1st February 2015 Three generations of eyewear DNA flow creatively through Jason Kirk’s genes. His ancestors were optical pioneers who opened workshops in London in 1919. Nowadays, Jason and Karen Kirk continue the optical heritage with their recently launched Vivarium and Solarium collections.
Did you have a particular style/fashion concept in mind when you decided to launch Kirk & Kirk? “Our goal is to create frames that are unique, and, at the same time, wearable. We serve two types of customer: the retailer (optician, department store, fashion boutique) and the consumer. We need to understand the needs of the optician and the desires of the consumer. Twenty years experience has shown us that our end wearer is independent, and will not be told what to wear. We need to excite them, to make them feel an affinity with us, and to show that we understand their taste, in order to gain their confidence and loyalty.”
Kirk and Kirk has made an important style statement using Italian acrylic for frames. Is this a material in which you will continue to create frames – plus using other materials? “We spent many years working with our acrylic manufacturer to create the correct specific grade of material. Then with the frame manufacturer to establish how to hand-make glasses using this material…and then with the opticians showing them the benefits of using acrylic. We are not tied to using acrylic, but it is very much our signature, and it offers a beautiful range of colours and textures that allow us to differentiate ourselves from other designers, and allow independent opticians to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The frames are incredibly light and comfortable, so they are a pleasure to wear.”
Do you have particular inspirations for creating the collections? “Inspiration can come from anywhere, and for Vivarium we were inspired by Victorian scientists and their relationship with nature. Colour plays a major role in our design process, and the relationship between colours. Different colours have various meanings to different cultures which we find fascinating. It is often the unseen connections which ignite our passion – ‘what emotions do colours create’? for example.”
You have been in the eyewear business for many years. What do you feel have been the biggest changes – and what are future trends? “We started in optics in the early 1990’s, originally producing our frames in the UK, even owning our own factory at one point. But this is no longer an option and we moved all of our production to France in 2002 where it has stayed. European production has been under enormous pressure in the last fifteen years, and Asian production has developed dramatically. This is neither a good nor a bad thing, it is just a reality. The last seven years or so have seen economic pressure weigh heavily on decisions made within our industry, but notably by the opticians. We are a profession that is slow to embrace change, as illustrated by lack of availability of high end, independent frames on the internet.”
Could you please describe some of the challenges faced creating a new collection today – versus twenty years ago? “First and most obviously, it is a very expensive process to create a collection. It always has been, but today it is not just about the frames themselves, but the whole branding, marketing and general presence that is essential to compete in a crowded market. How do you create a collection that is different, but wearable in a market that is quickly saturated, and where the ability to copy quickly and effectively is such a threat? We have been fortunate in that our clients and industry colleagues have been extremely loyal to us, and have appreciated Kirk & Kirk’s collections. We are very grateful for that support. There are very few truly independent eyewear designers, and relatively few independent eyewear boutiques. We need to work together and to support each other if our businesses are to flourish.” www.kirkandkirk.com JG