INTERVIEW WITH MASSADA // INSIDE THE ‘ART EYEWEAR BRAND’
Many eyewear brands like to emphasize their close relationship to art. But hardly any brand creates a symbiosis between art and eyewear like Swiss-based label MASSADA. For creative director Kate Lupinsky and her (business) partner Chris Mastaler, art is like the air they breathe. Where does art end and eyewear design begin? For the official Art Eyewear Brand, there are no delineated boundaries. This also becomes apparent in our interview: The two are like walking encyclopedia of art and cultural history and will seamlessly switch between geometrically inspired eyewear frames to the spatial concepts proposed by philosopher Gernot Böhme to hand-picked eyewear manufacturing workshops. Welcome to MASSADA’s intellectual universe
Hello Kate and Chris! There really is no other eyewear label as dedicated to art as MASSADA. What is the reason?
Kate Lupinsky: It comes from our heart. It comes from our blood. Interest in art has always been part of our lives and when MASSADA was started, it was a natural solicitation of what we feel and who we are. The art element of MASSADA is not a deliberately applied marketing ingredient of the label, this is the way we feel and experience life.
What exactly fascinates you about art?
Chris Mastaler: The most fascinating aspect of art is its emotional power arising from human creativity and the power to communicate that. A mutual communication via aesthetics. The most important part is the context of the interaction and not the type of art.
But is there a special type of art that you feel attracted to in particular?
C.M.: We are interested in a variety of art scenes. Prehistorical paintings, free jazz, calligraphy, medieval color symbolism, ballet, folk art, history of architecture, comics, modern art of the 21st century… What is important is to view these works within a historical, political and socioeconomic context as we do not believe in art for art’s sake.
Was this attitude also your motivation to found an independent eyewear label with a strong art connection?
K.L.: Eyewear is to us a symbol of ambition based on education and persistence. Historically speaking, eyewear was associated with studies. In art history, one of the first images of eyewear is of nobility, emperors, cardinals, merchants, high echelons of society. Mandarins always wear glasses in old paintings. When the ‘cult of youth’ exploded, wearing eyewear in western culture was considered as a handicap for the elderly, and we think it is changing. Eyewear has is becoming more and more trendy over the past few years.
Do glasses also attain a more positive image in the process?
K.L.: We are turning back the wheel of history to a point where eyewear as an object can again be associated with successful individuals who study and work hard to accumulate knowledge and wisdom. Wealth does not come overnight, at least most of the time. It takes time, eyewear helps to achieve that. To us, eyewear, intellectuality and wealth are almost synonymous. That makes an incredible narration for an eyewear-related brand. We wouldn’t choose other objects to play with branding.
This leads us directly to our next question: Why eyewear, of all things?
C.M.: Eyewear is an object of consumption presented in society as a means of communication among a variety of actors involved. Eyewear has become a message in itself. What you consume is who you are in today’s world. People can make a lot of judgments based on the eyewear you are wearing. I am sure opticians, depending on the country, culture and context also do that when they see a client or observe people on the street wearing eyewear.
PHILOSOPHY AND TARGET GROUP
Speaking of consumerism, aside from all the artistic ambitions a piece of eyewear is still a commodified and commercialized object and MASSADA is a commercial label. Or how do you see it?
K.L.: Utility commercial objects such as eyewear frames can acquire beauty through our action an appearance related to art. Emotions derived from contact with such a connection between art and eyewear are turned into the sellable brand experience.
And what kind of brand experience is MASSADA offering consumers?
C.M.: Linking eyewear with art in the way MASSADA does is an invitation to being a member of the club, which can be joined only by some chosen and knowledgeable. It is a statement of belonging to a certain intellectual group. It is a statement of aesthetics within the MASSADA experience. Eyewear is a strong communication tool in luxury.
And what exactly does the name MASSADA communicate?
K.L.: MASSADA means “strong foundation”. We build our brand on solid quality products and art-related narration.
How would you describe the underlying philosophy behind MASSADA?
K.L.: We exist thanks to our free will, accumulated knowledge and our will to learn and develop. Our values are in ethics determined by our goal to provide quality eyewear. Our sense of life lies in search for advancement.
Are you also aiming at customers who share this philosophy?
C.M.: Our frames are made for knowledgeable consumers. People who posess some sort of appreciation for the quality and design of our products. That requires some mental capabilities in recognizing the material, craftsmanship and feeling of final finishing. Therefore we try to be engaged in a dialogue with our MASSADA club members via narrations, art projects and communication in regards to the origin of the product and its substance.
Your communication tools exhibit a rather high production value. Is it worth the effort?
C.M.: Giving a name and story to an eyewear frame makes it real. Stories and names are important communication tools for us. The frame itself becomes something important. Not just a thing but a person or concept or set of values put together in the context of physical appearance and its ideological or philosophical attraction. We treat eyewear as art, therefore we do not want to leave it with some name which is meaningless number or name which thoughtless.
DESIGN AND MANUFACTURING
How does art as the foundation in your brand DNA affect the actual design of your frames?
K.L.: All our pieces are art-related! There are direct applications from the world of art in every piece. Either by elements like temples or in the story related to the pieces. In every piece we use a story related to art. The names and descriptions tell the narrations that exist in our heads. It’s important that our art inspirations do not tempt us to ‘overdesign’ the frames. It always has to be justified by utility.
This utilitarian approach also reflects in a straightforward, clear form language. What is the ultimate goal?
C.M.: Our goal is designing simple but unique shapes. From our recent collection, shapes like »Rashōmon« and »Pogany« are good examples of simple geometric shapes.
In how far do you follow current fashion influences with your designs?
K.L.: Our frames are timeless. We are not a fashion brand. Our quality is outstanding, and we work breathlessly to provide the best possible engineering. We are convinced that we are the best on the market in that respect. We will spend the next few weeks in the Sabae region in Japan working with craftsmen on elements and development of frames that we designed already for next year’s SILMO. It takes an incredible amount of effort to develop and manufacture the frames and defy mass productions.
Where exactly do you manufacture your frames and why?
C.M.: We have three major lines in our collection: First are combination frames manufactured in Sabae, Japan. Second are titanium, beta titanium and alpha beta titanium frames also manufactured in Sabae, Japan. Our third line is composed of acetate frames manufactured at the outskirts of Valdobbiadene, Italy. We manufacture in above places because of the people and their culture. They posess accumulated knowledge and skills, which are applied in traditional ways of craftsmanship and ethics.
Does this focus on craftsmanship also determine the choice of materials?
C.M.: We trust in Japanese vintage bio acetate from Takiron Rowland, based in Osaka as the most reputable Japanese producer. In Italy, we work with Mazzucchelli, the Varese-based traditional powerhouse with whom we experimented on several acetate developments experimenting with colors and patterns. For metals, we choose titanium, beta titanium and alpha beta titanium for a variety of combinations and metal frames. We also merge our titanium frames with gold plating in 24K or 18K gold depending on the desired color in cooperation with Japanese firm Eyetec.
That sounds really elaborate. Let’s talk about the models in your collection. Do you have any favorite styles in the MASSADA portfolio?
C.M.: We like clean line in our collection. We avoid patterns or baroque styles. Making clean line is more difficult as finishing of clean surface is more prone to stretches and cannot hide defaults as patterns do on some surfaces. Clean lines and simple designs are easier to wear and less invasive. According to Leonardo Da Vinci, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Simplicity is the philosophy of our style.
In order to achieve this look, all the most minuscule elements need to be aligned with the same principle, right?
K.L.: Behind the art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity. Working with each element, with each screw, nose pad and acetate elements, rivets and hinges requires constant consciousness about the final whole picture. We work constantly to improve our design to polish and reach a level of quality desired by opticians and valued by the end user.
What can your audience look forward to in the new collection?
K.L.: The newest MASSADA models are artistic in character and show clearly modernist tendencies. Decorative as they are, these pieces display discipline in space and design. The results are beauty at its best, as a function of utility and clarity of the message.
Once again you are drawing inspiration from architecture. Where is the attraction for you?
C.M.: Architecture is the expression of our personalities. We think it is very much associated with human psychology. Everyone who builds houses or decorates apartments knows it. Architecture is the art of design with a lot of purpose. It is essential as it provides shelter or other functions needed in our existence. It is so broad and so universal. We derive a lot of inspiration from it.
Do you apply certain criteria in choosing the buildings that inspire your eyewear frames?
K.L.: There are no criteria. We leave ourselves complete freedom. We see a building, if that strikes us we take the inspiration. Examples include the Teshima Building and Chrysler Building.
Why those particular buildings?
K.L.: In dealing with the lines of the »Teshima« model, I was polishing curves to reach a level of lack of conflict with nature. In case of the Chrysler Building, the philosophy behind the design was to reach the state of edgy representation of urban and industrial progress. That’s why I worked to make the octagon shape fit the characteristic of the human face.
You also draw lots of creative energy from sculptors, also in the new collection.
K.L.: Absolutely. Our »Pogany« model for instance continues our love for Romanian sculptor Konstantin Brancusi, in our opinion the most important sculptor of the last 500 years. When we analyzed the sculpture of his love Mademoiselle Pogany, we discovered that eye shapes follow an abstract pattern. So we wanted to develop a frame based on geometric idea that will be as simple as possible but will lead to the singularity of the wearer and the frame shape itself.
We also know that you are major fans of Jean Hans Arp. Are his influences also to be found in the new collection?
K.L.: We explored all his archives and so far selected a few sculptures which we can amended, process and apply in eyewear: The “Torso” and “Leaf” sculpture. The Leaf sculpture inspired us to design a temple which is as polymorphic as Arp life. Torso is a tribute to women power, as we believe with the Talking Heads that “The world moves on a woman‘s hips.” Both elements are used in a few models, and at the moment we are working on more models based on more sculptures that we like.
And finally an honest question: Are MASSADA opticians required to have a minimum of art expertise?
C.M.: Opticians need to know their clients. Knowing the client and knowing the labels helps to match both and make a successful sale. Offering MASSADA does require a bit of knowledge, which is provided in our manual book for the shops and sales people. You can learn it easily just from reading a short handy book explaining brand and product. Such an approach adds value to the transaction as the optician becomes a trader of cultural capital.
Thank you both for the highly intellectual conversation.