Focus | January 15, 2016

Sophistication and defiance

Avant-garde design has a point of view; its frontrunners, fiercely challenging mainstream aesthetics, are not scared to look back at traditional materials and time-honoured methods, as inspiration for their innovative designs

words  Sandra Battistel

Sometimes we have a curious relation with avant-garde designers; they disrupt current mainstream aesthetics, yet we can’t help wondering if we will feed off their historical and creative disruption, in years or even decades to come. They are creating the future and we hope to look back at their work in the future.

When looking back at avant-garde designers of the past, we see their creations as still contemporary and enduring today; yet they are different from being ‘classic’ or ‘timeless’ because that means traditional and safe. These designers challenge conventional taste with their strong point of view, experimental materials, methods and forms; as fashion has become more and more of a commodity, they inspire with sophisticated defiance.

We picked three trailblazers in the world of eyewear who inspire these ideas; dark and irreverent Kuboraum, raw and androgynous Rigards and, to counterbalance the mood, we included the futuristic luxury of Jacques Marie Mage. Design rebels par excellence, Berlin’s Kuboraum don’t just create avant-garde eyewear, they show they have a perspective on culture; like a rambunctious subculture, their aesthetic is defined by collaborations with experimental artists and music producers.

The brand is creatively directed by Livio Graziottin and Sergio Eusebi who, with a combined background in art and anthropology, inspire a vision of music, raw Berlin architecture, art, Italian craftsmanship and even shamanism.

This picture: Kuboraum Z-Masks – Utilitarian niles are hand-hammered into elegant, unique pieces of jewellery
Above: Jacques Marie Mage – Cristal acetate with olive wood insert and floating wire core

Their first sunglasses, or masks as they are known, saw them experimenting with black burned acetate. Now they hand-hammered metal into their latest collection called Z-Masks; strong geometric and architectural nose bridges merge into soft organic metal frames and unique creations. While sharing the same values of craftsmanship and research with Kuboraum, Jacques Marie Mage has a diametrically opposed aesthetic; they investigate the true meaning of luxury, imbuing it with sartorial flair. For Jerome Mage, the brand’s creative director, luxury lies in integrity and ethical workmanship, as much as in unconventional design and materials. Jerome’s latest creations incorporate rich marquetry of horn, wood and the most precious metals; all of which cleverly reference and beautifully reconfigure the artistic movements of centuries gone by. Jacques Marie Mage’s collection is a masterful composition of sculptural forms, materials and colours, in limited runs of production.

Rigards Metalloid – Elegantly sculpted Sanjuro texture in gold anodized aluminium

Fully embracing the ethos of creating something new from the starting point of tradition, Hong Kong-based Rigards explores old craft and traditional materials, with a modern approach to design and tradition. Rigards gave new life to traditional horn eyewear, when first launched and now turned their hand to aluminium with a new collection called Metalloid. Strong yet light, malleable yet durable, aluminium was a choice material for eyewear, back in the late 60s and 70s. Rigards also approached the subject of creating luxurious products, with environmentally friendly credentials; the horn they use is an organic by-product of water buffalo rearing and the aluminium is easy to recycle.

Another common thread between these three brands is locality. Though their collections may be handcrafted in Italy, Asia or Japan their headquarters and showrooms are in urban creative centres like Berlin, Los Angeles and Hong Kong. We like to think these designers will inspire us to look back to their work, one day; free of nostalgia and with new creative energy.