Trend Hunter recently sat down with award-winning eyewear designer Blake Kuwahara to discuss the inspiration behind his designs, the impact that his professional background has had on his creative thinking process, and the role that eyewear plays in fashion.
Tell us a little about how you started designing.
I started my career as an optometrist, so from a very early stage I was always involved with eyewear. During that time, I was focused on seeing patients, but part of my role was to manage our optometry boutique, where I discovered that I really enjoyed working with the frames themselves. This gave me the opportunity to shift my career path and take on a role that was more fashion-focused while learning more about the technical aspects and engineering behind it.
You’ve stated that your inspiration comes from virtually anywhere, but what do you think has influenced you the most throughout your career?
I think my grandmother has had the most influence on me throughout my career. She’s a visual artist and has done everything from fashion and jewelry design, to landscape and furniture design. The common thread that ties everything she’s done together is her use of proportion, balance, scale and color. At 101 years old, she’s still with us today and is still very visually astute. She can spot something a mile away and has a very keen sense of what works in terms of fashion and interior spaces. She has that innate ability for design and how things should work together.
What impact if any do historical trends have on your designs, and how do you adapt them to suit your own brand?
Typically, what’s trending in eyewear hasn’t really changed too much in the past 50 to 75 years. If you pick up frames from any different era, whether it’s the 30s, 40s, 70s, or 80s, they all have a design-relevant place in what’s happening now. Everything is very referential and we always look to our past to try and adapt it to make sense for us today. Some of that adaptation has to do with the materials that are available today, as well as what kind of engineering, techniques and machinery that we have at our disposal that allow us to do more.
What are some barriers to your innovation process, and how do you overcome them?
I think a lot of the barriers to my innovation process have to do with technology. You can have a great idea, but if there’s no way to build it and scale it at a price that makes sense to the consumer, it can be really hard. I try to fuse art and commerce together, so I have to make sure that whatever I design can actually be comfortably worn on the face, and can be produced in quantities that fit with our plans for distribution. I think that’s the challenge that we all have as designers, whether you’re an architect or a fashion designer, you have to make sure you have the resources to make your ideas a reality.
What impact has your background as an optometrist had on your designs?
Being an optometrist and having that medical background in the industry has really made me more pragmatic as a designer. I'm always thinking about fit and how the lenses will interact with the frames, rather than just aesthetics. Although I do design sunglasses too, a lot of the frames I design are for prescription use, so I pay attention to more practical aspects like how the frames will sit and how they’re centered on the pupils. At the end of the day, there’s no purpose for eyewear that isn’t practical. Sometimes I find myself focusing too closely on the logical aspects when I need to be a little bit more expressive, but it’s all about finding that balance.
Do you have any rituals that help you reset and discover new ideas?
I have to be free of distractions and ensure that my personal checklist is all checked off, which it never seems to be. I have to have everything done or I just can’t focus on the design aspects of what I’m working on.
I also try to seek out anything that is visually expressive. I love flea markets for this, because they’re full of treasures that have been made in the past. I’m usually attracted to things that have a sense of soul to them, those that have a kind of richness and character to them. I want to design eyewear that has a legacy to it, so going to flea markets can be a great source of inspiration.
Any final thoughts?
One thing that I find interesting about eyewear is that it’s always been sort of a forgotten accessory. People tend to think about shoes, handbags and jewelry before they think about eyewear, even though it’s front and center. I think now people are starting to understand more about how it can really be the ultimate fashion accessory, and that a look can be totally transformed with just the right pair of glasses. Thinking of eyewear as a fashion accessory to match a lifestyle and one's head to toe aesthetic is important, and something of a paradigm shift. I think we’re now at that tipping point, where people are really starting to realize the impact of eyewear in fashion.