The ‘Manolo Blahnik of eyewear’ launches new sunglasses brand from Hong Kong

Philippe Vergez’s sunglasses are worn by Madonna, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez and Sarah Jessica Parker – and now he introduces his passion project: an upscale, unisex eyewear brand for people with ‘rock attitude’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2017, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 5:56pm

The luxury market may be flagging, but according to a recent report by Transparency Market Research the global eyewear market is booming. It estimates the industry will be worth US$130 billion by the end of 2018, due in part to an increasing demand from the Asia-Pacific region. With numbers this good, it makes sense that industry veteran Philippe Vergez decided to launch his new line of luxury eyewear, Philippe V, from Hong Kong.

Vergez’s name may not dominate headlines, but chances are you’ve worn one of his designs. He started his career in the late 1980s, heading up marketing and business development for the likes of Oakley before designing for major brands and groups, including Luxottica, Quiksilver, Arnette and Ray-Ban (and those are just the gigs he’s allowed to talk about). Remember when Will Smith wore Ray-Bans for Men in Black, instantly making the brand cool again? That was one of Vergez’s projects.

Vergez launched his first eyewear label for women called Jee Vice in 2005. His iconic oversized frames quickly became a favourite with celebs including Madonna, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez and Sarah Jessica Parker, who almost exclusively wore his sunglasses in the film, Sex and the City 2. It wasn’t long before he was given the title of the“Manolo Blahnik of eyewear”. Even Vogue editor Anna Wintour is a fan (a framed letter from Wintour hangs proudly in his Hung Hom office).

Vergez’s latest venture, however, is his passion project. After losing the rights to Jee Vice, he took a break from eyewear and moved to Hong Kong in 2012, where he became creative director of accessories brand Evita Peroni. He contemplated launching a unisex eyewear brand, but it only came to fruition late last year with the help of friend and co-founder Thierry Halbroth.

“The difference with Philippe V is that I’ve put more work into the design and details. As far as concept, I wanted to create an upscale brand, which would not be targeted to a certain demographic but a specific state of mind. I want to appeal to people with a rock attitude, who embrace this spirit of being different and want to make their mark in the world by being different. Everyone today tries to put a brand in a box, but I refuse to do this. Eyewear is testimony to one’s own personality,” he says.

Philippe V.’s launch collection features 11 interchangeable styles (seven for men and four for women) based on classic shapes such as the aviator, which Vergez has given his own unique spin. The Numero 5 for example, which is the first style he designed, is inspired by a pair of glacier frames worn by vulcanology expert Haroun Tazieff. Vergez’s version is a hinge-free stainless steel style featuring a cool mesh covering that curves around the outer edge of each lens for a futuristic look.

The Numero 1 for women, meanwhile, are your classic oversized frames that have been given an elegant twist thanks to gold floral embossing around the temples. In fact every style boasts small but meaningful details, be it a thin gold line circling the inner rim of the frames or the skull and fleur-de-lys motifs that are the brand’s signatures.

While the frames may look the part, they are also crafted beautifully. Vergez has paid special attention to the fit so that the lenses suit both Eastern and Western faces (“it’s my secret but it comes down to an understanding of the skull and physiology,” he says). Every pair is handmade from start to finish in Japan using Italian acetate, German hinges and metal parts, and custom CR39 organic lenses produced by French company Essilor. He is in the process of developing his own lenses and tints, but the ones he uses currently are treated so that they are scratch- and smudge-resistant. Vergez says it takes about 20 days to make a pair due to all the intricate processes involved.

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“Designing eyewear is difficult – it’s two lenses, one bridge and two arms, so you are limited with space. You don’t want to copy anyone, so you are only left with the details and silhouettes. I try not to follow trends because when you look at them they don’t really suit most people. I want to make a product that will compliment people when they wear it. Similarly, when you wear it you feel the difference,” he says.

For now Vergez hopes to secure distribution at select eyewear retailers and boutiques, in addition to selling the collection on his website. There are plans to launch six more styles for men and women later this year along with a range of optical glasses made using titanium and special computer lenses that are anti reflective on both sides. He is also working on a limited capsule collection called Black Shadow featuring all-black styles mixing matte and shiny materials and featuring an exclusive lens inspired by hematite black reflections. These will be priced higher than the regular collection, which retails for about US$280 to US$340.

Also available is a select range of jewellery and accessories that have an edgy, rock ’n’ roll vibe including necklaces, leather goods and rings. One style of ring comes with a hidden key that can open any pair of handcuffs. Many of these are crafted in the brand’s own workshop in Hong Kong and quantities are limited.

“We want to create a high-quality and luxury product at a fair price. Phillipe V. fits my definition of luxury which is a mix of design, quality material and the highest craftsmanship. Because of this we have to follow the tide and bring new and updated collections. The trick is to create something that will always be better than the last,” he says.