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Click through to read the Tommy O’Gara and John Mayer interview by Rie Iizuka for fashion–headline.com, a Japanese Fashion news website.
There’s an eyewear brand that Grammy–winning musician John Mayer is crazy about. The name of the brand is “Max Pittion.” Mr. Mayer acquired the manufacturing license for the brand, which went out of business in the 70s. The artist teams up with Tommy O’Gara of The Light Co. Ltd., who designs eyewear for numerous brands to revive the legendary brand.The French eyewear brand was founded by Max Pittion in 1921 in Oyonnax of the Jura department. Oyonnax was a large producer of eyewear at the time. Taking on the factory started by his father, Max expanded business by manufacturing designs for luxury brands such as Lanvin and Azzaro under licensing agreements. Exports also increased, but in the 70s, with the flourishing of the industry in Japan, production of eyewear in Jura began to decline. Max withdrew from the business in 1981 and enjoyed life after retirement until his death in 2009.We interviewed Mr. Mayer, who was visiting Japan, and Mr. Ogara about the “new” Max Pittion and its charms.
– What led to the acquisition of the manufacturing license of the brand?
Mayer: One day, I was surfing the net to look for some vintage designs and I came across the Politician sunglasses. I really liked the design and I purchased it, but unfortunately it was too small for me. But I didn’t want to give up on the chance of wearing them so I decided to obtain the manufacturing license to revive the brand. I like designs which are created by hand with profound meanings. They don’t need to be too fancy. What I love is usually popular amongst others too. When I found out that the brand no longer existed, I asked myself if I would be able to revive it, and the answer was “yes.” In order to re–start the brand, I placed importance on creating a relationship with the founding family. I didn’t just want to buy the rights and do as I please, that’s not my style. I was able to connect with the family and hear stories about the past and see historical photos relating to the brand. The logo is from the 1940s and the tag is originally designed. With help from Tommy, I was able to faithfully re–create past designs with modern re–touches.
– How did you meet Mr. O’Gara?
O’Gara: We’d actually met several times in the past in various places (laugh). It started off when I bumped into John at a meeting and we talked about how we had many common friends. Finding out that John was a collector of special items, we kind of hit it off.
Mayer: My belief is that “an idea that sticks is valuable.” I’ve been involved in many projects up until now, and on the way, I have lost interest and forgotten about certain ideas. The things I leave behind were probably not meant to be (laugh). I’m a musician because I love it and it interests me. I don’t consider throwing this career away.
OGara: We were lucky to have been able to borrow designs in the archives from the family. We decorated the store window with old photos framed in antique gold frames and by placing the brand logo on a box for storing a French hat. Without the background on the brand history and the archive collections, we wouldn’t have known what to do about branding. Mayer: There are thousands of companies in the world which produce eyewear. Max Pittion is different in that it doesn’t just sell products, it moves you. I am a fanatic when it comes to eyewear (laugh) which is why I can detect what is real. I’m not satisfied with common things. I like things that make an impact. OGara: We put a lot of effort in reproducing the original designs. This time, we designed them using cottonseed oil. The designs are very delicate and beautiful when colors are added. They are firm and won’t scratch easily either.
– Celluloid was the main substance used for the original designs, correct?
OGara: Yes. We wanted to be in touch with the brand’s history. The Pittion family started off as a producer of combs in Jura of France in the 40s. At the time, celluloid was discovered and used to create combs by adding punches to the material. Max Pittion and his father thought of designing eyewear with the same substance, which is how the brand came to be. It was the golden age for celluloid, but one problem was that when burned, it would produce toxic gases. The material no longer works today. On the other hand, cottonseed oil doesn’t produce toxic gases when burned. 18K and 10K plating adds luxurious taste to the designs, and the items are durable.
– Eyewear from Max Pittion is already being lined up at select shops worldwide.
OGara: In Tokyo, they are available at trendy select shops such as Dover Street Market Ginza and Restir. At eyewear specialty shops, Cradle, Globe Specs, Blink and Continuer. All shops have passion and spirit.
– Your market is global.
OGara: We held a launch party at Colette in Paris and we plan to sell the items at high–end stores in California. We’re not in a rush though; we want to take one step at a time. Our products are not marketed towards those who want to purchase abundantly supplied items (laugh).
Mayer: I already have an established career as a musician so I want to be prudent and take time to grow the business. Which is why I think it will be successful. If I market the brand under my name, I might be able to create a big brand fairly quickly, but once the brand is big, it is hard to change directions. I want to take things slowly and making adjustments on the way.
OGara: I operate my own factory so I was able to go by trial and error. Mayer: We came up with many ideas when making the trial products.
– So Mr. Mayer, you are involved in the design process as well?
Mayer: Of course!
OGara: We design trial products together to come up with specifications. We then make alterations to make them more widely acceptable. For the initial design process, we cooperate to create something that is our own. When too many people are involved, character becomes weak.
– Aside from your favorite Politician series, what else is available?
OGara: The Shelby and Newell series. The Politician series comes in two sizes.
– Is the Politician series associated with what it is named after?
Mayer: It is. The image of the series differs from the image we have of politicians today though. I think the designs are similar to romantic politicians such as John F. Kennedy. He is like the royal family to the US. He was also smart and stylish, representing a time when people admired politicians.
OGara: Japanese politicians of that time were also pretty out there (laugh).
Mayer: I didn’t become a musician for the money. I wanted to create music which is real and meaningful. The creative process is very important and something to be proud of. For some, becoming major and selling lots is most important, but this way of thinking is usually reflected in the products as well.
OGara: Let me introduce one of the aspects of our designs. The gold rivets used for frames. These aren’t decorations, they make the frame stronger. This method was practiced in 1940, and it is really difficult to reproduce the same effect now. Do you see that the rivets pierce through the frame? These make the designs very fashionable and also the frames adjustable. This was the most important aspect for us and perhaps the craziest. Most of the eyewear sold today is made by embedding hinges. With rivets, if you make one mistake, the frame is destroyed. The 10K rivets are soft in comparison to steel and the implementation is a very delicate process.
– Do you wear the designs from Max Pittion at your live performances or any other places?
Mayer: No, I don’t wear sunglasses on stage.
OGara: Eye contact with the audience is pretty important (laugh).
Mayer: I want to separate my music from the brand. To me, they are two different things. I think it’d be a mistake to involve Max Pittion into my music. If I were performing live at an outdoor concert, I might wear the sunglasses, but that won’t be for promotion. Many celebrities use their names to sell products, but I don’t want to do that. For me, passion is what links my music and the brand. I enjoy creating music albums and also carrying out ideas. I’ve had many ideas that interested me, but most of them I gave up on. Giving up is also a skill I think. I now understand that what comes to shape has the right concept. In order to develop Max Pittion to the current state, I had many many talks with Tommy. Our talks are very important, in fact the most important because without them we wouldn’t be able to produce such great products. There are times when our discussions are stopped in the middle. In those cases, they just weren’t meant to be. There were several times when I wanted to give up. But in the end, my interest in the products is never–ending. Even now, I’m thinking about whether asymmetrical sunglasses would work or not. Tommy, what do you think about round lenses for the right and square ones for the left?
OGara: How about making one of the lenses bigger than the other? (laugh). We can even put letters on them. How about writing your name onto them?
Mayer: Let’s write the owner’s name!
OGara: Really? That’s a lot of work (laugh). Maybe we can do that for the trunk show.
Mayer: Using classic machinery of course.
– So for you, this is not just a second business. It’s another passion for you.
Mayer: This is the first time that I own the products. Because this is mine. CDs are not my products. But I feel that Max Pittion is my own. The brand exists as a base for ideas, and it shows me where I should be heading. I find that wonderful. My music is my product, but related videos and such are not mine. And when it comes to music, I’m not the one making all the decisions. As a musician, I think it is important for me to know what I don’t want to be rather than what I want to be. We’re all the same, and we all make the same types of mistakes. So the image of what I don’t want to be is something that people can relate to, and it has an impact. No matter how many hit numbers I produce, I am always conscious of how much I am making. Because if I don’t hit the target, I worry that my contract will be terminated. This fact in itself affects the decisions I make. In terms of the brand though, we have nothing to fear. We just want to create things that are cool. It’s simple.
OGara: And we’ve been accomplishing what we are after.
Mayer: It’s not about the money.
OGara: What we want is passion and quality. Mayer: I really love having my own brand. I’m thrilled to have a place where I can channel my creative energy as I please.