Chair Yuan: Shanghai's Own Luxury Eyewear Designer

    A handful of designers in China and elsewhere have taken it upon themselves to create frames designed not only to be sold to label-conscious Asian buyers, but to perfectly fit Asian faces.
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    Yuan's Custom Eyewear Line, Chair Eyes, Popular In Native Shanghai#

    Eyewear Designer, Chair Yuan (Image: BundPic)

    Most aspiring luxury shoppers in China may still dream about Chanel or Gucci sunglasses, but a handful of designers in China and elsewhere have taken it upon themselves to create frames designed not only to be sold to label-conscious Asian buyers, but to perfectly fit Asian faces. Earlier this year, Jing Daily interviewed the London-based designer, Fei Wang, whose eponymous brand of high-end sunglasses was created specifically for Asian women. Speaking about current trends in the Chinese eyewear market, Wang told us that a noticeable shift is becoming evident among wealthier consumers in top-tier Chinese cities, as these consumers are "slowly moving away from just big brands and designer brands and taking an interest in smaller designers, independent designers, and new designers as well."

    But Wang isn't the only eyewear designer looking to take advantage of the burgeoning interest in new brands among fashion-forward Chinese shoppers. This week, BundPic spoke to one designer, Chair Yuan, whose label Chair Eyes has caught on in his native Shanghai. Like Fei Wang, Yuan focuses on creating high-quality frames, with handmade details that more sophisticated buyers in China are finally beginning to appreciate. While Wang's eyewear is made in Britain, however, a small team of craftsmen in Fukui, Japan produce Yuan's designs.

    From Yuan's interview with Bundpic (translation by Jing Daily team):

    Bundpic (B): What made you want to become an eyewear designer?#

    Chair Yuan (CY)#

    : Originally I studied graphic design and got my first job as a magazine editor. Later I switched to a stylist's assistant, then slowly fell into the job of fashion stylist. During that period, I worked for companies like MTV, Coca-Cola and Channel V. Around 2006 I started to create my own fashion brand, and after a couple of years I realized I didn't want to do that anymore. I'd started collecting eyeglasses in 2003, and over the years had built up a collection of interesting designs. And just by chance, in 2008 my clothing brand had a two-year-long partnership with the boutique Gloss in Shanghai's Xintiandi [shopping and tourist area], so they sold my glasses in their store.

    Later, the owner of Gloss asked me if I wanted to do an annual eyewear series for them, so through his recommendation I changed my job again, working full-time on eyewear design. Our first original glasses were produced in November 2008, just a run of 100 pairs sold just at Gloss. We didn't expect many people to buy them, but they did, and we kept moving ahead gradually.

    B:What made you think you couldn't have eyeglasses as part of your clothing brand?#


    : I killed off the clothing brand not because it didn't fit me, but because it didn't fit with the prevailing market. I want to do something that suits the market. Now we're working on a new clothing brand, we've actually been preparing it for six months, doing proofs, looking for workshops. It takes time, though. I'm not going to sell a sub-par product. I want everything to be right. I'm kind of a perfectionist.

    B: So how long does it take to create a pair of Chair Eyes glasses, from conception to production? What do they cost?#


    : It takes about a month for designs to be finalized, another three to four weeks to produce samples, but the exact time depends on a lot of factors. For larger orders, everything takes about three months.

    All of our glasses, regardless of material and color, sell for 990 yuan (US$155). I want to price them competitively to get the attention of people who are shopping in this [higher-end] segment.

    B: Where does your design inspiration come from?#


    : Generally from classic films, old posters, or album covers. Stuff like "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

    B: What's been your most popular series?#


    : My personal favorite is the "Jackie" series, but lots of people like the "Hunk" series -- it's actually sold out. "Cecilia" is popular, too.

    B: And do you wear your own designs?#


    : I wear my own designs pretty often. Most of my styles are pretty gender-neutral.

    Cecilia Cheung in Chair Eyes' "Hunk" glasses (Image: Chair Yuan's Weibo)

    B: How about sales? What is your best-selling pair?#


    : Our sales have been just fine, and our best-selling is "Hunk," as I said. [Hong Kong actress] Cecilia Cheung wears that one sometimes. A year ago we sold every pair we'd made of that series, then waited another six months to sell them again, and now we're on track to completely sell out again within the next month.

    B: What do you think is the most essential quality for a designer?#


    : A combination of practicality and quality. I don't like to design things that are too strange. I want Chair Eyes glasses to be the kind of thing that people wear for a long time, rather than just another disposable product. In the future we'll create a new product line in conjunction with a number of artists, designers and brands, which will be a bit more design oriented.

    B: You've been involved in some projects in the past. Which have been particularly interesting or memorable?#


    : I had a collaboration with YOUNIK at Bund 18 [in Shanghai] that was a lot of fun. I got to know their marketing manager at a party, and soon they started to sell my products at their mall. But the most memorable was probably my 2008 collaboration with Gloss, because I never imagined the response would be so good.

    It really improved my confidence, because for the first time I thought the domestic Chinese market would accept me.

    The official Chair Eyes website appears to be down for maintenance, but Chair Yuan's designs can be found at YOUNIK in Bund 18 and selected stores in Shanghai. Additional updates and photos can be found on Chair Yuan's Weibo.

    YOUNIK at Bund 18#

    18 Zhongshan East Road, Shanghai
    Tel: (0086) 21 63238688

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