by Jerry ElengicalJun 11, 2021
Japanese architect Kengo Kuma has teamed up with popular Portuguese eyewear brand VAVA to create the instantly iconic capsule collection of 3D-printed eyewear, using high-quality polyamide bio-based powder made from castor oil. The collection consists of two pairs of sunglasses named CL0013 and CL0015 in eight solid colours, designed as miniature extensions of Kuma’s holistic masterpieces of contemporary architecture. The capsule collection, states VAVA, "manifests many of Kuma’s architectural imaginings, especially the architect’s tendency of recovering and reinterpreting the traditions of Japanese architecture to fit seamlessly into the 21st-century world".
Both models revel in minimalism and are designated by Kengo Kuma as kigumi, the woodworking technique in Japanese design where joints are held together by the perfect balance of opposite forces instead of using nails or adhesives. Wood, bamboo, glass and sheetrock are some materials found in Kuma’s vast portfolio, and he is also celebrated for his use of air and light as architectural elements. His works that co-exist with the natural environment, apply traditional Japanese craft to modern forms, with a focus on organic materials finding their way to the sunglass design as well.
“Framed as buildings, our eyewear uses the face as a landscape.”
Sustainable design enhances these wearable structures that sit at the multifaceted crossroads of materiality, functionality, and structure. Castor oil from the beans sourced from India was used to produce Polyamide 11, a thermoplastic polymer that was used as the base material to 3D-print the coloured frames. The material was chosen for its durability, its ability to create complex, strong forms that do not fade when exposed to direct sunlight.
In this interview with STIR, Pedro da Silva, Founder and Creative Director of VAVA, recollects what went into the eyewear design’s production, its sustainable features, what the collaboration with Kengo Kuma ensued and how the collection clearly captures the design fingerprints of both the brand and the Japanese architect.
Jincy Iype (JI): Tell us what VAVA is about and what sets you apart from other eyewear brands.
Pedro da Silva (PDS): Our brand’s core concept is closely linked to the post-industrial society we inhabit, and the growing belief that we live in a post-human age. VAVA plays around with people’s imagination and ventures into an exploration of science fiction. We are very much inspired by futuristic unisex characters, that help in creating minimal silhouettes and monochromatic figures. This unisex philosophy and minimalistic aesthetic - which we believe is the future - are naturally interwoven into the DNA of VAVA.
“Our pieces have a sophisticated, contemporaneous, and urban look. They are subtly futuristic, conceptual, and timeless.”
VAVA’s leitmotif is to offer a high-quality product that embodies the experience, knowledge, and art of the great masters of handmade eyewear. This is the knowledge that is gradually being lost in this era where mass-production flourishes and the use of low-quality materials dominates. We seek to foster a dialogue between craftsmanship and high-tech solutions. This approach, combined with the use of the highest quality materials, is what, I believe, sets up apart.
The great challenge for the brand is in the exercise of eliminating superfluous compositional elements, adornment, and excessive romanticism to build gender-neutral frames created in the most sustainable way, which can be worn by persons of all ages.
JI: Is a collaborative aspect crucial for such capsule collections?
PDS: Normally, a capsule collection is a curated selection of special pieces. Designers release these collections during the off-season, sometimes partnering with someone special for one-off collaborations that are exclusive and produced in limited quantities. These curated collections also offer designers an opportunity to design items outside of their standard realm of design – case in point.
Collaboration is key for design and innovation in this digital age where working and meeting in person, bouncing ideas off each other have sadly taken a backseat. By collaborating on projects, our brand can create something magical, elevated by other professionals' creative spirit and skills. We take great pride in having collaborated with several artists, designers, and architects in the past, learning the value of resources and idea-sharing.
Our main goal with the VAVA x Kengo Kuma capsule collection is to achieve this cross-functional innovation and push the envelope, in terms of design, aesthetic and materiality, arriving at something greater than the sum of its parts.
JI: Can you throw some light on the pieces included in the VAVA x Kengo Kuma capsule collection, highlighting some interesting details along the way? What about the special shapes and colours employed?
PDS: Model CL0013 is a tribute to the traditional Japanese wooden construction techniques. These approaches have been explored by Kengo Kuma for his wooden (or mixed) structures, which arise from a simple pattern of assembly, building on different intersections and angles to generate a complex whole.
Model CL0015 is inspired by the notion that the production of architecture is fundamentally a process of weaving. Many of Kuma Kuma and Associates’s design projects can be understood as a pursuit of different types of weaving of diverse materials and scales.
The collaborative product design included a participatory selection of the colour range. Kengo Kuma suggested bright and vivid colours such as the Caribou, Mellow Yellow, Spray and Aqua Haze. Those colours were something totally new for VAVA; we never intended to employ such happy, vivid colours. During the developing process, we were wondering what the outcome would be. All doubts vanished once we saw the prototypes – Kuma’s vision materialised majestically, and the frames came out looking so amazingly unique. In this capsule we also incorporate VAVA’s palette of colours: Blue, Red, Light Grey and Black.
JI: Please elaborate on the material used as well as the design and production process, in particular, the featured sustainable aspects and 3D printing technology.
PDS: Produced in Germany, in partnership with a leading player in digital manufacturing, using state-of-the-art technology and contemporary design principles, this capsule collection is made of 3D-printed frames in high-quality polyamide bio-based powder, made from castor oil, using a process called laser sintering. This technique uses a laser that selectively melts together with the polyamide particles, building the frames layer by layer, only using the minimum number of materials required. Only 3D printing technology allows us to make sustainable eyewear with such complex structures as the ones designed by Kengo Kuma. The design freedom offered by this technology allows for advanced functional and stylistic features.
Rilsan® Invent by Arkema is a natural polyamide 11 fine powder made from a 100 per cent renewable source (castor beans). The castor beans used to produce oil for our bio-based plastic are sourced from a cooperative of certified farmers in the Gujarat region of India.
Today’s challenges of climate change, plastic waste, and overuse of natural fuels are enormous. As the brand approaches its 10th anniversary in 2024, we want to set a clear commitment, as we always have, to sustainability and inclusivity, supporting the lives of future generations. Today VAVA shares this sense of urgency and that is why high-tech materials are at the core of our design. Environmental responsibility is paramount, and we cannot call ourselves designers or creators if we do not take this seriously.
The use of crystal lenses reinforces the unique nature of the brand - VAVA believes that only the natural purity of the glass can ensure the best optical precision of a lens and the inalterability of its characteristics in time, along with its typical and unique transparency. The purity of the glass lens is maximised by putting it through a platinum tube. VAVA uses exclusively Barberini lenses across all models in the acetate series. For many years, Barberini has been a synonym of excellence in the optical glass sun lenses segment. Barberini was among the first companies in the field to achieve the UNI EN ISO 14001 Environmental Certification, meaning that all its manufacturing plants have zero-waste status.
JI: You have spoken about the collaborative nature of these collections, and what they result in. Can you expand on this collaboration with Kengo Kuma, and designing the object as an extension of his architectural oeuvre?
PDS: VAVA has a strong connection to architecture, and we are so fond of Kengo Kuma. I believe that this project celebrates and imbues his ‘visions’. We respect his principles and I have always felt a great connection with his works. The prospect of sharing ourselves and our production processes with him was indeed exciting.
Kuma designed the collection with total freedom. VAVA interpreted his sketches and ideas, developing the technical draws under his supervision, and at the same time, integrating some core elements of the brand such as the base zero lenses and our unique cubic hinge.
The new material brought us to a lot of research and fresh engineering, and we had several meetings with Kengo Kuma’s team to find the best trade-off between design, structural, as well as nuanced technical needs. The maturity and humility of both teams made sure that the challenging decisions were made in the right manner. The level of trust and mutual respect was crucial for a project with such a high level of technical difficulty.
Kuma’s work is an embodiment of transparency and lightness, which looks to the future while echoing older Japanese traditions. In this collection, these aspects are reflected by the combination of ultra-lightweight sustainable materials and complex structures, which have resulted in VAVA’s most technologically advanced frames to date.