Besides suitable spectacle lenses, spectacle frames are also crucial to comfortable and relaxed vision. When choosing frames, we are making a fashion decision for a longer period of time – four years on average. The design we choose will accompany us on a daily basis. For this reason, BETTER VISION decided to ask the manufacturer Menrad, who also design and manufacture frames for ZEISS, how they come up with the designs and what the general trends are.
BETTER VISION: Mr. Müller-Menrad, you are CEO of one of the most important spectacle frames manufacturers in Germany. You sell around 1.5 million frames and sunglasses per year. You supply frames under license for renowned brands like Davidoff, Jaguar, Joop, Morgan as well as ZEISS and sell glasses by Guess, Skechers and Gant. How do you and your team approach the ever new collections? Which trends are your ideas based on, if any?
Eberhard Müller-Menrad: Generally speaking, it is important to make a distinction between the two major types of spectacle frames, those for sunglasses and those for corrective glasses i.e. for use with ground spectacle lenses. These two markets function very differently with regard to design. Sunglasses essentially depend more on fashion trends and the brand name - often the label is significantly more important for the buyer. Trends here are set by Italian designers in particular. At the moment, retro 70s and 80s styles are very much in demand. The frames are less curved and the lenses are not as large as they once were.
Spectacle frames used as aids for vision – i.e. those with a corrective function – need to meet other requirements however. The brand name helps but is not as important as with sunglasses. The deciding factor in this case, is that the glasses afford the customer better and more comfortable vision and that he or she looks good in them. For us as frame manufacturers, this makes designing the frames very interesting of course.
BETTER VISION: Sounds very exciting. But how do you keep tabs on developments and trends in this area?
Eberhard Müller-Menrad: You need to develop a feeling for this. Initially, new design trends will be found more in the niche markets, with smaller frame designers for instance. Around ten years ago, rimless frames were very fashionable. The lenses were smaller at both the top and bottom of the lens. Oval lenses were also very much the height of fashion. Today, plastic frames made from acetate are more in demand.
When it comes to choosing spectacle frames with a corrective function, recommendations of optometrists play a key role. Of course, this also depends very much on which frames are suitable for the specified lenses. But experienced optometrists will make a valuable preselection for their customers as to which frames match their needs and face shape. Generally speaking, there are two basic types here. Firstly, wearers who want their glasses to be invisible, we might say. By this I mean frames that blend as harmoniously as possible into the face and that are largely inconspicuous. The second type of wearer is more motivated by fashion and accordingly sees their glasses as a fashion accessory.
Since we also design for well-known brand labels at Menrad, our frame collections need to tally precisely with the relevant brand philosophy, as well as general trends in relation to lens size, color, materials and also temple design. With the Jaguar brand, which has been part of our portfolio for 27 years now, we're currently working on a very sophisticated glasses design for men. For this, we base our designs on Jaguar cars for example when it comes to choice of materials like carbon. Joop frames need to reference the designs in their fashion collection. The Carl Zeiss brand stands for precision, clarity, perfect vision and quality. Needless to say, this has to be reflected in the frames too.
BETTER VISION: How, in this context, did you come to develop the ErgoFlexx collection for ZEISS ?
Eberhard Müller-Menrad: The basis for this development was, among other things, a consumer study by ZEISS. In this, consumers were asked what they expected first and foremost from their glasses. According to this study, there were five very important requirements: the glasses must be comfortable and enable optimal vision, they ought to be of decent quality and have a good service life and also complement the wearer's personality.
By developing ErgoFlexx and, more recently, the brand new ErgoFlexx Individual, our aim is to cater precisely for these requirements. It is particularly important for us that optimal wearing comfort is attained. With ErgoFlexx Individual, optometrists can compose an individual pair of glasses for a customer from an entire range of individual components such as temple, lens size, colors etc. This modular system is highly sophisticated at a technical level and allows 6,180 different combinations. Our many years of know-how from glasses help us here of course. Some of our staff have been working in the field for 30–40 years.
To take just one example: for progressive lenses, in addition to the minimum depth of lenses, the so-called inclinability of the glasses is particularly important for comfortable vision. Inclination is the tilt of the glasses and ought to be roughly 8 – 10 degrees. On frames with wide temples, the angle of inclination cannot be adjusted. ErgoFlexx is inclinable and optometrists can customize the angle to the individual wearer.
BETTER VISION: That sounds like a lot of work. How long do you need to develop a new collection of spectacle frames? Are the lifecycles of a frames collection identical to those in the fashion industry?
Eberhard Müller-Menrad: Our team of designers and product managers have a preliminary project time of around one year for a collection but produce throughout the whole year.
With frames, we have two major launch dates: first in January and then in August of each year. We present more than 250 new models per year to optometrists.
Compared to the past, the eyewear industry today is more fashion-based. The lifecycles of models are significantly shorter and there are less units sold per model – just like in the fashion industry. Unlike with fashion collections however, which are ordered by retailers in advance, we need to be on hand to supply optometrists all year round.
BETTER VISION: Looking back over the past few years, what have the developments been with regard to design and materials? What direction will developments in the area of frame design be taking in the near future?
Eberhard Müller-Menrad: As far as I'm concerned, there are two major trends that have been continuing for some time now. Spectacle wearers are becoming more confident when it comes to colors. With the Joop brand, we noticed this trend very early on, more than 6/7 years ago. In fashion eyewear, the so-called "nerd glasses" with broad, black frames are currently in high demand.
The second trend can be observed with regard to materials. Stainless steel has significantly increased in importance here. Small frame manufacturers such as IC Berlin have been setting the trend with spectacle frames die-cut from metal. The frames have a very two-dimensional look and this type of glasses offers lots of new design options.