10 Questions: Eric Balzan & Mirko Forti from HAPTER
When Italian eyewear aficionados Eric Balzan and Mirko Forti started their own brand HAPTER in 2013, they set their sights on reaching higher ground: Inspired by high-altitude Alpine exploration, the young brand went off the beaten path in search of alternative manufacturing resources and materials. The result is a unique collection with a signature touch and feel. On the occasion of HAPTER’s second brand anniversary, here’s the lowdown on the rapidly climbing Northern Italian label in EYEWEAR’s 10 Questions.
How would you describe the philosophy behind HAPTER in a nutshell?
A minimal and discrete mix of advanced design and natural materials, fused together through unique manufacturing alchemies.
HAPTER draws strong inspiration from mountaineering and military influences. What attracted you to these fields?
Our hometown Belluno is a small town nestled in the Italian Dolomite mountains. Together with our friends we call it the “California of Italy” because it’s perfect for outdoor and winter sports. With time and maturity, we evolved the idea of the mountain from being a rocky and snowy playground for climbing and snowboarding to being sort of a mystical place. Our minds are soaked with cultural and visual inspirations drawn from the mountains, and all around there are still many evidences of its past as an historical battle-place.
The HAPTER product offering pays homage to the local mountain setting, together with its history and community. And all of this strongly guides our choices in terms of design, creativity and stylistics. For instance, the identity and functionality we bring to the collection are very much driven from the a focus on essential features and rejection of excess – that is a typical attitude of mountain people. Or look at the brand name “Hapter”, which was chosen based on the concept of “haptic perception”. This term refers to the process of recognizing objects through touch. It also points out the importance of “hands-on” impressions to survive in the mountains, whether you have to climb up a mountain or cut up fire wood for the winter.
How did you arrive at the brand’s signature combination of stainless steel and fabrics?
The initial spark was the first military goggle from World War I, which we discovered in 2009. It is fully made of canvas fabric, totally unstructured. The feeling of holding it in your hands was one of soft solidity. It somehow felt reassuring. We have worked hard to develop the same feeling within a contemporary eyewear collection.
The use of stainless steel as structural support for the fabric essentially allows us to create soft-to-the-touch, flexible, easily adjustable frame structures, exalted by the signature tactile expressiveness given by the fabric. We also developed our own process for absorbing resin into the fabric for protection, but without compromising the soft feel.
You’ve already won a number of prestigious awards. What were some of the most important milestones after founding the company?
The most important milestone was the day we were eventually in a position – after so many failures – to hold in our hands a decent first sample, fully industrialized in our specific process. That brought a change of perspective to our entire lives.
Official awards are somehow important because they immediately recognize and underline our attitude towards design and materials. Awards also provide good visibility towards a very appropriate target demographic. The first merit was the 2013 iF Product Design Award, which was given to us even before founding the company! Then the 2014 German Design Award came in, and the freshly announced 2014 U.S. Good Design Award. Then specifically in the optical segment, the 2014 Hong Kong Gold V-Award, and we were also happy about the Silmo d’Or nominations in 2013 and 2014.
The latest important achievement is our video, THE ORIGIN. With basically no budget, we wanted to visualize the feelings and visual impressions that influenced HAPTER. We put together a group of local friends, who helped us during the two-day shoot in the mountain, and our good friend who is an Alpine Guide did the acting.
What attracted you to eyewear and how has your creative process evolved over the years?
The sexy combination of inspirational design, materials and functionality, with all the connected challenges, made this complex system so attractive to us. Approaching this project like rookies in the world of eyewear design helped us to create a rational and efficient manufacturing process, questioning the traditional manufacturing methods. The proof that we were doing something different arrived right at the beginning, when all the manufacturers that we approached for help slammed the door in our face, refusing our “destructive approach”.
For this reason we had to start alone and from scratch, and now our manufacturing is almost totally developed outside of optical factories. We engaged new professionals with strong artisanal skills in other industries, and worked hard on evolving their skills to master the production of a HAPTER frame. For this reason, our production capability is still limited, but in the best hands.
How many pieces of eyewear have you created so far?
Not many really, it is a well-balanced but still limited collection, somehow private and dedicated to the most selective stores. Volume is still limited, but well done.
What is the hardest part about designing eyewear for HAPTER?
Forget about traditional eyewear design! HAPTER is a skeleton of functional design combined with a skin of artisanal materials, developed out of an unprecedented production process. Combining technical elements like steel with natural elements like fabric means developing a new material with its own specific properties, reactions to elements, transformations, etc. It’s a continuous learning process, with a huge amount of experimentation involved.
And we started from what is probably the most difficult artisanal material to handle: fabric. Nobody had tried this combination before, so there wasn’t any available know-how we could draw on. It’s definitely not something recommended for the faint of heart.
Your production process is rather unique and complex… and secret. Is there something you would like to reveal at this point?
Yes, it’s secret so I cannot tell you much (laughs). It took us three years to put together the secret network of partner labs, all of them trained and now specialized in a specific service for HAPTER. And with all of them acting in Italy in the vicinity of our office, it allows us to have a daily access to their working space.
HAPTER acts as a coordination hub between these labs, so that everything remains HAPTER’s property and under control. Thereby, we can preserve our level of quality and develop product know-how to source our creativity for future collections. It’s like having our factory right here in our territory, with the advantage that we do not have to pay the heating bills, which is very expensive in the winter (laughs)!
What separates your label from other eyewear manufacturers?
HAPTER is somehow a carrier of cultural and artisanal experiences of unique value, developed out of centuries of artisanal know-how, brought to the present day market thanks to design and new manufacturing processes.
We partnered up with the company that has developed mastery in our speci¬fic artisanal material, evolving it as a common project. For the ¬first collection, the txtl001, for example, HAPTER‘s partner is Lani¬cio F.lli Cerruti 1881 of Cerruti Wool Mills. This is a ¬fifth-generation, family-run factory deeply committed to developing the best high-end natural fabrics in the world, supplying some of the most influential international high-fashion designers. And that’s just the frame’s surface…
Which current eyewear trends would you like to see more of? What trend needs to go away sooner than later?
Keeping in mind the ultimate goal of being authentic, we prefer to avoid cross-influences that can only corrupt the pureness and originality of our project. So we do not look too much outside of our project. We are mountain people, we do minimal technical designs, and use dark colors. Most people would say this is not trendy, and we are perfectly fine with that.
Thank you for the interview, guys.
Watch the HAPTER brand origin video: