There are few other design objects we ask so much of in terms of form and function as eyewear. And rightly so. Optical glasses have a very distinct and pragmatic purpose; they help us see by correcting visual impairments. And then there’s the design. Glasses are for everyday life, they’re not just something we use once in while - and therefore we’ve come to expect only the best possible design for our faces. It’s a tricky balance, and often brands have to choose. Not that they can completely disregard either form or function, but a fashionable brand will focus on hitting trends while a heritage label is all about qualitative functionality. But good eyewear is very much dependent on both style and substance. Arguably it’s product design in its purest form. As such, eyewear has a lot in common with architecture as the two design disciplines share a fundamental function; a long-standing service to people expecting to use both buildings and glasses every day.
So it is quite fitting, then, that eyewear brand Kirk Originals is owned and operated by an architecture firm these days. IDL, like Kirk Originals, is a London-based firm shaped and inspired by the monumental and majestic silhouettes of the city. Kirk Originals, of course, has been around since the early 90s, helping to define the aesthetic of London’s art and music scene at the time. Though still anchored in culture, IDL has evolved Kirk Originals by adding the visual and constructional point of view of a contemporary architecture firm. “Great design isn’t limited to one avenue,” says Mark Brown, the IDL director tasked with looking after Kirk Originals. “Eyewear, like buildings, comes from a classical tradition with each generation building upon the work of the last. Shape and form are slowly developed over the years, not moments, and there is a real respect for the history of the industry and the craft involved.” In essence, a comprised lifespan of a building resembles the trajectory of a pair of glasses.
Relaunched last year after a period of soul searching, Kirk Originals has an impressive cultural heritage. At the forefront of ‘Brit Pop’ in the mid-90s, Kirk Originals was the zeitgeist eyewear brand of choice. But, in 2015, IDL is less interested in fleeting hype and more concerned about long-lasting quality. IDL has worked with fashion brands such Burberry, Céline, and Hugo Boss on designing their retail spaces, and it’s this architectural expertise that the agency is now implementing on Kirk Originals and feeding back in to the brand. “For the frames we’re inspired by actual architecture but more in the way that the design team have approached the construction and craft of our frames,” Brown explains. “We bring the use of premium materials, the sourcing and specification of quality metal hardware and the belief in working with the worlds finest craftsmen. A minimalist approach, striving to reduce each frame to its essence through a continuous stripping of extraneous detail and reduction of decoration.” The metal Brown mentions is in reference to a new line of Kirk Originals frames with metal temples, a brand new addition alongside the brand’s extensive acetate offering.
Though Kirk Originals has not completely disowned pop cultural references, the brand prefers a more timeless approach to design: “We’re always mindful of the fashion trends in eyewear but it’s important that our optical frames are strongly associated with our own unique handwriting.” Meanwhile, when designing sunglasses, there’s leeway for the Kirk Originals design team to inject seasonal ideas. “Yes, our sun frames are an opportunity for us to play with a more fashion-focused range, investigating new colour ways and finishes while being more expressive in our shapes,” he says. Kirk Originals seems to have got the balance right, between form and function, style and substance. “With our optical frames it is always about the product first. We’re following our own pathway, constantly investigating the graphic outlines of the frames and looking at better ways to manufacture and craft our frames,” Brown summarises. “Our understanding of materiality in buildings passes onto our approach to eyewear by us using classic and beautiful finishes that have evolved over many years, finishes that can be worked by hand and eye to enhance their beauty and, on occasion, introducing the use of innovative materials that complement our aesthetic.” It’s the best of both worlds, two design forces merging to create the ultimate eyewear frames, inspired by timeless architecture and made with superior materials.