Alain Mikli, 56, is not just the most famous eyewear designer in the world — he invented the job description. Mikli was the first person to achieve worldwide success as a designer of nothing else but eyeglasses. He established his own brand in Paris in 1978 and pioneered the idea of wearing frames as accessories. In the early 1980s, Elton John was one of the first celebrities to fall in love with his designs, and soon Mikli’s creations won over his competition, with the biggest names in fashion — Claude Montana, Jil Sander, Issey Miyake and Donna Karan — queuing up to have him design their eyewear lines. Mikli’s iconic shutter shades, a unique slatted frame he designed in the ’80s, have been copied around the world. Still popular as ever, Kanye West wore a pair of original Mikli shutter shades in his 2007 music video “Stronger.” Although Mikli’s frames lack a visible logo, they are recognizable in the blink of an eye — and now he offers his unique designs in 45 shops in 10 countries.
Putting on a pair of glasses is faster than makeup and easier than plastic surgery, yet the effect can be just as dramatic. One can play and hide behind glasses. I design for the wearer as well as for the viewer, to bring pleasure to their lives.
When you do something new, it has to age a bit before people start trying it and liking it. Sort of like wine. You just hope your thing — or you — doesn’t get too old before you succeed. In the early ’80s, I drove around Japan with my friend Philippe in a Honda City two-door convertible. We had our glasses in suitcases that were so huge we had to keep the roof open. When we saw a store, we’d stop. We dragged the suitcases out and made a presentation to the opticians. “Wow, how unique! Good luck” — though the opticians liked them and appreciated the French craftsmanship, not one of them bought any. It was the bubble, everything was new — but we were too new. Back then, many people were riding the market bubble, but not everyone was popping Champagne. We weren’t, that’s for sure.
I don’t care for fashion because it changes. I want to create something that stays for a long time.
If you want to cook a masterpiece, don’t follow recipes. I don’t read cookbooks and I don’t try to remember my own recipes, either. I cook almost every day and I start every meal fresh — with a clean slate. It’s the same with design. If I used previous work as reference, it would spoil the fun and the creative process. It would be like copying myself. I cook, test and mix to my own taste. It’s always my way — exactly as I do with my designs. Making jam from apricots, figs or melons is as relaxing as designing.
To create, we need dreams. And to dream, we need good sleep. So artists need a lot of sleep! Especially me, I’m always sleepy. Back in school, too, I would doze off in class. I probably ended up in optical school because it was close to my house and I could walk there … straight out of bed. I am always dreaming — often of more sleep.
Time is not important, only vision is. I’m not very punctual. I find it hard to focus on time when there are so many interesting things happening everywhere around me.
Glasses are hugs for the face. When you wear some cool shades, you will get more kisses, too.
Spoken language is not needed when we have eye contact. My parents taught me to look people in the eye so that I could understand what they were thinking. For me, the language of the eyes is like music: full of feelings. So, when you don’t want to expose your soul and your mind openly, glasses can be like a veil to keep your privacy. Eyewear can protect or attract. This is what my glasses do.
Fashion is a bad marketing tool that pushes people to buy things. The relationship between people and products is not fair. I don’t like fashion! It pushes people to buy new, new, new. My idea is to keep things forever. Sure, from time to time we are fashionable, but that’s by accident.
Brands are like humans: If you overwork them, they die. Just like people, brands are fragile. They are alive and they go through evolution. As a designer, you want to follow that process, not fashion it or alter it.
“Made in Japan” has a wonderful ring to it: It signifies perfection. Our titanium frames are manufactured in Fukui Prefecture. In all these years, we have never seen a frame that was defective! Here, factories don’t allow a single miss. Every piece is perfect or it gets crushed. That’s Japanese craftsmanship.
The future is a lot more exciting than the past. I’m always looking to the future; that’s the better view. And with great glasses, it’s even more so.
Men are babies. The dream of every man is to be in the company of many women. At all times. When I travel I take five frames with me, but I’d rather take five women! Of course, they’d wear glasses … only glasses, to be precise.
Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan.” Learn more at: juditfan.blog58.fc2.com Twitter: judittokyo
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