HOW EYEWEAR BECOMES FASHION – OR NOT
At this point in time, the eyewear universe has been fully conquered by the fashion world. Many optical stores now boast interior designs worthy of high fashion boutiques, rather than the traditional image of “serious” (and sterile) optical shops. Along the same lines, optical brands also assume an increasingly style-oriented approach in their positioning, while adapting to many of the fast-living trends and innovations from the optical business. These synergies extend beyond mere product designs and color choices based on current fashion collections. They also affect the way eyewear is brought to market, with collection release intervals increasingly matching the fast pace of fashion collections. As a logical consequence, manufacturers are under pressure to keep up supply, which often demands deep-tissue adjustments in production processes. Then again, the trend is not universal, and a counter-movement against “fast fashion” is already mounting.
Regardless of their production schedules, manufacturers seem to agree that brand image is just as important as technical features these days. So it’s to no surprise that eyewear brand communications are also aligning more closely with fashion labels. One of the pioneers at the intersection of fashion and eyewear hails from a quaint town in Southern Germany and is known by the name of REIZ. With a reputation as one of Germany’s most sophisticated brands, REIZ has made a name for itself on the international scene. We caught up with the label’s two co-founders Franz Reutter and Jochen Gutbrod in Paris at the picturesque Place des Vosges, to which both feel strongly connected. Situated in the heart of the city’s trending fashion district Marais, the Place des Vosges is the perfect setting for a SPECTR Philosophy Talk on the intricacies of fashion and the current zeitgeist, which REIZ continues to capture successfully.
Hello, guys. “Fashion in the eyewear business” has been a hot button subject over the past few years. You are without a doubt qualified to speak on the issue, given your track record. Then again, your headquarters in rural Wernau are not exactly an ideal of urban sophistication.
Franz: Thanks for trusting in our competency, despite our remote location.
Why have you never felt the need to settle in a fashion metropolis?
Jochen: Wernau is our home base. This is where we can find the tranquility to focus on essentials. It takes a lot of influences to create things. But they don’t need to be exclusively urban.
F: Sometimes viewing things with a bit of distance affords some objectivity. You also should not rely on external influences too strongly. Much rather, creativity originates from an act. And such an act requires inspiration, which can be found anywhere you choose to search. That may be in an urban environment as much as in nature. It’s really important to focus on the development and implementing what originated as an idea, wherever it came from.
How to you two stay up-to-date?
J: We are not limited to our place of residence. From the very start, REIZ was set up to operate anywhere our products are creating a market. Our starting point was in Germany, and initially the Japanese market was also of major importance for us. Frequent travels to Tokyo, New York and Paris really helped us evolve.
Where do you draw inspiration from in these metropolitan cities?
F: We have always taken great pleasure in finding locations that often tended to be found behind the hot spots of a metropolis. Sure, Omotesando is impressive as one of the largest shopping arteries in Tokyo, but all the little alleys and side streets also hold loads of individual shops to be discovered, and places vibrating with a certain energy. One of these locations is the Place des Vosges, where we have been showcasing our new collections for several years now.
Why not exhibit your new releases in a tradeshow setting?
F: The Place des Vosges is this small, vibrant oasis. You can find anything here – from hipsters having a picnic to grannies just observing the bustle in the streets.
J: The annual Fashion Week happening at the same time here in the Marais is also an interesting story for us. Despite all these contrasts, the Place des Vosges has often been called the “heart of Paris” – a rather fitting statement, I would say. So what better place to present new eyewear than a historic building overlooking a park, far away from all the trouble and strive? No sensual overload at tradeshows, but instead open windows and lots of light, plus enough time for our clients. This peaceful atmosphere is the perfect backdrop for real conversations, even beyond eyewear.
And your clients are willing to go out of their way to come here?
F: Sure. Many of them are looking to experience Paris outside the tradeshow – much like we are – and are happy to come see us before or after the show. Every year, it’s a unique meeting with special people at an exciting location.
J: These things tend to continue until late in the night. So we are going the same route as our clients who are creating a special shopping experience at their stores.
How would you characterize the “shopping experience” at today’s optical boutiques?
F: Today it goes beyond expertise, friendly service and a feeling of being well taken care of to the ambiance. Stores with harmonious styling, hip sales staff, and relaxed conduct are a must. It’s trending away from the traditional optician in a lab coat.
What would be some prime examples?
J: I would definitely point out stores such as Steingasse 14 in Heidelberg, Six Million Glasses in Hamburg, and Entre Vues Seven in Lyon. But that’s just a small selection of great shops.
Why is the fashion aspect gaining importance in the eyewear industry?
F: Moving forward, being in motion – why should it all end at just glasses? The word “visual aid” and the “lab coat” have all but vanished from stores by now. Glasses have grown to become a fashion accessory. The former visual aid has matured into an irreplaceable fashion product.
J: Ultimately, the amount of significance applied to a frame is entirely up to the individual wearer. Our calling lies in manufacturing something that delights people and accompanies them for some time.
Where do you draw inspiration for your product designs?
J: There are various sources of inspiration. From energetic personalities, to nature with all its colors and hues, all the way to the shapes and lines to be discovered everywhere.
F: We also absorb colors and shapes from the fashion segment to some degree, and implement them in the REIZ DNA. But our goal lies not in creating some kind of clone. We would much rather nurture REIZ-specific products on our own nutritious soil. And inspiration for shapes and colors must not necessarily reflect current fashion trends. Other areas can provide the spark to think about a new shape.
Fashion is also changing brand communications. You have a long history of working with renowned fashion photographers on elaborate campaigns.
F: The most important thing for us is to ensure the right chemistry between us, the photographer, and the collection. On the part of the photographer, it requires a certain kind of sensibility and delicate approach, in order to recognize the themes behind different collections in mirror them in imagery.
J: We also don’t want to create some kind of artificial image. We really want the photographer to be able to create visual results that we can identify with. The result just has to be REIZ. On our last campaign, we had the great fortune to work with a great photographer from Stuttgart, who really read our minds with her expressionist, often bizarre interpretations.
Is a positioning as a fashion label necessary in order to stay relevant as a brand?
F: The time spans, during which fashion trends exist, are becoming increasingly shorter. The face of products is changing faster and faster. Following these trends can become rather confusing. Hitting the Zeitgeist, for us appears as the best option to get noticed as a label. It’s important to stand for something as a label and gain recognition for it.
Are you noticing an increasing importance of brand image? Does eyewear go beyond just technical features, proper fit, and how well it suits a wearer?
J: Fit and technical functionality are prerequisites, and how well it suits someone is really a matter of taste.
Product design and brand communications are not the only areas mirroring the fashion business. Collection cycles are also aligning more closely with textiles.
J: The cycles are indeed getting increasingly shorter. Customers demand longevity but also continued novelty. This is where playing with colors works well, for instance with a limited edition special colorway or model.
The media is also full of capsule collections and collaborations with artists and designers from other fields. Has REIZ been playing in this field as well?
F: Capsule collections do not necessarily have to originate from collaborations with artists or designers, although we aren’t ruling anything out. Over the years we have always developed series within our product portfolio that were launched “encapsulated” from the rest of our basic collection. We used these series to play with themes as a canvas, from which we developed a new direction several times.
J: For example, many years ago we did a collaboration with BMW / MINI, during which a wonderful MINI Clubman in matted black originated. In parallel, REIZ developed a limited edition with ten numbered frames in matted black.
But does an eyewear label even have to cater to these short cycles? Does REIZ?
J: We are currently working with seven collections, but towards the end of the year we will bring it down to four collections. That’s our basis for adding back on.
What are some criteria to factor into the equation?
F: With short cycles, it’s all about not overextending production capacities all the while maintaining high standards. Quality is the main priority for us – far beyond frequency. So we are not necessarily catering to the fast-lived cycles, as to not lose our focus.
There is already a countermovement, marked by reductionism and deceleration. A great eyewear style does not need to be reinvented every year, right?
J: Definitely not. Beautiful, expressive forms will always remain on-trend. Basically, eyeglasses can never really be reinvented. But we can find new interpretations or executions on shapes to make them suit the zeitgeist again. Our anniversary series R20 Jubiläumsserie brings this home. The design sketches originated in 1996 and have been offered again in 2016 in a reinterpreted run. Our goal is to create a product that can endure beyond fashion trends. Simply put: to create classics.
At the same time, REIZ is regarded as a fashionable eyewear label. Does the larger trend towards fashion serve you or make things difficult for you? You have been playing with the Optitektur collection for the past seasons. What is the overall importance for you?
J: Our Optitektur series really marked a changing point. New optics, new shapes, new styles. A deep remodel of the REIZ design-DNA. As part of this creative shift, the REIZ lovely series transitions into the Optitektur line.
Is such a creative shift possible without losing your brand identity?
F: To quote the former head of the international trade commission in Stuttgart: “The only permanent thing is one confronting change.“
What can we expect in the near future from REIZ?
J: More fashionable and quality high-end frames that bring joy to REIZ wearers.
Thanks for the interview.
More Info: www.reiz.net/