BY ANAAM IKRAM
Fashioning eyewear that suits every wearer, Tommy O’Gara’s glasses have seen him become strongly integrated in the fashion industry through his unique design concepts, exceptional product quality, and the story behind each of his pieces. Building an extensive work portfolio by working with the likes of famous Japanese and American fashion houses, Tommy has transformed the eyewear industry through his environmentally friendly yet stylish and sophisticated designs. Tommy spoke with Perle Magazine about how his passion for design turned him into a master of exquisite eyewear.
Founder and Creative Director of theLight Co Ltd. Eyewear Factory, creator of Native Sons eyewear, designer for French heritage brand Max Pittion, as well as designing for and rebranding a multitude of various brands, Tommy has been able to embed himself in the fashion industry through his beautiful amalgam of design and functionality. Initially however, having grown up during the Vietnam War, Tommy had sought to produce appendages for those who had lost limbs on the war field and studied Sports Medicine. Having a change of heart, he changed his focus to Design, followed by his move to Japan, where he pursued higher studies and permanently settled himself in a small beach town in the country. Having worked under several architects, with an eye for fashion, Tommy worked as a Creative Director in Japan, which lead him to collaborating with LA-Based luxury eyewear brand, Dita, and launched him into the eyewear industry in Japan as the manager of Dita in Asia. Through Dita, Tommy was able to make collaborations with various well-known Japanese brands such as Comme Des Garçons, Undercover, Neighbourhood, and VisVim, ¬¬and helped it grow throughout the Asia region. Collaborating with Award-Winning stylish brand Thom Browne in 2011, Tommy released a collection of sunglasses, before resigning from Dita and building his own factory in Japan, theLight Co. Ltd, to turn his own concepts into tangible products.
Partnering with Shinsuke Takizawa, from the fashion house Neighbourhood, Tommy introduced his own brand of history inspired, sophisticated and unique eyewear, Native sons, in 2011. In 2013 famed singer, John Mayer, approached Tommy to help him revive a French brand from the 1940s, Max Pittion. After Mayer was able to procure the rights to the brand, the two worked together to create eyewear, which stayed true to the original founder of the brand as well as representing eyewear crafted to the same level of excellence. Diving deeper into high-end fashion, Tommy collaborated with menswear brand OAMC, founded by Luke Meier and Arnaud Faeh, and created a line that combined a unique aesthetic with functionality using high quality materials and cutting edge technology.
“Pretty much everything I do begins from a conversation, we don’t go hunting for projects”, Tommy says of his design process. Being drawn to conversationalists, he says famous historical figures such as Dieter Rams, Buckminster Fuller, and Nam June Paik, and various artists across the design spectrum inspire him. Following the philosophy of “just enough design”, Tommy’s aim is to create glasses that help enhance the wearer’s face. “Thwe human face is polymorphic, the frames are not meant to compete with the person wearing them”. Tommy adds he does not go into any optical stores, as he does not want to be influenced by any other glasses designs, but rather starts his creative process by initially setting up a theme for a collection. After that, he gathers ‘vibe material’ which helps him develop his idea further. From looking at shapes of inanimate objects to travelling and finding inspiration, Tommy says through this method he gathers imagery, music, and movies that relate to the theme, to further add to the vibe material. He will then start writing the first things that come into his mind. He lets his vibe material sit overnight, and returns to it the next day to start with the editing and drawing process with a fresh mind. Drawing everything by hand, he starts by drawing the lenses first, and works on the glasses almost like working with art and focusing on everything, from the small details to the overall shape and size. Working meticulously over his designs, Tommy says the reason he enjoys working in the eyewear industry is because it provides him with challenges such as creating a piece that would fit a lot of people and he enjoys tackling the issues head-on.
Keeping the designing process entirely organic, the frames are made using a cellulose-based acetate from Cottonseed Oil. The polyam¬ine materials are made into 640x640x640 cubes that are left to cure naturally for a whole year before they are cut into 6mm thin sheets. The sheets are then put into an autoclave, where the material shrinks down, after which it can be cut into frames. Not only are Tommy’s designs, one-of-a-kind, but also are produced in a “green” manner so as not to harm the environment. The manufacturing process takes place in Tommy’s factory, theLight Co Ltd, and as the sheets are cut they release no gas, and any deposits are immediately destroyed. The material is environmentally friendly and denser as the molecules are packed closer together that makes it easier for the substance to pick up colour. Each and every part of the glasses are made organically, such as the “scoop arrow hinge”, which are all custom made by Tommy. This process also allows Tommy to work a year in advance and have the designs prepared for the future collections.
The Light Co Ltd:
Located in Japan, the factory was created by Tommy to produce high-quality and environmentally friendly eyewear. Through the factory, Tommy was able to collaborate with various well-known designers, as well as giving up and coming designers a platform to create original eyewear.
The factory provides an in-house repair facility and if a customer loses the screwed-in beauty marks on a pair of frames, theLight Co has the capacity to replace them.
Working with designers such as C.E., New York based designer Grey Ant, Neighborhood, OAMC, Supreme, VisVim, and WTaps, theLight Co has produced parts for glasses, such as hinges, and has assisted them in producing pieces for their collections.
Tommy’s own sunglasses brand, Native Sons, derives its name from the survivors of World War 2. The repercussions of the war left the survivors with a feeling of appreciating the “now”. Their changed lifestyle of “Living Now” lead to a mix of various creative expressions and resulted in art form such as beat poetry, abstract expressionism, new industrial design, and minimalist homes. The survivors were termed the “native sons” as upon their return, they went back to their native towns and villages, and help spread their newfound ideologies. Their styles evolved from beats, to hippies, to rock, to hiphop, and such is the inspiration behind the different collections in Native Sons eyewear.
Boasting a special long-diamond-tooled core wires with arrow-shaped hinge design, original designs by Tommy, and a star-nut configuration that helps with the hinge tension, the eyewear collection is divided into Beats, Engineering, and Modern Mechanics. The Beats collection features glasses that have been inspired by famous writers such as Jack Kerouac, JD Salinger, Gary Snyder and ‘Gonzo’ Journalist Hunter Thompson. The line also has a stylish yet quirky, full circle, smaller frames called Dharma, and frames styled after the famed figure of the Beat Generation, Neal Cassady. The Engineering collection, as the name suggests, was created keeping in mind elements from the engineering industry, and features glasses such as the Kowalski, Nelson, and Clyde. Modern Mechanics, on the other hands, is based on vibe material such as the Buckminster Fuller and his helixes and the dymaxion maps. One of the frames in the collection is named after WW2 flight pilot, Rickenbacker.
One of the most unique glasses in Native Sons, are the smaller Dharma frames, which were created using calculations carried out by Tommy to ensure that the frames fit every wearer’s face. The designer took the ocular sizes and spaces for Eastern and Western males and females, and added them up to come up with an average, based on which he designed the frames. The special quality about these frames is that they fit right in the center of the wearer’s oculus.
Working closely with musician John Mayer, Tommy designed and re-launched the French brand, Max Pittion in 2013. Owner of the eponymous brand, Max Pittion, had initially taken over his father’s business and throughout the years expanded it from France to the US, as he himself became one of the most renowned figures in the eyewear industry in the France. It was John Mayer’s journey to find the right pair of the original Politician glasses from the brand that lead him to working with Tommy in the hopes to revive the brand again. Staying true to the essence of the original frame, Tommy redesigned the Politician, and added a line of an oversized version of the eyewear for sunglasses while keeping the original size for optical wear.
Introducing a completely clear crystal frame,The Shelby, Tommy says doing frames as such can be a bit risky as any flaws will be immediately apparent. Adding a whimsical element to the Shelby frames, Tommy added pieces in bright colours such as Teal to appeal to a wider audience. The synergy created between Mayer and Tommy has allowed to them create sophisticated frames, yet keeping the essence of the original Max Pittion eyewear.
In order to keep the business compact, Tommy set up a ‘Consortium’, where like-minded agencies come together and work with the various brands under Tommy for distribution. “If you get this right, this industry is gold. You have to have the capacity to be able to work a year or more in advance, which is why we grow the way we do very strategically and organically. We grow the manufacturing with our agencies, but the designs are all about balance and we are very specific about that”, Tommy explains about his business strategy that has garnered him success over the years.
Currently working on a capsule collection for Japan’s iconic fashion brand, Comme Des Garçons to present on Dover Street Market, with Rei Kawakubo for the “Black” collection, Tommy says working with the brand it focuses on more art, rather than the business element. The business, he says, follows the art anyway. Tommy has also delved into working with Ambush, designing a few pieces for the brand well embedded in the Tokyo fashion scene. The whole philosophy behind designing, he says, it is to give people an experience with their products, adding, “People all over the world are collecting experiences” when they purchase an item.
For the future, Tommy says he is looking to expand into leather accessories such as wallets, business card holders, cosmetic bags and shaving kits that would complement the brands he is working with. Already working in bag-design through his brand Briefing, Tommy’s extensive experience has allowed him to venture into accessory realm. Alongside that, Tommy aims to launch his eyewear collection in the region through setting up a concept store in Bahrain. The store will house unique brands that cannot be found elsewhere.
Designing and producing for some of the biggest players in the fashion industry in the United States and Japan, as well producing novelty frames for his own brand, Tommy O’Gara has unmatched design skills and creativity. His active lifestyle has led him to accumulating a multitude of experience and inspiration that he so beautifully and meticulously crafts into his creations.
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