Candid conversations between VCPN’s Ed De Gennaro and leading optical executives about their product strategies.

Alain Mikli joined the eyewear industry at the age of 17 as a student optician. His aversion to what he thought of as old-fashioned glasses combined with his innate creativity led him to launch his first eyewear collection in 1978. That same year, he established alain mikli international (a.m.i), a company specializing in eyewear design, production, and distribution. Alain’s quest for absolute comfort and his love of beauty has led him to be a trendsetter in eyewear throughout his career. Here, Alain talks about the process of creating eyewear.

Ed De Gennaro: You have often been cited as having a fascination with zyl frame material, why so?

Alain Mikli: For one, I don’t like to do what my eyewear competitors are doing. Many don’t work much with zyl because it’s a difficult material to use. I like to use it because it’s a versatile material. In some ways it’s unique, and in other ways, it’s traditional and even technical. I love to show the sophistication of the material. That’s one reason I often call this material acetate instead of zyl.

I have used acetate for over 30 years and during that time created numerous new colors, new patterns, new processes, and in the next 30 years, I still will be using it because it has no limits in terms of designs, patterns, colors, combinations, and the look and feel of it. What I envision for eyewear can be realized with acetate and I can’t find that in other plastic materials.

And we’ve also found a process to stabilize acetate. With our ROK technology, we don’t have to worry about acetate frames drying out, changing curvature, and changing shape or size.

I have worked with only one manufacturer since starting my company—Mazzucchelli, which makes the highest quality Italian zyl available. Together we explore acetate’s possibilities so I can create new and exciting eyewear every year.

EDG: How do you get inspirations for new designs?

AM: Design is not something you can just call up at will, it’s an emotion that comes to you. It depends on your mood and what you’re doing, who you are with, where you are in the world, the experiences you’re having at the moment. These things are not stable so your inspirations change, and so do your designs.

Designing is not very logical; every collection has a different legacy. I recently finished my designs for SILMO 2010, but I’ve already started on 2011, and those designs will be completely different from 2010 and from past years.

It’s not profit, financial obligations, or an obligation to follow trends that drive my inspiration. In fact, I don’t like to follow trends, I love to push the boundaries.

EDG: How would you describe the U.S. eyewear market?

AM: It is unique because the market is huge so you can find any type of consumer and design. There’s traditional, conventional, high end, budget, etc. In major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, you have to bring very sophisticated designs, technical details, color, and couture concepts; in some central states, you need something more traditional because those consumers are looking for something else. If you compare the U.S. to Europe, the European countries are more predictable and definable.

EDG: Do you see the U.S. market as a high-quality market or a discount-driven market?

AM: Both. Some eyewear retailers don’t offer discounts. They sell higher quality products and have less volume. Some want to sell a lot of quantity, and to do that, they have to reduce the cost. This keeps them from selling high-end products.
My company has always focused on high-end products, but with our new VUARNET collection next year, we will bring something completely different. To reach more markets and more consumers, we are going to offer a quality line of frames at more attractive price points. This is not discount eyewear; it’s top quality products but at a price more people will find appealing.

EDG: What qualities constitute an excellent prescription eyewear design?

AM: When you are a professional eyewear maker, you have to understand different face types and how to accommodate them through designs that work with each one. You need to think of how to enhance and flatter each one as well as create designs that are comfortable.

An excellent quality prescription eyewear design is not solely about fashion. After 30 years, I still find designing eyewear challenging and I’m learning every day. I’m improving my techniques and knowledge of how to make something with greater quality, more comfortable, lighter, and flexible so the consumer will find the design incredibly becoming and comfortable at the same time. n


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