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Why fashion brands are collaborating with dead midcentury architects

Oliver Peoples has launched a new line of eyeglasses inspired by Gio Ponti’s work—and Reebok just did something similar.

Why fashion brands are collaborating with dead midcentury architects
[Photo: courtesy Oliver Peoples]

A giant of mid-century modern design, architect Gio Ponti may be most famous for the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan, a tapered tower completed in 1960 that’s regarded as one of the hallmarks of Italian modernism. In addition to 100 other buildings in Italy, he’s also known for his furniture design, and for being the founding editor of Domus magazine. Now, Ponti’s diverse body of work is being translated into eyeglass frames.

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Eyewear maker Oliver Peoples has just launched a new line of frames inspired by Ponti’s work—and carrying his name. Developed in collaboration with the Gio Ponti archives, the new frames come in three styles and feature sharp lines over rounded eye pieces. Two types of thick-framed eyeglasses come with clip-on sunglasses that have a bold horizontal bar connection made of polished titanium. The glasses sell for $625 and up.

[Photo: courtesy Oliver Peoples]
It’s the latest crossover brand collaboration to see a midcentury designer’s work translated into wearable, current fashion. Like shoe brand Reebok’s recent line of sneakers inspired by the multidisciplinary designs of Charles and Ray Eames, Oliver Peoples’s Gio Ponti line seeks to bring the designer’s signature touches to a new and perhaps unexpected medium.

“We wanted to pay homage to a true master of architecture and design,” says Giampiero Tagliaferri, creative director for Oliver Peoples. “We chose Ponti as someone who was a true visionary in his field whose work felt generally linked to the story of craftsmanship that we are telling.”

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[Photo: courtesy Oliver Peoples]
Ponti, who is known in the U.S. for his design of a major building at the Denver Art Museum, was a multitalented designer, working across architecture, furniture and product design, textiles, and ceramics. He created flatware sets for Krupp and a sleek series of bathroom fixtures for Ideal Standard, including a sculpture-like toilet and bidet. More than four decades after he died in 1979, his work is crossing over into fashion.

Tagliaferri says the new eyewear line was inspired by Ponti’s use of clean lines, sharp angles, and architectural shapes. “The approach took into consideration his design philosophy of mixing aesthetic and functional elements put together with refined proportions and exquisite balance,” he says.

[Photo: courtesy Oliver Peoples]
Evoking the name and aesthetics of a well-regarded modernist designer is as much a form of flattery as it is a business move. Shawn Grain Carter is an associate professor of fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She says these types of collaborations are happening with various design houses. “What they’re finding is the customer appreciates the modernist design aesthetic—but with a twist,” Carter says. “What better way to do that than with an artist or an architect or a musician?”

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[Photo: courtesy Oliver Peoples]
Carter says the modernist aesthetic of designers like Ponti is seeing renewed interest among younger generations that are increasingly conscious about climate change and want design that is in harmony with nature and the environment. They want natural materials and for designs to embody the ethos of “form follows function.”

[Photo: courtesy Oliver Peoples]
“You hear everybody saying ‘clean lines, clean lines.’ What does that mean? It means the simplicity of the design. That, they can relate to,” Carter says. “They might not know it’s influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright or the Bauhaus, they might not know who built the Pirelli skyscraper in Milan, but they understand it.”

Carter expects modernism to continue to pop up in fashion-brand collaborations going forward, whether younger consumers understand the historical background or not.

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For Oliver Peoples, part of the Milan-based eyewear conglomerate Luxottica, the Ponti-inspired line is a way to tap into this interest and also to celebrate an eminent Italian designer. As Tagliaferri says, “Our collaboration is just a small homage to the influence that Gio Ponti has had on the design world.”

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