 2006 with SALT.
What was your motivation to join SALT.?
In 2005, Oliver Peoples was purchased by Oakley. So things were beginning to shift a bit. People I worked with for a long time, and respected, were leaving and the dynamics changed. I wanted something new. One day, I was talking to a friend of mine, Ron Smith. He used to work at Mosley Tribes as a sales manger and was consulting for SALT. at the time. We eventually started talking about design and he asked me if I would be interested in designing for SALT. They asked me to come and meet them and eventually offered me the job. Of course I said yes!
Sounds like a dream offer. With SALT. being located in California, does the sunny weather affect the company philosophy in any way?
Well, the sunny weather doesn’t hurt – thats for sure. It definitely draws you outdoors probably more often then other regions of the world.
But don’t these outdoor options conflict with people’s work performance?
We have a unique blend of people that each contribute qualities such as loyalty, a hard-working ethic, intelligence, respectfulness, and varying perspectives. Everyone here wants to see the brand succeed. There is a willingness from each person to put in the extra effort to make sure this happens.
We get the impression from talking to other SALT. employees that their commitment to the company is a bit higher than elsewhere. How come?
SALT. is actually a smaller company which lends itself to deeper connections with and between the employees. Everyone pretty much wears multiple hats, which also lends itself to creating an atmosphere for more personal connections and contributions to the company. It creates a sense of ownership with the successes versus failure of SALT. As a result, there is a genuine personable attitude amongst the employees. They enjoy what they do.
Do you work in a design team or are you the only designer?
I’m the only designer at SALT. However, I really enjoyed the process of collaborating on a couple of aviator designs with AETHER APPAREL. AETHER is a high-end technical apparel maker based in California. The result of the collabo was a timeless but technical piece of eyewear. We’re also doing a case and frame concept with BRIEFING LUGGAGE later this year.
Let’s talk about your approach. Working as an autodidact and a “lone wolf” designer, would you say that your design process is special?
I’d like to think so, however, I’m not super familiar with the design processes used by others. So it’s hard for me to comment.
But you might imagine the difference?
Most of my education is visual or from personal experience. I take a lot of my inspiration from being outdoors at the beach, in the mountains or desert. For me, the purest form of design comes from the shapes and colors that nature provides us. I love to store up ideas while exploring, and then realize those elements into my designs. I don’t know how different it is from others, but that’s my personal process.
Inspiration from being outdoors… how exactly does that translate into your actual eyewear products?
It varies. It’s not as literal as going out into nature and finding shapes that are round or square, or something. But there are certain things such as how colors play off each other and blend and separate and coexist. That’s what I bring back into making design choices.
So your inspiration revolves mainly around colors?
No, the inspiration isn’t always around colors. For instance, I used a well-balanced water drop on a blade of grass to design our latest beta titanium temple tip end. And in the past, I’ve used a half-crescent moon to design a custom hinge mount.
Speaking of beta titanium, what about your materials? Are they also influenced by nature?
Well, maybe indirectly. Keeping with an active outdoor influence, using lightweight performance materials such as titanium and beta titanium ultimately gives you that lighter, stronger, and more comfortable fit and feel.
What is special about your materials and finishes? Haven’t materials become rather standardized at this point?
Material choices may have a certain standardization about them right now. But creativity comes in the use of application. It’s like a big salad – the lettuce is standard like the acetate or titanium material, but the combination of what you add to the lettuce is what makes it yours such as coloring, contouring, and or finishing.
Where do you find the best inspiration for your creative recipes? In the mountains or by the sea?
There isn’t one more important or more influential than the other. They are all equally valuable.
But you must have some favorites… What are your Top 5 inspiring places and activities?
White-water rafting on the Rogue River in Oregon, snowboarding in Utah, running in the hills in El Moro, California, camping in the Sierra Mountains, and surfing anywhere.
In what way is your natural approach reflected in your brand communications?
Our ties to nature play a major role in our communications. Pairing frames with a shot from nature, or a frame with friends in nature. Also, like most of our quadrant picture collages, we use images that depict the sea, air, land and timelessness – which is where the name SALT. comes from.
So the acronym SALT. is at the same time part of the brand’s philosophy? That makes SALT. something different than your typical fashion brand, right?
Well, I have always tried to be fashionable – but not in a flashy way. I want to be unique, original and have a cool individual style. I’ve always considered bigger high-end fashion a little extravagant and a bit too costumey for my tastes.
Compared to high-end fashion, how do you see the position of your label?
Luxury brands come at it from a different philosophy, including their use of models. SALT. tries to keep the brand more aspirational, but also approachable and attainable.
Is this a unique position on the market or are there other brands close to SALT.?
I don’t think there is a particular brand like SALT. in the eyewear industry. I mean, every brand has its own uniqueness. Often it’s based around people who are creating the experience and how they participate in that culture or environment. At SALT. we focus on simple, yet meaningful things like nature or travel, which then contribute to the development and inspiration of our creative output.
What else would you say is unique about SALT. eyewear?
Well, for us it’s always fit first. That is very important to me. Once that is set and figured into the design, I move on to the next step, which is figuring out what material to use and how to contour. But for me it’s definitely about designing from the fit out.
What are the most important technical features of SALT. glasses?
We utilize polarization. Every pair of SALT. sunglasses is 100% polarized. I think we’re the only brand in our category that is able to say that, which is a strong statement. Titanium and beta titanium have also become a staple for SALT. aviators. With titanium and beta titanium being classic, tried, tested and sturdy materials, they are starting to show up regularly in our optical frames as well.
Out of all your collections, both sun and RX, what is your favorite model?
For me it’s the »Kramer«. It’s a mix of vintage and modern with a little bit of Americana eased into it.
And which model s the most successful one?
In optical frames, the »Zissou« and in sunnies the »Taft«.
What’s your explanation for this popularity?
I think the »Zissou« has a smart and professional look that will always be appealing. And the »Taft« has a different take on a vintage concept by using titanium and beta titanium as materials.
Do you think that SALT. consumers are different than most of the others?
I believe our customers like our laid-back sensibility. They are looking for quality with long lasting style and function, together with useful technology and longevity.
Is it important for customers to show their commitment to nature?
No, there are no prerequisites to wearing our frames.
Let’s talk about the new collection. Is it dedicated to a special theme?
I would call it minimal utility mixed with contrast textures and colors.
What has changed compared to previous collections?
This time there’s more use of combinations between materials.
We couldn’t help but notice that the names of the new models are all inspired by characters from the comedy Airplane? For a brand with strong natural roots that’s a bit surprising…
It’s just our way to have fun with the frame names. For example, Airplane is a reference to AIR – the entire movie takes place in the air. Another example is The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. That movie takes place primarily in the SEA. In some way, I’m always choosing a reference to Sea, Air, Land & Timeless.
Speaking of time – we’ve reached the end of our interview. Finally, which spot is next on your list of places to visit and be inspired by?
Great choice. We’ll see you there!