Eyeglasses guru launches a new collaboration with friend Jean Paul Gaultier
Although Alain Mikli has been called a guru and hailed as the godfather of modern eyewear, he'd happily settle for being known simply as "artisan." He has no use for weighty descriptors. He unburdened himself of the title "boss" in 2009 when he completed a deal with an investment fund for a 47-per-cent stake in his business.
Today he is content to concentrate on life and doing what he does well - which is designing some of the world's most distinctive optical frames and sunglasses.
"I wanted to have my freedom again, not to worry anymore about the management and the life of the company," said Mikli, in Toronto last week for the launch of his latest collection, crafted in collaboration with his old friend Jean Paul Gaultier and available in Canada exclusively at Karir.
While the Mikli company continues an aggressive expansion that saw the recent opening of stores in Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, San Francisco and Los Angeles (and plans for three new shops a year for the next five years), Mikli, who lives in Paris, is sticking to a more personal expansionist agenda.
In North America for a four-city tour (including a party in New York to mark the 20th anniversary of his first retail outlet in that city), Mikli, 56, is accompanied by Florence, with whom he is starting a new family, their first child due in April.
He already has two sons, one of whom, Jérémy Tarian, has already impressed his father and the rest of the optical world as a promising talent. But Mikli says he is leaving Tarian "to grow by himself, and to make his own mistakes," while Pop applies himself with renewed vigour to the sort of creativity that he became famous for in the 1980s.
Back then, Mikli designed eyeglasses for a runway show by the hottest names in French fashion - Claude Montana and Gaultier. In fact, he had a licensing arrangement with Montana, and Gaultier wanted one, too. But, says Mikli, "I didn't want too many. Licensing is not really my thing."
Instead, Gaultier went into production with MURAI, a Japanese company, and enjoyed huge success with industrial-style metal frames identifiable by their screws and coils. After Murai went out of business, Gaultier found other partners; he also found out licensing deals don't always let a designer be identifiable.
"So he called me," says Mikli. "It was the same people, same attitude, same dress code, same way to talk. And I say, 'My God, what am I doing here!'"
Mikli is as impatient with the pretense of fashion as he is with the bullroar of show business, which he got a taste of a few years back when he supplied the shutter shades that became a signature of Kanye West.
"He's a nice guy when he's alone," Mikli says of the musician. "As soon as there are two or three of his people around him, he becomes a star."
Whatever misgivings Mikli had about the world of fashion, he finds Gaultier
"very easy to work with, because he has so many ideas." They were able to come up with a collection that met their standards.
The distinguishing feature of the frames in the Jean Paul Gaultier by Mikli collection (which cost from $325 to $460) are the temples, which have multiple ribs, reminiscent of the corset, a Gaultier icon. The sides of some frames have two prongs that act as a comb, turning eyeglasses into hair bands. Others are like three temples in one, spread in a fan formation and seemingly less practical and more like an amusing exercise in Dadaist absurdity.
Still, Mikli has imagination left over for other endeavours. Working with LG, the Korean electronics giant, he has developed 3-D glasses to go with 3-D televisions. Also, he's busy deciding what to do with Vuarnet, a French eyewear brand that the Mikli company acquired a couple of years ago. He continues to design a Starck collection in collaboration with industrial designer Philippe Starck, another friend.
And, of course, there is his own signature collection, the latest of which is called Prince of Sassoun. Of Armenian origin, Mikli was inspired by a hero from Armenian folklore, reimagined by illustrator Alban Guillemois. Fanciful and rich in detail, the collection mixes layers and colours that owe much to the legend of Alain Mikli.