A talk with
From Cutler & Gross
The first thing you notice about Marie Wilkinson when you meet her is the way she looks at you. In this day and age where people seem more concerned by how they present themselves than really paying any concern to others, Wilkinson gives you the impression that she is actually noticing every single element of your person.
By Marie-Ève Venne
It is precisely this attention to detail that makes her such a success as the Design Director for the British cult eyewear brand, Cutler and Gross, since 1982. Creating couture glasses and sunglasses that combine modern silhouettes with exceptional quality, she is the mastermind behind the most lucrative collaborations of the brand, such as those with Margiela and Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garçons.
But having an exceptional flair for trends is not the only quality that helps Wilkinson with her day to day tasks for the brand. You only have to talk to her for a few minutes before realizing that the creative force that drives her is mostly fueled by a strong passion for what she does.
“When I was a little girl and I was 8, I had to have my first pair of glasses. It was magical! People were feeling sorry for me, but I was so excited about it. It was all about expressing my style,” states Wilkinson.
“When you are having a conversation with someone, you are not looking at their feet. You are looking at their eyes. That is how you are trying to get to know someone. When people are wearing interesting glasses, they usually use it to express themselves. And it makes you curious. You want to know more about that person. It’s like an inside into who they are. It is very interesting from an intellectual point of view,” she explains.
The brand she is working for, Cutler and Gross, is nothing short of fascinating. When Graham Cutler and Tony Gross founded Cutler and Gross in 1969 it was mostly about creating glasses for a modern world that was still stuck in the past in the eyewear department.
“They wanted to create frames that were modern and clean. They went with the music, the current politics and the nightlife rather than looking backwards. They were pioneers. They were hanging out with fashion designers and colorful people and started making glasses for their friends, but also to challenge people. Even to this day, that is the spirit of the brand. We want to obtain a reaction from people with our designs,” declares Wilkinson.
“I FEEL LIKE GLASSES CAN amplify THE PERSON YOU ARE, OR AT LEAST, SOME PARTS OF YOU. IF AT WORK YOU HAVE TO DRESS A CERTAIN WAY OR YOU HAVE TO WEAR A UNIFORM, YOU CAN actually be yourself WITH YOUR GLASSES.”
“Making glasses is not about us but our customers. We want to offer them the glasses of their dreams, and to do so, we have to listen to them. People come into our store and want to talk about glasses, design and styling. It’s a very social art. I love that it is something that brings people together. We also consider the sustainability aspect of the process, too. That is a priority. We are really open about how our sunglasses are made. People can even come visit our factories and see the people that are making their glasses. It’s like being a part of a family too you know,” adds Wilkinson.
The way she talks about glasses, you can tell that the psychological aspect of her craft is also very important to her.
“I feel like glasses can amplify the person you are, or at least, some parts of you. If at work you have to dress a certain way or you have to wear a uniform, you can actually be yourself with your glasses. But it’s funny because no one actually talks about having bad eyes. It is almost like the last taboo. We are all open about our personalities and our opinions, but we almost apologize for the fact that we need glasses. We should embrace it. Wearing glasses is fun after all.”
It’s no secret that Cutler and Gross has an army of celebrities as fans, the most noticeable being Victoria Beckham, Elton John, and Rei Kawakubo. Even though these names come from completely different worlds, they all seem to be connected by Wilkinson.
“I think that working with Rei Kawkubo was most definitely amazing. I have a profound respect for the person and her designs. She takes fashion and pushes it to a new direction. It was truly inspiring to have the chance to exchange with her and create together. I love to build a whole creative process – you know, when it all comes finally together, sometimes, almost by accident. Sometimes, you have an idea and you talk to the technicians working for the brand and they simply say why don’t you try this instead. It’s almost like making bread. You have to mix all together all the right ingredients to make the magic happens,” she declares with a smile.
For Marie Wilkinson, it is important to understand the brand and the market you are designing for, as well as understand the expectations of your brand and the extent of the skills of the factories you are working with.
“We are designing glasses for a broad range of people. When I start working on a new design, I am trying to think about what I would want to wear if I was a customer. We don’t mind making a small collection if we know it will satisfy some people. We can create something that is bold and stylish and yet wearable. We don’t make things that we expect people to like. Not all people like the same look. But we most definitely want a reaction from them. You know, no matter what you are wearing, as long as people want to look you in the eyes when you are wearing one of our models, I feel like we’ve fulfilled our mission,” she concludes.
– This interview was possible thanks to Antoine Laoun Opticien, which was celebrating their 10th anniversary at Mode and Design Festival with Marie Wilkinson as a special guest. Cutler & Gross glasses are available at Antoine Laoun stores in Quebec and at antoinelaoun.com.