An Exquisite Eye

Blake Kuwahara

3. Blake Kuwahara (1)- 2015

For those who know him, Blake Kuwahara is a name synonymous with design, and one of those thoroughly contemporary artists whose consideration for purpose in beauty is essential. Kuwahara has always been drawn to optics, a fitting relationship as his eye for composition and ability to translate what he sees to what he makes has made him a creative icon. After earning his doctorate in optometry, his desire to create gave him a natural entryway to the design side of the business.

Kuwahara’s celebrated personal style and passion for aesthetics has guided his career; from founding the design firm Focus Group West, to creating the award-winning KATA eyewear, to designing for brands such as Isaac Mizrahi and Hanae Mori, and most recently to the launch of his namesake collection of eyewear in 2014.

It is said, we are are fortunate to live in a time when even the most prominent and technical brands in the world give as much consideration to the visual aspects of their products as to the functional. There is no limit to the inspiration we can draw from something so quotidian as eyeglasses, or even their packaging. Kuwahara’s innate understanding of this is what defines his style. His attention to detail is evident in the stunning, sleek packaging he designed himself to accompany the glasses.

Kuwahara challenges himself with every collection – most recently focusing on the concept of “a frame within a frame”  – and continues to rise to the occasion with innovative engineering and painstakingly handcrafted technique.

Thrillingly modern yet utterly wearable, his 2015 collection is a reflection of what eyeglasses by definition must be, a true marriage of form and function.

3. Blake Kuwahara pearce (grey sun).2MB

Some of your frames are named for architects you admire. How does architecture influence the creation of
your pieces?

I have great appreciation for architects and the spaces they create.  I like to think I approach eyewear design in the same way.  We are given specific parameters – in this case, fitting the face – within which we need to work.  It must also be functional and aesthetically pleasing. It’s architecture but on a very small scale.

I have incorporated architectural tricks like mitering the end pieces at a 45° angle so the joints are completely hidden.  To me, a frame not only needs to look good, but also have a sensual, tactile sensibility. So, I’ve added extra curves, nuances, and sculpting to the frames, which make them special to the touch.

How do you conceive of making something that complements the natural beauty of the wearer without
obscuring it?

My personal philosophy is that frames should enhance someone’s personality without being a substitute for one! Frames should reflect one’s overall aesthetic without being the first thing that someone notices. One of my biggest pet peeves is that people don’t think about their overall style when selecting their eyewear.

3. Blake Kuwahara le vau (slate sun).2MB

You’ve been celebrated for your innovation in the engineering of your designs. What production technique(s) set your work apart?

Capitalizing on engineering techniques has not only been integral to my collections, but has allowed me to design in new and different ways.  For my latest collection, two frames are made separately and then laminated together using a proprietary technique. The inner frame has a very wearable silhouette, but the outer frame is more directional. Looking from a distance, what you see is the inner frame.  As you get closer, you see the combination of the two, which gives the frame a whole new personality.

What is your process when collaborating with an existing company that already has a unique brand identity? 

It’s important that the essence of the collaborators’ aesthetic is clearly identifiable, and to combine that with my own sense of color, scale, and proportion so that my fingerprint is also subtly evident.

The best collaborations allow for a creative flow. It’s the bouncing of ideas back and forth that leads to the best result. I’m working on one now that we plan to launch in Milan next year. The other designer and I have very different design aesthetics, but the resulting frames are clearly a hybrid of both!

How do you envision your designs having an impact on our current landscape? Do you have an ideal wearer?   

I have to admit that one of my motivations for starting my own eyewear collection was to design for myself and my friends that straddle both the creative and business worlds – artists, graphic designers, architects, writers, photographers.  While our passions are creatively based, we all have the business side to what we do.  My collection is really a mash-up of aesthetics: wearable and classical shapes encased in trend-driven silhouettes.  It’s a blending of sensibilities with a compelling design tension.

A friend of mine said it best about wearing my frames: “They’re perfect – I don’t want to look like I own an art gallery, but I want to look like I visit one every once in a while.”  My collection is for someone who has discriminating taste but doesn’t want to look like they are trying too hard.

Text by Nina Wheeler