By Jillian Urcelay
JU: Your brand’s origin has such a unique and interesting story. Can you explain to our readers how your company was founded?
LGR: One day while I was living and working in Shanghai, I received a call from my 90 year old grandfather telling me that after 30 plus years he finally won a long sorted indemnification for the war effort from the Italian and newly founded Eritrean governments. Part of these indemnities had to be recuperated in Eritrea, Africa where my grandfather lived from 1936 until 1976. These African indemnities included a very large shoe factory that he founded in 1956, some warehouses and a photo optical store that opened in the late 1940s. He asked me to accompany him on what was then a total surprise trip for both of us.
We stayed in Eritrea for one month and traveled to the different cities and locations where these properties were scattered upon. The optical store was immaculate. It was left completely untouched for 40 years, even through a civil war. Everything was still there. In a drawer, I stumbled upon a magnificent sight of some old military frames dating back to the Second World War. They fascinated me, and I started wearing them constantly, especially while driving my grandfather on our daily trips around the country. At 24 years old, it felt like the biggest adventure and wearing those old military sunglasses made me feel like an explorer, a pioneer, a man in search of something—I really felt “alive!” During these trips, my grandfather explained to me how his first business was being a photographer and then a distributor of Kodak film and Leica cameras in Africa. He opened the first photo store, and then his brother joined him to take care of the photo-optical business while he moved into the shoe business and eventually built a shoe factory in Asmara. I was learning firsthand from the best entrepreneur I have ever met.
When I returned to Italy, I took some of the sunglasses with me. These sunglasses exuded history and authenticity—they were true quality made to last. They embodied a way of thinking, of making things that was obvious in the post war era. Different consumption attitudes after the Second World War dictated that anything made had to be practical, made to last and being Italian—beautifully designed if possible.
I started looking at the eyewear market in 2006/2007, a period of eyewear licensing where a small number of huge companies made more than 80 percent of eyewear production worldwide. This meant lower manufacturing quality, low personality and no authenticity. Independent small family-owned brands with high levels of quality, personality, charisma and storytelling were just nonexistent. I saw a gap in the market. I wanted to combine true, old, Italian craftsmanship with a beautiful, original, interesting family heritage story dating back to the Second World War and colonies in East Africa. I had a dream! I wanted to give people the possibility of owning a piece of this authenticity. I had this dream, but no experience, no contacts in this business, no real business plan and most importantly no money. Somehow, I found a way to make it all work.
How would you describe the L.G.R eyewear collection and its aesthetic to someone unfamiliar?
A majority of the collection is simple, yet sophisticated. Tasteful and understated. Frames feel like an authentic and long-lasting product in terms of both their construction and design.
Other parts of the collection are very bold and attention grabbing. We reutilize military features such as metal side flaps inspired by tank drivers during WWII. We also reutilize old forgotten, surpassed lens technologies. We were one of the first brands in 2009 to start reusing flat mineral glass lenses on a model, which soon became one of L.G.R’s signature styles, The Reunion.
In what ways have the people and places of Africa inspired your designs?
Africa has inspired me since I took my first breath of it while descending from the plane in Asmara. To me it signifies boundless liberty, the beauty of its contrasts, stories of pioneers and adventurers. Tough terrains and climates that require extraordinarily built quality construction and practicality in design for simple use. These underline every decision I make in terms of the design and construction of L.G.R frames. I name every model after an African place just to remind my clients and estimators where these inspirations originate from.
L.G.R frames continue to be entirely handmade in Italy. Why is this so important to you?
I never doubted it; I could never do it differently. The DNA of the L.G.R brand partly also derives from the very hands of skilled Italian artisans that believed in me and my vision and made it all possible. I will never forget this, and I am grateful to them. To this day, we still use that same workshop that created the first L.G.R models. We don’t make our eyewear in factories, we make them in workshops and laboratories exactly like they were made more than 50 years ago. You can understand what I mean just by looking, touching and feeling an L.G.R frame. The combination of artisanal details makes them unique.
What can L.G.R fans expect for the next collection?
We always take our inspiration and heritage into account when designing new collections, but at the same time, we make sure those same assets don’t lock our creativity into a closed circle. In order to be on top of the wave at all times, we constantly look around us and the way society is consuming. The new collection is elegant but not stiff, it is a charming simplicity of colors, materials and designs. I was inspired by beautiful women living a nonchalant jet set life between the late ’70s and early ’90s. For the men’s styles, I wanted an “explorer” coolness to the collection to keep the pioneering African heritage alive in the collection.
In the optical collection, for the first time I wanted to mix advanced technology materials such as titanium with warm cozy Havana classic acetates. The result is an uber classic effect with a touch of modern for ultra-practicality and understated classic elegance, seen in the new Titanium Superleggero collection.
What specific trends do you see making big waves in the eyewear industry in the near future?
Unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus, I am looking at protective googles and large protective masks, but I do not know if they will ever make it in the L.G.R collection. Trends today as I see them are: translucent transparent acetates; light faded lenses; square-ish bold, thick acetates. A constant need for brands to attach their new styles with icons, celebrities and lifestyles of the past. It gives a sense of assurance and belonging to both the consumer and the brand. It’s a dangerous strategy though, like a double edged sword.