August 23 2014

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Behind The Lens With Moss Lipow


Designer Moss Lipow is determined to give eyewear the fashion credit it deserves. The optical designer, who was named a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist in 2010, has spent the last few years researching the history of the industry of the form for a new book, Eyewear: A Visual History ($60). “No other accessory gives you as much power to control the persona you project,” he says in the afterword to the tome. “Eyewear has always been a remarkable medium, but few have fully understood its scope or potential for beauty.” Here, Lipow talks to about the evolution of the industry and reveals his vision for the future of eyewear.

As a kid, you weren’t pleased to discover you had to wear glasses. When did your attitude toward eyewear shift?
It was in my later teens—I thought I was never going to get laid. However, I had an innate sense of style and I was really able to turn glasses to my advantage and look cooler than I did before.

At the time, who was wearing cool glasses and inspiring your eyewear choices?
Marcello Mastroianni, Jean-Paul Belmondo—take your pick of movies, really. I’m not sure if it was Breathless or another movie, but Jean Seberg was wearing a really cool pair. Also, the Chocolate Watchband guitarist had a great pair and I was going for the same look. It wasn’t a mod look, exactly, but it was a look that had a lot of modernist influence.

You have amassed a very large collection of vintage frames, many of which appear in your book. Why were you so focused on collecting, specifically?
If you are going to be a serious designer you have to be a serious scholar of your medium. It was about knowing my field as thoroughly as possible so I could have a strong command of what hadn’t been done. Nothing I do looks all that much like things that have been done before. I quit collecting a while ago and then decided to generate some projects with it. It was the larval stage of my development as a designer. It’s like a grad school and the book is a doctoral thesis.

Your book is focused on the history of eyewear through the years. What glasses, in your opinion, have been the biggest game changers for the industry?
I draw connections between the flow of culture and what eyewear looks like. Licensing has become, for the time being, a very pivotal force. The first collaboration between Schiaparelli and American Optical started an industry paradigm that continued indefinitely. Probably the most important modern one was the Armani deal with Luxottica—that was huge.

Why did eyewear take so long to become legitimized in the fashion world?
Straight up, I think up until the fifties and sixties, the industry was in the hands of scientific lens manufacturers. It was always about functionality. When you started to get drugstore manufacturers, their focus was on how cool the glasses looked—that was like a watershed event. Then there was this proliferation of Hollywood movie stars wearing sunglasses and looking very glamorous and people really started to think about how eyewear can change the way people perceive you.

Where is eyewear headed?
The direction is greater self-awareness of its power as an accessory. People understand the image they are sending to the world. I think we are going to see a greater focus on better materials and on people wearing statement eyewear.

Aren’t we already seeing that right now?
Mostly only in New York. When I make styles and they are cool, the market is limited. You are going to see more of a sensibility where it gains greater acceptance. Even among people with taste, the taste will become further refined. That is the greatest potential area for expansion as a fashion item. As a designer, I would like to let people know the rich possibilities in the way they express themselves with their eyewear. I would like to help people with the language.

What’s next for you?
The biggest thing coming up is a launch of my first line in about three years because I took time off to do the book. The next thing is a fashion memoir.

Photos: Rainer Hosch; Courtesy of Taschen