INTERVIEW WITH NICOLA BONAVENTURA, CREATIVE DIRECTOR AT SAFILO
When you think of designer eyewear, great fashion houses such as Fendi and Dior as well as industry leaders such as Carrera quickly come to mind. Although Safilo may not be the same kind of household name, the company is actually responsible for many of the most iconic frames produced under licensing agreements with these illustrious brands as well as many others such as Polaroid, Swatch, Celine, and most recently for Elie Saab.
After attending a press event at Soho House in Berlin for Safilo to showcase their latest multibrand offerings for men this upcoming Fall/Winter season, we caught up with their creative director Nicola Bonaventura. The event demonstrated how eyewear stays relevant and in-step with current lifestyle trends with categories such as athleisure and future tech, which we know and love from developments in the fashion industry. It was abundantly clear that Nicola and his team are really in tune with such trends and developments. But it made us curious to learn more from an industry insider exactly how these trends are interpreted for each brand and to take a deeper look into the whole creative design process.
Interview: 08/2016 with Nicola Bonaventura
How did you start working as an eyewear designer?
I’ve been in this business for a long time. Now more than fifteen years. I graduated from design school in Italy and then I started out as an independent graphic designer for the fashion industry. And soon I merged my two passions–art and product or graphic design–and I found the eyewear business to be a good mix of the two things. You always face a lot of artistic inspirations and consider fashion, but in the end, you need to shape a product, which is made in hard materials so it is a process of industrial design.
So it is a mix between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ matter and that is what I’ve liked since the beginning. Since then I’ve been involved in different big groups and I’ve had the chance to work with important global brands like Giorgio Armani and Hugo Boss. At the beginning, I was also working for Dolce & Gabbana, always in the licensing sector. My strength was being able to translate the DNA of the brand into the business of this sector.
Tell me a bit about Safilo, what makes it unique, and what kind of projects we can look forward to in the future?
Besides talent, you have to offer something in terms of designing the product, but you also have to have a good relationship with the different creative departments of the brands. We have more than twenty-five departments, most of them are under licenses, and we also have four of our own brands. So, we have a huge variety of different relationships. And this is crucial to the result of the work. I’m personally working closely at this moment with Fendi and Celine. We just started an important project with the watchmaker Swatch. And I’m also working on the atelier segment, which is launching Elie Saab, which is our first brand in this category that comes from haute couture. It is another adventure working on this project translating the higher standards of these brands in this category.
How do you negotiate the relationship with brands that have an existing identity and how do you develop compatible designs within that?
Our goal is to protect and interpret in the best way, the value of each individual brand. The goal is to connect and marry with each singular brand and enter into the DNA of the design and the design language of each singular department and work with the creative department of the brand. Our goal is about relationships so that we can build faith chains and attractive partnerships and then the design comes. There is definitely a risk of failure, it is possible to make mistakes, but if the relationship is strong you can move forward. I think Safilo is quite unique in the way it works this way in the system of large brands working under license agreements. At least in terms of product development and we are recognized for this quality and way of working.
It was interesting to see how Safilo chose to present their latest eyewear designs by grouping them across brand segments and relating them to larger trends in the larger fashion and consumer retail industry. For example, Athleisure, you had interpreted that. Can you talk about some trends you are keeping an eye on?
There is a natural inspiration that comes from our designers and myself as well. We are traveling, we surf the internet, we all have antennas to research what is going on. At the same time, we also have a consumer trend analysis team. They connect with us and confirm with designers what the trends really are for the consumer two years in the future. Most of the time, we start with the aesthetic, of course, but this team starts with the consumer behavior. Many times, this doesn’t mean that it is a different aesthetic but it means that it connects more with the people and the way they live and they way they purchase products they love. We match our instinctive impulses and attraction to trends with the research and the result is what you saw last night.
We figure out the main groups of tendencies in the next years and then we design and divide it into three main areas. Of course Athleisure, and everything to do with technical gear, with functional elements, and with performance materials is a trend. First of all, it is a trend from a consumer perspective because people love to focus on wellbeing and in the meantime, the industry is following these ideas which are coming from these areas—from sports into the fashion sector. So that’s why many times you might be surprised to see brands like Givenchy and Dior doing a lot of stuff mixing materials which come from different environments.
Carrera is also one of the brands, which we own and it has sixty years of history in sports. Carrera started in 1956 for sports like golf and skiing and then for bikers and then, of course sunglasses as well. So, we’ve had the chance to revamp this brand and connect it with the trend of sports and lifestyle and urban athletic attitude. I think the match there is perfect. We can provide products that belong to fashion but also products that belong to lifestyle or in the mass target group like Polaroid, within the same spirit of treating the aesthetic, different price positions and technologies, but each of them are provide a touch of this attitude on lifestyle.
What is your opinion on the differences between men’s and women’s eyewear?
Today it’s really interesting because of these genderless attitudes, which is a megatrend overall, it’s really bringing a bit of a mix, where at the very end when you go to the front shape, or the color, or the material, in many brands they can fit for everyone. I would also say that last night, many of the sunglasses you say or optical were equally wearable for her as well. And then you have some brands, such as Fendi or MaxMara, which have been designed for women since the beginning and there is no doubt that their product is dedicated to ladies. But if I take ten years ago as a benchmark, even in this amount of time there is an incredible proposal on the agenda.
Until five or six years ago, there was a distinction between the two and few products had this interchangeability approach. Now, it is much more common and for many brands it is even a priority. It reflects the society and the way of living. Many countries are treating women equally and humanity is evolving and the sense of the family. It is really a human transformation and it is reflected in small things like products as well.
Thanks to Nicola’s look inside the eyewear design world from his experience at Safilo, what we learned is that it is not an easy task—it might seem simple enough to garner attention with bold colors and fad technologies and materials, but taking a well-known brand image and subtly adjusting and updating it is a much more complicated process, one that Safilo and its creative director Nicola Bonaventura are the undisputed experts at.