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Frame of Reference

Taking glasses from inspiration to finished product is an evolution. For instance, Marchon's development of a Karl Lagerfeld line always remains true...

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WWD Milestones issue 07/01/2008

Taking glasses from inspiration to finished product is an evolution. For instance, Marchon’s development of a Karl Lagerfeld line always remains true to the designer himself.

KARL LAGERFELD IS AS FAMOUS FOR HIS RAPID-FIRE COMMENTARY as he is for his powdered white ponytail, high-collared shirts and the ubiquitous dark shades he dons day and night.

Putting the essence of that into a collection of sunglasses might seem like quite a Herculean task to some, but with Marchon Eyewear’s roster of designer licenses, the company has become quite the well-oiled machine in its quarter-century in business.

Over the past few months, key Marchon executives have conducted the extensive creation process of the Karl Lagerfeld eyewear collection — from an initial concept tête-à-tête to countless product meetings and the final production phase in factories — culminating with Lagerfeld putting some of the frames on his spring runway show in Paris in October. The collection, which launched at retail this month, was a true collaboration between Lagerfeld and his team, and Christian Roth and Eric Domege of the Christian Roth eyewear brand. The renowned eyewear design duo worked on the project from the get-go, and kept themselves busy collecting frequent-flier miles, with constant meetings in Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Belluno, the Italian eyewear industry’s capital near Venice, where Marchon has its European headquarters.

“After we agreed with [Marchon chief executive officer] Al Berg, we met with Karl Lagerfeld and his team, and they briefed us about their company and about the way they see the new sunglasses and optical collection,” Roth recalled. “This is an extensive briefing, from color to fabrics to design ideas, to get the feeling of how Karl is envisioning this collection.”

The first meeting included Sophie de Langlade, who heads up the Karl Lagerfeld line in Paris; her assistant, and a designer from Lagerfeld’s studio. The collection was to have no concrete inspirations and instead take its cues from Lagerfeld’s penchant for bold black-and-white shapes with a Sixties intellectual feel and aviator shapes.

“He also does this fantastic photography and documentary, and there was the idea to express this somehow in eyewear,” Roth said of a pair of frames that would later turn out to feature a detail reminiscent of an old-fashioned film roll on the temple.

“Karl has such a strong personality,” recalled Giancarla Agnoli, senior vice president of design at Marchon. “It’s not just interpreting a vision, it’s interpreting a personality that is so iconic in the fashion world. And he has so many interests — music, photography, fashion — so it was almost like, where does one begin?”

With the briefing in mind, Roth and Domege set off to design the first prototypes of styles, and it took the duo six to eight weeks to develop drawings. Marchon then made the first prototypes, which were presented to Lagerfeld’s team in Paris.

“That’s when the hard work — the fine-tuning — starts,” Roth said. “Changes have to be made, then the second prototype has to be produced.

“With prototypes, part of the entire process, especially in terms of sizing, is that you often have to make changes with the curves and the size of the temple length,” Roth added. “The sizing is essential for the multiethnic fit. Sizing can influence the design, and the wrong size can kill a frame or make it a big success.”

De Langlade, who has worked with Lagerfeld for more than two decades, said the evolution of the collection was a smooth process, thanks to the expertise of Roth and Domege.

“We very much liked working with Christian and Eric, and Karl likes what they are doing,” de Langlade said. “He cannot be there all the time, but he gives tendencies of what he likes. He is inspired from the collection and special fabrics, and I work with Christian and Eric to prepare everything. After the meetings, Karl sees the results, which he can then accept.”

Anne Marino, Lagerfeld’s president of licensing, who makes sure all the parties come together at these meetings and are on the same page, agreed that it was a marriage made in heaven. “The process was so wonderful,” she said. “They saw things eye-to-eye.”

Then again, Roth and Domege go back years with Lagerfeld. More than 20 years ago, they met and designed runway pieces for him, and the familiarity informed their working relationship today.

“The essence was to translate his vision and his spirit, and combine it with his refined style and craftsmanship, using certain elements that reflect the style of Karl Lagerfeld, the brand and the man,” Roth said. “With Karl, we developed iconic elements. There is the Karl Lagerfeld logo, which spells out his name but fades. The Lagerfeld letters get thinner and thinner, and there is the abbreviation, KL, which we used for the temple tips. There is also a red thread that runs throughout the collection.”

Coincidentally, Lagerfeld, Roth and Domege ran into each other several times in the village of Saint-Tropez during the development phase. Lagerfeld has a house there, and Roth and Domege have a weekend place in nearby Ramatuelle. “We considered it a good omen,” Roth said.

Indeed, the unexpected encounters must have done the trick. Lagerfeld is said to be enamoured with the collection, and even has a personal favorite: a pair of aviators he has been spotted wearing on several occasions. He even asked for a few extra pairs to give to his friends for Christmas.

“Dark glasses are like portable eye shadow and the world looks more beautiful through tinted glasses,” Karl Lagerfeld has said in the past. “Everybody looks 10 years younger. That is why I wear dark glasses always.”

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