I spoke with Luca Gnecchi Ruscone over the summer by phone, and was immediately struck by his genuine enthusiasm for eyewear design, and fascination for the rediscovery of lost craftsmanship.
” In 2002, while I was accompanying by grandfather on a trip to Eritrea, I made a discovery which changed my life, and has brought me to this point with the brand L.G.R. which is really just at the beginning, we have so much more to tell.
My grandfather had lived in Eritrea for 40 years; he was a war photographer and after the war ended he decided to stay in Eritrea, and opened four photographic shop which became known as Foto Ottica Bini. He became a representative for Leika and other brands like Kodak. He then started importing frames and lenses, but not long after he became a shoe manufacturer for the local market. The shops became his second business. In 1974, with the revolution he had to leave and he lost everything. Quite amazingly, in 2000 the government called my grandfather to say that he would get some of his properties in Eritrea back, including one of the optical stores and the apartment above it.
I accompanied him on this trip back in 2002 – he was 92 and I was a graduate at the time. I stayed for one month in Asmara, a beautiful place with an incredible climate. I loved the atmosphere. I decided to drive around and visit the coast, but I needed some sunglasses…when I went downstairs in my grandfather’s shop and talked to my father’s colleague Bruno I looked in some closets and I found some incredible frames….and beautiful vintage lenses…Bruno fitted lenses in three pairs of sunglasses for me, and I was really impressed by how beautiful they were. At that point I decided to take 15 pairs back home to show friends and family and, as I was expecting, everybody was amazed that they were so wonderful.”
Months after this I was still getting emails from people asking for the sunglasses so I had more pairs sent over, and this allowed me to get the capital together to start my own business. By 2007 I started producing my own models. The first four models I produced were based on the original frames I had found in Eritrea…models Asmara, Keren, Massawa and Casablanca.”
Where do you produce your frames, how do you achieve true craftsmanship in the collections you are now designing, and quality that matches up to that of the frames you found in Africa? :”This is another beautiful side of what happened. I was running out of sunglasses, so I asked my grandfather how he thought I could create more with the same beautiful characteristics. He said go to Japan or China where you are living, and you will have them made cheaply and easily there. But I said no, these glasses have a history, they were made in the old way, how things were made in Italy before the economic boom in the 60s. Everything was made by an artisan and sold from the “bottega” in a very different way back then. So, I tracked down the address of the workshop near Prato where the frames were originally made and I just turned up there. An old lady opened the door, I explained who I was, and she said that her husband used to make the sunglasses, but that they had closed 20 years ago. Her husband showed me the warehouse where he used to make the frames, he had all the original machines and he explained the whole process to me. His eyes were shining it was very exciting and I couldn’t stop thinking about how we might get this working again. Now, just a few years on, we are producing the frames in Florence in this original workshop, and we have opened two other workshops including one in Naples.”
What will you launch for SILMO? “I am planning four new models of sunglasses and two new opticals. We are introducing two new colours of acetate which are very modern in a way, compared to what L.G.R. stands for, its classicism, its heritage. I want to show the market we are not just a vintage or retro brand. I want to show, and I have already given a first taste of this in our RAW LImited Edition which we presented three months ago, that we can achieve some modern and technical creations. We are introducing the polarised Neophan lenses, which offer incredible clarity – it’s a really unique eyewear experience. We are doing these lenses in a greenish blue called aquamarine and a vermillion.”
Does this mean you want to be an innovator in eyewear? “No, I want to bring back in some way what has been lost from the past, making no compromise with the price. I want to work towards offering the best quality lenses with the best quality frame at the right price. At the moment the brand is very exclusive as we have a very exclusive distribution, but this is just the beginning…. you have to start from the top and the rest will follow in time. I want to bring back what has been lost from the past to consumerism, we have cut away too many things and we have forgotten so much. I see this from my grandfather of how he speaks, how he eats, how he buys… and I respect so much these past attitudes in life. I want these aspects to be reflected in my glasses.” CN