„No Design – No Future!“
Designer, visionary, globe trotter, trendsetter: Wolfgang Proksch has been leaving his mark on the international eyewear business since the late 1980s. After lending his design talents to brands such as Bugatti, Paul Smith, Oliver Peoples, Sama L.A. and ic! Berlin, Proksch founded the distribution company PM/D in 2003 with headquarters in Königsbach-Stein, Germany. As the mastermind behind three eyewear labels – WOLFGANG PROKSCH, ByWP, and ANDERNE – the GOOD DESIGN Award winner blends classic-modern design with an international outlook and traditional craftsmanship. After our photo shoot in Tokyo, Wolfgang brainstormed this story with us on a layover in Seoul only to conduct the interview via video chat from his hotel suite in Hong Kong. The fact that the writing took place in Los Angeles and the layout in Cologne is a fitting reflection of Wolfgang Proksch’s international outlook.
As human beings, we spend the majority of our lives without any answers to the major questions behind our existence: Did I choose the right path? Was this the right decision? Could I have done something better? The universe remains silent for the most part and the search continues, except for those rare transcendental moments when the curtain slides back and we get a short glimpse behind the scenes. Such a short flash of insight hit Wolfgang Proksch unexpectedly in Spring of 1999: A friend had just seen the world premiere of the mega blockbuster The Matrix and had to call right away. In a taxi scene, the lead actress is shown seen wearing a pair of sunglasses from Proksch’s then current collection; the design in the style of the number eight flipped horizontally.
There it was – the universe had revealed an answer. Proksch had made the right choice in eyewear design. “While shooting the movie in Sydney, the production company found the glasses at a small optical store and that’s how they ended up in the movie. It really brought an enormous amount of fame, but unfortunately our US distributor didn’t stock enough glasses, so it kind of evaporated,” Proksch remembers with a smile.
Ever since then, Wolfgang Proksch’s eyewear design career has followed a firm path, and a steep trajectory. After numerous design assignments for large labels such as fashion mainstays Loewe, Givenchy, and Fendi, he created the labels ByWP and ANDERNE as outlets for his various design interests. Today, Wolfgang manages twelve employees and his designs count among the marquee pieces in the inventory of opticians in the US and Europe as well as Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. True to his international focus, Wolfgang Proksch divides his time between several time zones and markets, which over the years – together with friendships among the who-is-who of the eyewear business – has afforded him a unique perspective. But let’s hear it in his own words…
Hello Wolfgang, what brings you to Asia at the moment?
We are using the Hong Kong tradeshow to see all our business partners. Hong Kong remains a gateway to the Asian markets and the city itself is wildly inspiring to me, so it’s always worth a visit. And much like in the fashion business, the eyewear industry has become accustomed to releasing two collections every year. So we’re showing our new models to opticians here.
Speaking of the fashion business, the constant demand for novelties is already causing some backlash among some brands.
Yes, I would also like to downgrade a bit and instead take some more time to develop the glasses and keep them in our line-up for the long run. I’m a consumer myself and own some favorite pieces that have been with me for ten years and will never go out of style. So when I’m designing a piece of eyewear today, my goal is that the wearer can still go out on the street three years from now without people saying, “Oh wow, that’s so yesterday.”
Yesterday you were still in Korea and we shot the photos for the interview a bit earlier in Tokyo. How much time do you usually spend traveling?
Generally, I’m out in Asia about four to six times per year. Other than that, we also attend tradeshows in Milan and Paris, either with our own booth or a trunk show like recently at the Buddha Bar Hotel in Paris during SILMO. Tradeshows nowadays aren’t really for selling products, it’s more about being seen and keeping the conversation going.
As a widely traveled jetsetter, what’s your perspective on the international eyewear business?
Things are really running in overdrive at the moment. There’s a constant influx of new brands and trends are being copied at lightning speed. It’s a “me too” surge of product, which can be rather troublesome at times. Whenever someone comes out with a good idea, you’ll see it across 20 different brands in the next collection. The pace has accelerated and the industry has changed quite a bit.
How is the German optical business doing from an international perspective?
The Germans are really doing their own thing. Our products are quite easy to pinpoint, actually. We are strikingly different from Asian collections and that kind of unique selling proposition is really safeguarding our position of the markets out there.
What exactly is this unique proposition?
Eyewear from Germany and our Scandinavian neighbors tends to be rather minimalist, very subtle and clear in terms of design, but also unique in terms of quality. There are also a number of design collections that are avant-garde and artistic – which is also part of our DNA.
Speaking of design, your career path into eyewear design wasn’t exactly linear, right?
True, I actually started out in marketing and design came much later. In my mid-thirties, I worked with brands such as Bugatti, right around the time when the Porsche Design glasses really caused a major splash and moved an incredible amount of units. The Bugatti glasses also caught this wave with a rather unique design and only one shape of lens sold in a number of different models. Back then I was taking my very first steps as a designer and some of my earlier models are still available as vintage versions. My first collection was manufactured by Traction Productions, then the producer of l.a. Eyeworks, in Jura, France.
After more than two decades of working as a designer, where do you still find inspiration for new designs?
There is an incredible amount of impressions that I get from my travels. And naturally, I also take inspiration from my peers who have great ideas. Then there are automobile design and architecture. And vintage movies are an endless source of inspiration, much like my friendship to Oliver Goldsmith, whose work I really treasure together with his lasting impact on the industry with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Metropolitan cities and street wear also contribute quite a lot. Every city has its own style and I get my influences from everywhere.
While we’re talking about trends, are there certain things that are done to death by the optical industry at the moment?
On a fundamental level, I’m really disturbed by brands flooding the market with more and more product nobody needs. At this point in our industry, everybody seems to think they need to launch their own collection.
And which design trends do you find encouraging?
I’m mostly glad that after years of plastic, plastic, plastic more people are starting to remember metal. I was really influenced by working with metal, so it’s great to see that plastics are used more as a combined elements and in a subjugated, decorative role. Overall, frames are also getting lighter and feel great to wear, also thanks to innovative materials.
Looking at retail, what’s the perfect eyewear store for your products?
The perfect retailer should have a contemporary store design and offer a clear selection instead of being overstocked with thousands of frames. There’s no need to carry everything from cheap products to luxury goods. The staff needs to be a good match and have a passion for designer products. Because after all, our products aren’t self-explanatory. You need to be able to tell an engaging story in order to get the customer’s attention.
Where do you see the eyewear industry headed over the next ten years?
Survival will get increasingly hard for smaller brands, unless they are backed by strong partners and a solid network. Large-scale shake-out on the market will be inevitable. In retail, the large chain stores will increase their presence and once they also cover the luxury segment, times are bound to get really tough for independent opticians. Overall, I think that independent opticians will need to cooperate with each other better. Another opportunity lies in catering to niche products, through exclusive cooperation with certain collections and brands that can’t be found at larger retailers. All the one-store-retailers that are riding the trend towards cheap product are going to disappear. They won’t stand a chance.
And where do you see your own labels over the next ten years?
Headed to the top, hopefully… positive thoughts! Marketing and a clear brand presentation that triggers certain emotions are fundamental aspects. We will continue to build our brands and sharpen our brand positioning and customer communications.
Any last words?
Without design – there is no future! Design will define us and lift products from their anonymity. Design has advanced into a major factor behind purchase decisions – whether it’s in the optical business or when it comes to buying mobile phones. Without design, nothing will function in the future!
Three labels – one passion
Established in 1999, the label has built a reputation with “classic modernism” in a contemporary interpretation. As the characteristic style element, the shades and prescription frames feature Proksch’s flexible hinge design with a balance spring effect, protected by a number of patents worldwide. “I’m very much in love with design and always try to include some surprising Wow effects in this collection,” said Proksch. Next to the aesthetic of classic modernism – Wolfgang is a self-proclaimed Bauhaus fan and dedicated to subtle designs with a twist – the designer also puts an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship. All glasses are produced at hand-picked manufacturing outfits in Japan, using only the finest acetate and titanium for an upscale finish. “Producing in Japan has been a formative experience for me. The craftsmanship, the philosophy – people in Japan are fascinated with quality and precision and have a high regard for history. You get a level of respect here as an individual and designer that can hardly be found in Germany,” said Wolfgang Proksch.
WP1404 and WP1406
„My two favorite WP designs. These are hybrid models with a significantly new, elastic ‘V’ design on the temples.”
The name of the label created in 2003 reflects the initials of Wolfgang Proksch while the company’s goal lies in blending current trends with industrial design. “I view the label as based around designer products and we present ourselves accordingly,” said Proksch. The frames are crafted from ultra-thin stainless steel and beta titanium from Japan, refined with an ionic coating. The brand’s signature design element lies with the patent-protected screw-free hinge design featuring a cylindrical half-shell as a gliding and rotating element and spring tongues for the snap-mechanics. “At the time, I offered the technology to a popular Berlin-based eyewear label – and they turned it down. So I decided to go for it myself! And we instantly sold quite a large number of glasses, about 5,000 on the first morning. I still remember as if it was yesterday,” said Wolfgang Proksch. Next to various design awards, ByWP glasses have also won quite a number of endorsements from stars and celebrities over the years, most notably the brand’s stylish sunglasses.
“Top-bar frame with a contemporary look and flat sheet construction. As the stylistic model, the design draws on the 057 model released by Essilor in 1963; a classic among designers. It’s my favorite frame right now, because it’s refreshingly in its design.”
“Thin-framed design from acetate and steel with a striking, extremely delicated double brigde and flat lenses.”
The brand name “ANDERNE” reflects the hybrid concept of “Another Moderne” – a new interpretation of the modern aesthetic with a sense for tradition without shying away from experiments. The label celebrates a modernist passion for traditional, functional shapes that create vibrant new impulses in today’s fashion context. “ANDERNE is highly fashion-oriented, the collection is composed of 60 percent sunglasses. We treat the brand as a fashion accessory label and we constantly offer spontaneous takes on current trends,” said Wolfgang Proksch. Ever since releasing the first collection, the brand has made its mark with its signature double bridge design that has been imitated frequently ever since. “And pink is one of the colors for us that keep coming back in a number of variations.” ANDERNE is aimed at customers with a passion for the finer things in life. The label is at home in the world’s major metropolises, where great taste and an appreciation for quality eyewear are integral to daily life.”
Cloud No. 9
“A fashion statement in the style of a glacier goggle in bright red. Adjustable side shields blend with flat lenses.”
“Trendy combination frames with extruded chasing on the bridge and temples in a baroque-gothic style.”