Wenzhou in China’s Zhejiang province is nicknamed “Optical Village”, because that’s literally what the city does – produce as many optical frames, sunglasses, and eyewear accessories as the world can wear, factories stretching as far and wide as the eye can see. Most of this eyewear is standard issue, always produced in bulk, often copying the latest trends and styles to emerge from the industry’s biggest shows such as Silmo in Paris, Mido in Milan, and IOFT in Tokyo.
And that’s OK. Not everyone needs or wants eyewear of the highest quality, and many prefer for frames and sunglasses for function, not fashion. Plus, these are definitely much more affordable, even if not the most durable – many wearers would prefer to buy several replaceable pairs in a year and enjoy sporting various glasses, rather than splurging on one, and always putting on just that one.
For everyone else more conscious about design, innovation, quality, and celebrating age-old excellence in craftsmanship, Italy, Japan, and France are the most honored eyewear-making countries in the world. Boasting artisans who are precise in production, delicate in applying details, and meticulous in handling exceptional materials, these are the top hand-craft destinations for any independent designer who treasures extraordinary construction and finishes in their work. For example, France’s Les Lunetiers du Jura is a revered association in the eyewear business, protecting both the history of eyewear manufacturing as well as embracing responsible and sustainable processes to keep its standards one of the highest possible.
This is why designer Oliviero Zanon decided to base his RES/REI line in Italy’s Veneto region (incidentally, where many believe the first prescription eyeglasses to have been invented), adamant that every step in bringing his beautiful mostly-acetate frames takes place in his home country (“Handmade With Love In Italy” is its proud tagline). It’s also why designer Coco Tsuji spent two years researching in Japan before engaging her birthplace’s top artisans to craft her LOTHO collection, using the finest acetates available there. Tsuji produced some parts of her latest series, Transit, in France, to widen the possibilities of innovation and flair in her eyewear.
And the difference is, well, visible for the stunning array of colors these designers have been able to dream up and incorporate into their eyewear, not to mention fittings so perfect you hardly even know there are glasses on your face.
Well, not until you just can’t stop receiving compliments from everyone else.