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Chair Yuan takes a languid approach to fashion.
So much so that the 26-year-old former stylist named his eyewear company after that most basic symbol of relaxation, the chair. To further the point, he even changed his own name (in English), though his Chinese name is still Yuan Zhou. For ChairEyes, launched in 2008, Yuan wanted to drive home the importance of taking the time to savor good design. “I think the fashion industry all has to go too fast, too soon,” he says, explaining that it is better enjoyed as if “[sitting] down slowly in a chair.”
The Shanghai native, who styled for Channel V in China, is taking on major European and American players in designer eyewear and making a mark with what is considered the country’s first homegrown designer eyewear brand: ChairEyes, designed and sold in China.
“I’d started collecting eyeglasses in 2003 and over the years built up a collection of interesting designs. And just by chance, in 2008 I began to collaborate with The Gloss, a local boutique [in Shanghai’s upmarket Xintiandi district],” Yuan explains. “Our original glasses were produced in November 2008, with a run of 100 pairs sold just at the boutique. We didn’t expect many people to buy them, but they did, and we kept
Yuan says he believes his products feed into the Chinese consumer’s desire for artisanal products. The handmade glasses are assembled in Japan using a traditional method of frame construction, and the unisex designs are known for being simultaneously quirky, fun and wearable.
ChairEyes is sold in hip, multibrand stores in China’s largest cities for between $200 and $300 a pair. Yuan’s glasses, which boast a distinctive retro style, have also found favor with the Chinese fashion press and celebrities, with the chunky, oversize, black-framed Hunk model—which sell out frequently—spotted on many famous faces, including Hong Kong-based actress and Cantopop star Cecilia Cheung. The current collection includes round-frame glasses with colored lenses called Warhol, and the oversize Kyle model, featuring white or black-and-white shell frames. Each model is produced in lots of 500 at a time, and the bestsellers have sold out multiple lots.
Though Yuan is looking at the possibility of selling internationally at some point, for now he seems happy with success at home.
“Everything is going pretty well, and we are starting to work with more high-quality fashion shops,” Yuan says. “Celebrities are also interested in our products, as well as fashion bloggers and fashionable young people.”