Scandinavia is an unlikely birthplace for a sunglasses brand: with its generally cold climate, dark winters and rainy summers, one could hardly find the time to wear shades. It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, that one of the most successful sunglasses brands to emerge in the last few years was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, from an idea that followed a rare sunny afternoon in the park.

Without any optician training, but with great intuition for business and an absolute eye for design, Henrik Ørgreen, Gregers Fastrup and Tobias Wandrup founded Ørgreen in 1997. With quality and craftsmanship at the base of their creations and an elegant simplicity that comes from the great tradition of Danish and Scandinavian design, the sleek Ørgreen frames were born.

“We did not have any previous experience in the field of designing eyewear and even more importantly producing sun and optical glasses,” explains Henrik Ørgreen. “When we started out we set a very high standard from the beginning in what we wanted to do. So we established that we would make no compromises.”

And they did not compromise, which made for a very rocky start: Henrik had to sell his house to support the newborn company, and the beginning was very difficult financially.

“If we would have known how difficult, I am not sure we would have done this. So basically I think it was very good that we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into!” Henrik half-jokingly points out.

Today, however, Ørgreen is a “big family” with an expansion in 42 countries, the favorite choice for opticians worldwide. The headquarters were moved from a small backyard to an old charming building on Hauser Plads, in the heart of Copenhagen, and they also opened a second branch in Japan, where their production is based. “We wanted to do everything top notch, and for that reason, we moved our entire production to Japan,” clarifies Henrik, explaining that nowadays that is the only place to produce high-end titanium frames in the finish and quality of craftsmanship they wanted to achieve. “Each design,” adds Henrik, “goes through more than 100 design steps, which involves all three of us, so it is that process that still bonds us three guys who started it all.”

If the quality and technique are kept to highest standards, design is certainly not left aside. With a futuristic, avant-garde style, the Ørgreen frames are famous for their simple lines (which gather from the aforementioned great design tradition the three founders very solemnly respect), amazing use of material and virtually infinite color combinations (the colors available are around 400, from neutrals to bold jewel tones). “If you look at the very first three design we started with, we have kept true to the design DNA of Ørgreen,” adds Henrik, “so you will still see the common thread from the first designs to our latest designs today.” However, in the almost 14 years since their launch, their frames have “very much evolved using new techniques, new materials and new combinations.” The current Ørgreen offer features lightweight titanium, beta titanium and acetate frames with three main lines and styles.

The three collections of spectacle frames available each carries its own very unique twists. Airline & Cut is a titanium collection with futuristic and aerodynamic lines inspired by classic cars (a 1950s Corvette is a particular favorite) and with two-tone frames. Helium, as the name suggests, is a feather-light beta titanium set based on minimal lines and metallic finishes. Echo 97, the anniversary collection created for the 10 years of Ørgreen in 2007, looks back at the origins of the brand with updated retro-modern frames executed with the latest techniques in updated acetate and titanium shapes. There are also sunglasses on offer, a great component of the Ørgreen family, with retro shades inspired by the classics and reinvented with the latest technology: the aviator, for example, got a makeover with laser-cut lines and ultra-light features, while maintaining its iconic look.

With three founders strongly passionate about art and popular subcultures, it was just natural to expand Ørgreen into these fields. Therefore, they created the Ørgreen Playground concept, a series of collaborative projects in the fields of art, design, fashion and music. The current project is a collaboration with the Republic of Fritz Hansen to produce a series of Arne Jacobsen Swan chairs with a stitch motive featuring the same Copenhagen skyline design of the Skyline Edition, a now iconic Ørgreen style with laser cut skylines along the temples of the frame. The collection is still gathering worldwide attention, and is currently on display at Milan’s 10 Corso Como, the ultimate destination for art and fashion curated by Carla Sozzani, who personally selected the chairs to be exhibited alongside the glasses at her concept store.

The founders remain secretive about their plans for the future (after all, they have seen their projects being copied across the market many times before, which is a small price to pay for the glory of being recognized as one of the most revolutionary eyewear brands on the market): “We are going to set a new direction within the optical industry,” hints Henrik, adding that the Playground collaborations will continue with the new year. “We have many plans on where to go and we’d like the whole world as our playground, so keep a look out for us!”

– Rosa Maria Bertoli