Four Eyes

Crushing on Lauren Archer, Toronto eyewear designer

A pop-punk song once taught me, “If you’re bored, then you’re boring.” If that’s the case, Lauren Archer is the most interesting woman in the room. She is a history buff, working in historical preservation for the City of Toronto by day and maintaining many hobbies by night. When she isn’t making robots, casting metal, or creating dry ice milkshakes, Lauren designs custom eyewear. She talks to WORN about her prototyping process and her love of glasses and mixing old techniques with new technologies.

What inspired you to make glasses?
It all started with a laser cutter class at Site3, a collaborative makerspace at Bloor and Ossington full of strange, creative people making awesome things. They offer a series of classes that give you access to a bunch of really neat tools, including a laser cutter. I made my first pair of glasses on a whim shortly after that. I knew fairly early that I wanted to make a functional pair of frames, something I could get optical lenses made for. Eyewear straddles this really neat intersection of creativity, engineering, design, tradition, skill, and practicality that I am really attracted to.

You use some unconventional methods to construct your frames. What steps are involved in the process
I have a pretty extensive prototyping process. I steal guitar boxes from behind Long & McQuade so I can cut test frames out of the cardboard until I get all of the sizing and styling right.

Then I do the design on a computer-aided design (CAD) program called Rhino, which I then export directly to the laser cutter. This ensures my final frames stay true to the original design. Then I cut the shape of the frames with the laser. That part’s pretty cool.

When it comes to the hinges, I use a type of traditional rivet hinges that you only really find in vintage frames and traditional glasses. Hinges are typically heat sunk or ultrasonically inserted, and I don’t have the equipment to do that so I’m basically using the Victorian method of smashing metal on metal.

How did you learn to do all of this?
Pretty much through experimentation and observation. I have found a handful of promo videos online that give the briefest of glimpses into the mysterious innards of eyewear factories. Other than that, it comes from a billion eclectic Google searches, guesswork, and many, many failed attempts.

I wasn’t able to find any books or classes on designing eyewear. People who make glasses professionally are quite close-lipped about their methods. I guess this sort of secrecy makes sense in the high-tech industry where every new innovation means a patent and a fortune, but framemaking has been around for hundreds of years. You’d think there would be at least one good book on the subject.

What kind of responses have you received for your handmade glasses?
After I finished my first pair, I took them to optical shops for lenses. Some opticians thought they were vintage frames. This was a huge compliment. I had a few opticians suggest I sell my frames. One even offered to sell them for me. This was super encouraging, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet, skill-wise.

How do you feel about people wearing non-prescription lenses as an affectation?
I don’t really see any problem with it. Glasses are cool. There was a significant and intentional shift in the eyewear industry in the ’40s and ’50s that took glasses from medical device to fashion accessory. There’s really no going back from that.

What’s the next step with your venture?
Eventually, I would like to sell my frames. One of the hazards of having a strange, uncommon hobby is that the tools and materials I need are expensive, so selling the finished frames will help. When I tell people that I make my own glasses, they usually ask me how much I sell them for or if I do this for a living. I really like the idea that people find enough value in what I do that they want to pay money for it. Also, the finished frames are kind of sad without a purpose. They’re made to be worn!

In the new year, I plan to run a class on glasses making at Site3. It’s open to anyone. Everyone who participates will leave with a pair of frames they’ve handmade themselves, as well as the knowledge to design more. There are so many talented and creative people out there but there are so many boring glasses. I blame this entirely on the inaccessibility of the eyewear industry.

Who are your favourite eyewear designers?
Xavier Derome of Derome Brenner, an independent French eyewear brand that does really brilliant original things with cellulose acetate.

Jesse Stevens, an independent eyewear designer who has worked with Cutler and Gross, Oliver Goldsmith and Claire Goldsmith, Prada, and with Victoria Beckham.

Elena Doukas, who does Design and Development at Garrett Leight California Optical. I really like the branding and dedication to quality she has, but GLCO is also known for their experimental approach to design in general (they post pictures from inside their labs, and it makes me happy.)

Mel and Shilo Rapp of Rapp Eyewear, a Toronto-centric brand that is designed and made in small batches in Toronto, and sold at optical shops all around the world.

photography // Claire Ward-Beveridge

Crushing on Kirsty McKenzie

Kirsty McKenzie designs imaginative clothing, which has been shown at Toronto’s Alternative Fashion week and can be found on her etsy. She also creates one of a kind costumes, favored by many creative musicians and performance artists.

What did you dress like in high school?
High school was kind of a confused time…started out in vintage tees, baggy pants with boxers and life jacket belts… then took a weird preppy/ but raver-ish style blend… then kinda 70s ghetto fab in my last year, with Fawcet hair, fur coats and distressed bell bottoms.

What are the biggest differences when you design costumes as opposed to a regular collection?
When I design costumes I try to reflect the artist(s), or band’s character/ persona, and have a very specific individual in mind. Costumes can stand alone, and aren’t always harmonizing with a group of designs. Costumes are usually more free and fun, and although my collections are somewhat cheeky at times, I usually go for a more luxurious evening feel, but often with a dark twist.

Who do you imagine to be the typical person who wears your designs?
The customer can be a musician, an eccentric, or simply someone who wants some special pieces. I have seen/dealt with customers of all ages almost – from early 20s to 60! My biggest customer of the moment is 48 and lives in Florida, and I recently made my mom’s dress and jacket for my sister’s wedding. I can totally do some more “toned down” designs, but I personally don’t believe in “dressing one’s age”.

What were some of the major influences behind your most recent collection?
Grace Jones and Siouxsie Sioux… Japan, flowers, Gothic punk, romance…it was aptly named PARADISE POISON – dripping with flowers and gems, and licked with a poisoned tongue. Music was a huge influence, and I mixed the music for my show combining Grace Jones vocals from her new album, layered over an 80s Ministry industrial beat.

What was your last Halloween costume?
Psycho Clown Nurse (nurse costume with crazy clown makeup, bloody gloves and needles!)

Kirsty’s Top Ten Fashion Designers
Issey Miyake
Zandra Rhodes
Vivienne Westwood
Christian Lacroix
Christian Dior
Jean Paul Gaultier
Alexander McQueen
Comme des Garcons
Yohji Yamamoto

Crushing on Yana Gorbulsky

Montreal designer Yana is probably going to end up single-handedly saving the world from an environmental crisis. One visit to her Etsy store, Supayana, shows not only the adorable shirts and dresses she makes from vintage clothes and fabrics, but that she tries to remain environmentally conscious in all aspects of her life, like recycling whenever possible and biking to the post office, ensuring that those who buy from her store are supporting an earth-friendly way of life.

How did you first get started with making and selling clothes?
I started making clothing the same way as lots of people. Starting with doll clothes, and then experimenting with real people clothes; I wanted something really unique and fun. As a high school student I couldn’t afford designer clothes, so I just learned how to make my own. The clothes I made in high school were pretty hilarious and terrible… but I got better with practice. When I was in university I started selling my handmade clothing on eBay. At the time it was a way of paying for my textbooks and having extra spending money. I was studying speech pathology, not fashion, but I knew deep down inside that I wanted to design clothing for a living. A few years later, it became a self-sustaining business, so after I graduated, I decided to do fashion full-time. It’s been amazing ever since, and I am so lucky to make a living doing what I love.

Do you prefer designing in Montreal or New York? What are the differences?
Selling online allows me to live and work anywhere, providing there’s an internet connection and a post office! I moved to Montreal two years ago from Brooklyn, NY, and I love it here. I do miss NY from time to time, but my life here feels so luxurious in comparison! Now that I’ve had a little taste, it’s pretty hard to go back. I’m also much more relaxed since I’ve moved to Montreal. Maybe a little too relaxed! I find myself smiling at strangers in the subway when I go back to NY, and I think it freaks them out.

Fashion-wise, I think Montrealers have more interesting vintage/second-hand style, and New Yorkers tend to dress in trendier designer clothing. Probably because Montrealers have access to amazing vintage and second-hand clothing, and New Yorkers have more independent boutiques to choose from.

How do you feel about the “going green” trend that so many fashion magazines have been going on about lately?
I welcome this trend with open arms! It’s about time this idea has spread into the mass media. There is, however, the problem of “greenwashing” (making a product seem eco-friendly when it actually isn’t). For example, I saw these “eco-friendly” sweaters at a popular department store in Montreal, and then when I checked the fiber content, it was like 90% acrylic and 10% bamboo. Ten percent? Woop-di-doo! Or how certain products claim to be “eco” and they’re packaged in two layers of plastic and a glossy coated cardboard box. Read the fine print and find out if whatever you are purchasing is as “green” as it claims. It’s not fair for companies to do this, especially when people are trying to make the right choice.

Do you feel that there is a tight-knit community of sellers on Etsy? How do you find it useful to your business?
Yes, definitely! Well, it just so happens that most of my real-life friends sell on Etsy as well. It’s useful to be friends with other sellers because you can help each other out with finding new retail locations, getting advice about your shop, just getting good business advice in general.

Yana’s Top Ten Etsy Sellers (in no particular order)

I’m Your Present
I Heart Norwegian Wood
Ruffeo Hearts lil Snotty
Desira Pesta
Dear Birthday
Armour Sans Anguish

- interview by Anna Fitz