For decades, Germany’s best designers – of everything from cars to fashion – have found a way to marry technical innovation with sleek good looks, and this is increasingly true in the world of eyewear. Berlin in particular has become an epicentre of cool brands that have won acclaim across the globe for their on-trend designs, forward-thinking manufacture and skilful craftsmanship.
‘German manufacturing is world-famous, to the point where “Made in Germany” is synonymous with top quality and precision craftsmanship,’ explains Justin Hofmann of Berlin-based eyewear brand IC Berlin. Hofmann believes the secret of the city’s success in eyewear is down to the character of the designers who call it home. ‘Berlin has historically been a free and liberal city, and so it follows that it attracts creative thinkers,’ he says. ‘The freedom to be who you want to be, or to recreate yourself, fosters an amazing creative vibe in Berlin, which leads to some amazing product design.’
IC Berlin is one of the most innovative eyewear brands in Europe, famed for its screwless frame design. As Hofmann explains, ‘the hinge is the heart of every IC Berlin frame.’ The fewer moving parts a frame has, he continues, ‘the less there is to go wrong. No screws means nothing can work loose, fall out, seize or break. Because the temples can pop off and on so easily and quickly, it means that our glasses have withstood being sat on, trodden on, and even driven over with a car or, in one case, a ride-on lawnmower.’
IC Berlin’s screwless design exemplifies the marriage of technical ingenuity and beautiful design that has put Berlin on the eyewear map, and marrying those two aspects isn’t an easy process. ‘It’s a fine balance,’ says Hofmann, ‘but the IC Berlin aesthetic is a very strong and precise one. We listen to the demands and needs of our customers while always keeping our design philosophy at the forefront: form follows function.’
Another of Berlin’s leading eyewear brands is Herrlicht, which has become known for its beautifully handcrafted wooden frames. ‘I had, and have, been fascinated by the material and had worked with it for some time before I had the idea to make wood glasses’, explains designer Andreas Licht. ‘It is a wonderful material to use: it is warm and individual; it can be raw or refined. When I began a decade ago I did pioneering work. I had the ambition to let it not be just one part of the frames, but the only component. It was challenging and interesting to do.’
The heart of craft
For Licht, an experienced joiner, craftsmanship is at the forefront of everything he does. In the brand’s Berlin workshop, each pair of frames passes through Licht’s hands multiple times during the complex manufacturing process, ensuring that the final result is perfect. ‘I think objects made with real craftsmanship bring a certain beauty with them anyway. But of course making these frames also means seeking the best possible way to bring the technical and the aesthetic side together.’
As to why traditional spectacles are still popular the world over in an age of contact lenses and laser eye surgery, Licht believes that, ‘for many people glasses simply are an essential accessory. They can be used as a fashion statement, like jewellery.’
This idea of frames as fashion can also be seen at one of Berlin’s longest-established eyewear brands, Cazal. Founded in 1975 by designer Cari Zalloni and entrepreneur Günter Böttcher, Cazal was one of the first truly design-focused eyewear brands in Germany. The pair worked from a ‘style first’ perspective, and Cazal’s extravagant designs paved the way for its 40-year success story. ‘There are a few very “old” producers of eyewear in Germany,’ explains Cazal’s managing director, Beate Obersteiner. ‘They created outstanding and unique designs in the 1970s and 80s. Our brand Cazal is the most famous out of these – a real collector’s brand.’
Cazal’s distinctive, fashion-forward frames have grown in popularity throughout the decades, even becoming something of a status symbol in the world of hip hop, with fans including 80s legends Run DMC and popular American rapper Rick Ross. ‘Cazal is one of the brands that has been among the must-haves of really hip people,’ says Obersteiner. ‘Musicians, artists, actors, politicians – they appreciate the unique design which is far removed from trivial fashion trends.’ Add to this the fact that all Cazal creations are impeccably made in Germany, and it’s not hard to see why the brand has had such continued success.
From pioneering design techniques to unconventional materials, Berlin’s leading names are creating some of the most interesting, innovative and recognisable eyewear today.