Jesse Stevens, Finest Seven

The man behind the luxury label Finest Seven has designed international eyewear collections as well as setting up his own British label in 2011 – with Ainjali Fine. Since our first interview with Jesse Stevens in July of that year, the label has become sought after for its authentic luxury style and attention to technical detail and precise handcrafting, a focus it has upheld and developed throughout the last five years.

What is your view of eyewear and how it has changed since you started working in it? I love the eyewear industry. I am constantly learning and take great pleasure in gaining knowledge from the old makers of the eyewear world – when frames were literally made by hand. I have a small workshop where I make frames by hand for friends and family. There is an increasing number of new brands coming to the eyewear market compared to when I first started over 10 years ago. The main point of change is the amount of fashion brands wanting to expand their accessories ranges to include eyewear or fashion brands wanting to do collaborations with existing eyewear houses under license.

Zero 10 - Finest Seven
Zero 10 – Finest Seven

You are an innovator and design expert in eyewear….how did you get to that point? I have always had an affinity towards a simple but beautiful design aesthetic, first gaining a degree in sculpture, I then obtained a scholarship to attend a product design school in Paris. I became friends with the son of famed Spanish sculptor Miguel Berrocal. He made it sound like his dad did it for a hobby but in fact he was a highly achieved artist who had made a very successful career out of being a sculptor. I ended up working as his apprentice for two years.

I then moved back to New Zealand to finish my 2nd degree in Product Design. After working on various design projects including furniture, interiors, architectural fittings and lighting I finally found work with Cutler and Gross as a production manager and designer working under Marie Wilkinson, where I learnt my craft.

I have found that my combined skills and experiences have shaped the way I design. I see eyewear as design objects as well as sculptures in their own right. I am very interested in the idea of functional sculpture and eyewear definitely fits into this group of products.

Zer 10 in Burnt Champagne
Zero 10 in Burnt Champagne

You have worked for top level eyewear companies including Roland Mouret, Oliver Goldsmith and Kering. How has that experience enriched your work? Working with different brands means that I get to experience building and contributing to a wide range of styles and concepts. This strengthens the scope of my design work and also allows me to be flexible and robust within my design thinking and problem solving. As a consultant designer I am very happy to have a wide variety within my client base, some production work, some smaller niche brands as well as the larger commercial projects. An ideal stable of clients includes a broad mix of projects and this is when I am happiest.

What most inspires you? Are you an archive fanatic? I really enjoy referencing the past and am a keen vintage eyewear collector. I love to learn about the history of eyewear and have recently been studying the Anger family from Austria and their contribution to the eyewear industry. One of whom owned Silhouette, another owned Viennaline that went onto become Optyl, producing collections for Carrera and Serge Kirchhofer. The third developing the first automatic machinery for cutting out eyewear from acetate revolutionising the whole industry. A truly great family achievement. As a starting point I always start with a brief or a description of the desired outcome supplied by my clients. Sometimes this is very much based in historical context, other times I am able to develop a completely separate narrative that allows me to design a collection without reflecting on vintage product at all. Complex brands like Alexander McQueen require a profound knowledge of the brand and a very close working relationship with their internal team to produce something that resonates with the brands DNA.

What makes the independent eyewear niche interesting now? Independent eyewear is getting better and better – the design, the quality, the passion. A few years ago, 3D modelling was a bit of a dream, but now many top brands are using this technique. Another obvious development in niche brands has been the sheer number of them in the market. It is a buyer’s market now with a vast number of exciting small brands starting up. From the public’s point of view the market is offering a wonderful range of eyewear for every taste.

Zero 10 Graduated Blue
Zero 10 Graduated Blue

What is your focus now at Finest Seven? What has changed since we first interviewed you in 2011?

We still appreciate clean minimalist lines in our eyewear and are now moving towards superlight metal, in shapes that are interesting and at the same time very easy to wear. We have streamlined our packaging and been thinking a lot about the future and how we can make Finest Seven memorable in a very full market. We still enjoy working with a small family brand that is able to offer a level of personal service and care that are impossible to achieve on a larger scale. As we grow, it is important to focus on this and make sure we continue to make eyewear that we are proud of and reflect our core values.

Where can we find Finest Seven glasses? Is your distribution expanding? Up until now we have simply visited stores that we liked as we travel around the world for work and pleasure. We are only a small family team this has been fantastic but unfortunately we are not able to physically get everywhere we need to be. We have finally begun to look into using agents. If it were possible, I think we would both prefer to work out of our studio in east London and stay small, but business doesn’t work like that so we are working to grow in the best way possible. www.finestseven.com CN