This Eyewear Legend Wants You to See the World Through the Lens of Coolness and Fun
Whether we see the future as bright or bleak, blinding or fuzzy, we should approach it with a good pair of eyewear. Call it serendipity then that legendary eyewear designer, Tommy O'Gara—former president and director of DITA Asia, co-founder of Native Sons (with Neighborhood’s Shinsuke Takizawa), and founder of Parisian luxury optical brand Sauvage—marked the last few days of the decade with a pop-up of his fine spectacles at Ronnie & Joe in Rockwell.
Tommy O’Gara is the man behind the coolest eyewear brands.
“I work really well on these trunk shows because I can work with a lot of people. It gives me a chance to spend time with different people and style them,” O’Gara started as he toured me around the shop installation. Here, we found his iconic Craftline and Butcher collections from Native Sons, pieces from the special Ronnie & Joe x Native Sons collaboration, the highly coveted Sacai x Native Sons sunglasses, and the Sauvage Eyewear spring/summer 2020 collection. The last two sets are now available for pre-order for a February 2020 drop.
“Today, I sold four frames in the last hour or so, and they’re all frames I chose,” O’Gara added, just before coaxing me to try Native Sons’ hexagonal and titanium-framed Chino, which he claimed makes me look like a modern-day beat poet. Call him a savvy businessman or a truly affable fellow, he sure has a way to frame a personality to a pair of eyewear.
The sage of sunglasses employs a Zen-like production process in Japan.
Whatever the case is, it must have come from his decades-long experience as the sage of sunglasses. Now, Tommy O’ Gara helms The Light Co. Ltd., a luxury eyewear factory in Japan, where pieces from his brands Native Sons and Sauvage, alongside eyewear for labels like Ambush, Deus Ex Machina, Neighborhood, Visvim, and Supreme are meticulously handcrafted. “My house and studio are in a small beach town outside of Tokyo called Chigasaki. We’re on the beach. I can do color very well there with the sky, the sea, plus we can see Mt. Fuji every morning,” O’Gara shared.
More than the sights, however, O’Gara’s move to Japan also introduced him to a Zen-like approach to eyewear production. “In Japanese, we say, koritsu-ga ii. It’s a triangle, a very efficient triangle, from concept to store, from the drawing board to the end-user. The way of bringing the collections together, the sampling and prototyping, and bringing it out in the market is very efficient,” he said.
This fabled triangle starts with O’Gara’s sketchbook. “At first, it’s introspective, but it has to come out. You can’t design inside your mind all the time. I draw emotionally, and then I start to build it from there,” he shared of being more inspired by music and films than general eyewear trends or directions. “I look at cars, airplanes, bikes, knives, and things like that. So when I design a component, it has a vibe behind it.”
O’Gara wants to be conscientious above all.
These components, from the tool wires to the arrow-shaped hinges to the acetate and titanium frames, are all hand-assembled in his home factory. “Having your own factory cuts a lot of the issues. We prototype and sample very quickly. It’s not like I’m working with a middleman with a lot of different factories. By collection, we use the same parts, so we stock them, we pre-order all our parts. We go on a production of 300 to 500 frames, and it’s shipped in two days,” he noted.
This efficiency, however, isn’t reflective of the fast-fashion formula the bigger brands are currently banking on. O’Gara believes that his unique brand of efficiency makes Native Sons more sustainable. “We produce in a leapfrog manner where I’m not overproducing. We are very careful not to overproduce, and to be able to grow the brand very organically with like-minded people. We’re not trying to be the biggest or the baddest. We’re just trying to be what we are, to be conscientious, to have a good time, and enjoy what we do,” he said.
He believes collaborations are ‘gravy.’
This “cheerful mindfulness” is seen in the much-fabled Sacai x Native Sons fall/winter 2019 collab, remixes on the classic cat’s eye and Wayfarer silhouettes using striking and sturdy acetates. “All my acetates are made by Takinom, and they are all made from cotton oil, not a petrochemical. They’re deeper, they’re richer, a lot harder, and they don’t pollute the atmosphere when we destroy them. These are not going to remain polluting the earth,” O’Gara revealed.
Despite the global success of his brands, Native Sons and Sauvage, O’Gara still chooses to keep his stable busy with star-powered collaborations, including the much-awaited partnership with Ronnie & Joe. “For me, collaboration is the gravy. It keeps you fresh. You have different parameters. You produce something that neither of you would produce by yourself. That’s a true collaboration, not just putting someone’s name on it,” he said.
O’Gara is a positive person that keeps moving forward.
However, what’s not lost in these collaborations is the individual soul of O’Gara’s creativity, which features well into Native Son’s brand philosophy, as well as his personal history. “Native Sons was inspired by World War II. It was so horrific for the people who survived, but it also changed them. They started the industrial design revolution. When you come down to what came out of the war, it has gone full-circle. Aluminum, airplanes, assembly-line. War is horrible, you have to be emphatic that it’s not worth it. But all that technology, even today, the drones, the Internet, where did they come from? They’re all war machines,” he explained.
O'Gara shared how he studied anatomy in school, "cutting up cadavers and everything," and after the Vietnam War, when a lot of people came back with missing limbs, he planned to design prosthesis. This he was able to apply to the making of sunglasses.
And now, while the coming days may still seem a bit hazy for O’Gara, be it the state of global eyewear sales (“My company lost around $200,000 in sales because of the Hong Kong riots”) to the future leadership of his company (“I doubt my sons are going to keep on running this business. They’re all creative, but they don’t seem to be too interested. I don’t force it to them”), he chooses to view things with a happy frame of mind, seen under dark "Batman black" (“It’s this color I designed, inspired by the old blue-black Batman suits”) lenses.
“I’m a super positive person. I’m not a negative person. I just keep things moving forward,” O’Gara said. “I’m looking for the future in that respect, to bring in capital and people that want to carry this on, and, at the same time, bring in a couple of designers and train them from zero. From taking walks, picking up garbage, and growing it, have them learn about engineering and to keep them away from copying.”
But perhaps the best tip one can get from Tommy O’Gara, who has gone from luxury eyewear to the sustainable specs is this: “You just got to have fun, man. When you stop having fun, it’s all over.”
The Ronnie and Joe x Native Sons collaboration and the Butcher and Craftline collection are now available for purchase. The Sauvage Eyewear and the Sacai x Native Sons capsule collection are available for pre-order and will arrive in February 2020. facebook.com/ronnieandjoe/