Photographer BERT SPANGEMACHER
Text JUSTIN ROSS
Fashion LOR-E PHILLIPS
Will.i.am, hiphop sensation and style icon, shares his take on the worlds of fashion and music and tells us a little bit about the nature of collaborative projects such as his latest venture into eyewear with Ill.i Optics.
Graz Mulcahy, creative director of Will.i.am’s new optical line, cleverly called ill.i, is leading the brand to new territories of innovation in materials and techniques, but he shares a deep-seated love for the past and an encyclopedic knowledge of style with the brand’s figurehead and style icon Will.i.am. The pair met some years ago while Graz was in Australia working as the lead designer for renowned label Ksubi. Willi.i.am fell in love with their eyewear collection and bought the entire series for his collection. So when, in 2014, he decided to turn his lifelong passion for eyewear into a business by creating his own line of signature eyewear Graz was the obvious choice to lead the creative product design and development.
Ill.i is an unconventional and edgy entry into the eyewear market that blends Willi.i.am’s love for music and the coolest retro shades with an authentic core of hip-hop. Graz, too, shares this passion for the best of the past remolded and reshaped by cutting edge materials and technology into the best of the future, or as he puts it “eyewear for all time”.
The brand combines high-quality classic materials and techniques such as cellulose acetate, steel, and titanium, refined by Graz’s more than 13 years of experience in eyewear design, but also isn’t afraid to experiment, always pushing the boundaries of what is possible by employing the latest technologies such as 3D printing. Ill.i is also unusual in its openness and willingness to gain inspiration from the work of other artists, having recently produced a collaboration with hip hop legend Slim Rick, and many more in the pipeline. The spirit of experimentation and collaboration is evident throughout the collections, and even as I jokingly asked Graz if he would ever consider rapping or appearing in music videos, he quite seriously replied that he had just completed a course in filmmaking and was in fact responsible for the music in some of Ill.i’s promotional videos.
Ill.i is also just a starting point for Willi.i.am’s ever-expanding empire of fashion, music, art, and technology. We asked Will.i.am to explain to us a bit more about his ambitious approach to life and his shared love for music, fashion, and all things futuristic.
Will.i.iam Q & A
1. How would you describe your style?
2. Where does inspiration come from?
I’ve had a passion for experimental eyewear since the beginning of my career; I’ve been collecting for over 20 years. I love the eyewear that 80s hip-hop groups and icons had, like how they would wear sunglass frames as glasses. We also looked at 80s graffiti characters and their oversize styles – but we made something contemporary, something modern.
3. In both music and fashion you seem to have a passion for the past, what does it tell you?
My passion is futurism with a retro approach. In terms of eyewear, I love looking at vintage shapes that inspire me, playing with them, twisting and reinterpreting them. We take the time to make each style a standout piece, looking at every detail and always asking, “How is this unique?”
4. Now you’ve launched your own eyewear brand, ill.i optics, what three words describe it?
5. What can you say about fashion and music? How are they connected?
Fashion and music are like brother and sister. They are both forms of expression. One is a sonic expression and the other a visual expression through what you choose to wear.
6. You always seem to have a different pair of glasses on, in real life and in your videos, how do you choose?
I normally choose my glasses based on the hat or jacket I’m wearing. There are so many different and diverse options within each ill.i collection.
7. Any favorites?
It would be impossible to isolate any. I love the entire ill.i collection.
8. Obviously, you are a big fan of eyewear, how many pairs do you own? // Can we see them all !?
I have been obsessed with glasses since I was 13. I used to dream about frames like the ones that Dwayne Wayans wore on ‘In Living Color’ and I have since been collecting experimental eyewear for 20 years.