theo eyewear

Astonishing product design & funky brands

Back in 2009, I wrote about Alessi and its ability to keep its brand alive through product innovation. While rereading that blog post, as well as looking back at the beginnings of SCHMOOZY FOX's blog, and the content that I've created over time, I feel like reiterating this important for me thought: product innovation and design are very powerful elements of any funky brand.  

Manyt of the funky brands that I've spoken about on this blog are good at design -- be it product design or visual identity. Think of Theo eyewear, Kipling bags,  Biomega bikes or Ice Watch -- product design is an important element of their brand DNA. Or, let's take, for instance, Mad Mimi -- a funky visual identity makes this email marketing service stand out from the crowd in a very refreshing way.

 

Many Funky Brands can be spotted at major events and conferences dedicated to design. I wish I was now at the Milan Design Week, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. Alessi is also present there with its latest designs, check them out here.

Interview with Belgian fashion designer Tim Van Steenbergen

Tim Van Steenbergen I love Antwerp. It’s a city of great fashion, outstanding design and funky shops. My discovery of funky brands from Antwerp began with an interview with Wim Somers, founder of Theo. It was at the very end of that interview that Wim mentioned Theo’s collaboration with a talented young Antwerp designer, Tim Van Steenbergen, who worked on Theo’s sunglasses collection.

I noted down Tim’s name with the intention of finding out more details about him later. While I was waiting for my train to Brussels at the Antwerp Central Station, I was browsing through magazines at a press kiosk, and the first article I randomly opened was... an interview with Tim Van Steenbergen!

I don’t quite remember which magazine it was, but here’s my very own interview with Tim.

Tim’s professional credentials are outstanding -- the prêt-a-porter collection that bears his name is on the radar screen of many Hollywood celebrities, he’s Creative Director of the successful upmarket fashion label Chine, and he creates costumes for performances at La Scala. Given the wide range of projects Tim Van Steenbergen is involved in, I thought that an interesting topic to talk about would be his personal brand.

Olga from SCHMOOZY FOX and Tim. Image courtesy of Tim Van Steenbergen

SCHMOOZY FOX: Tim, how do you present yourself to someone who has not heard about you and your work?

Tim Van Steenbergen: (smiling) It’s actually a difficult question since I do so many different things! A good way to present myself is to say that I create a universe of style, a way of dressing, based on classic traditions of craftsmanship. Fabrics and their texture play a very important role in this universe. Sometimes I feel that I use fabrics in the same way as a sculptor would use marble, clay or metal to create something from scratch. I remember being fascinated by fabrics when I was only 4 years old!

SCHMOOZY FOX: What makes you passionate about your work?

Tim Van Steenbergen: Emotions! I love the fact that my designs are able to provoke very strong emotions in people who wear them. And it actually doesn’t matter if these emotions are negative or positive -- it’s often the controversy that matters. When my designs shake people up, bring exuberance in their lives, and don’t leave them indifferent, I feel like I’ve achieved something very important.

Rihanna in Tim Van Steenbergen. Image courtesy of Tim Van Steenbergen

I also like to get to know the people who will end up wearing the clothes I make. In this sense, working with the actors at La Scala has been very satisfying as I was making each costume for a particular person. In the theatre environment, I want to understand actors as people, making costumes that fit their personalities, and the roles they play.

Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen for La Scala

SCHMOOZY FOX: I can see that this can work well in the theater, but in fashion?

Tim Van Steenbergen: In fashion, it is of course rarely possible to create prêt-a-porter collections with every individual customer in mind. I often come across my clothes worn by people on the streets worldwide. It’s rather easy to spot them on celebrities, but what’s more exciting is when “ordinary” people wear them. It makes me want to know more about these people, and their feelings when they wear my designs.

Jennifer Lopez, Misha Barton and Princess Claire of Belgium alike have been spotted wearing Tim Van Steenbergen

SCHMOOZY FOX: I guess that all of the above refers to your label, Tim Van Steenbergen. How does the work at Chine fit into your overall personal brand?

Tim Van Steenbergen: I think it benefits my personal brand. I think it’s important for any designer to demonstrate that he or she can come into another company, with its specific corporate culture and ways of doing things, jump in and deliver good results. This shows that I can successfully collaborate and inspire another brand, and it’s a valuable skill for any designer. The designs I create for Chine are different from the ones I create for my own label. The style of my clothes is architectural, structural, if you will. Chine’s style is fluid, poetic, inspired by the 19th century.

Fluidity of Chine and geometry of Tim Van Steenbergen, created by the same designer

SCHMOOZY FOX: It sounds like you appreciate getting into different roles -- maybe that’s why you like your project at La Scala? Perhaps you have the talent for acting too?

Tim Van Steenbergen: (laughing) I’ve never thought of it this way, but yes, I guess you are right! I like having all these different roles and exploring them.

SCHMOOZY FOX: By the way, how do you manage to stay creative when you do so many different things?

Tim Van Steenbergen: I think I am creative BECAUSE I do so much. I manage to separate all the different projects I am working on. Each of them requires different approaches and results in different “end products” . I am pretty good at organizing myself: whenever I need to tap into my creativity and work for Chine, I can do it, and when I am building a new collection for my own label -- I can jump into it easily as well!

What breeds my creativity is also doing sports and reading novels. The latter is like entering another universe, and exploring it can be a very special journey that inspires my work.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you tell our readers about your plans for the near future? What professional universe would you like to explore?

Tim Van Steenbergen: As already mentioned, I would like to find ways of creating clothes with concrete people in mind. All of my collections are sold through high-end boutiques worldwide. I am thinking of offering them very exclusive limited collections in due course. Boutiques know their clients very well, and there’s certainly scope to make limited collections tailored to these customers, their personalities and lifestyles. And this is certainly a very funky and exciting universe to explore!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thank you Tim, enjoy this funky journey of creativity!

Theo loves you

Photo courtesy of theo: view from the top floor of theo office to the patio

As I was walking through the windy Antwerp streets yesterday, I quickly gave in to the overpowering atmosphere of design, fashion and great interiors typical of this great city. I was on a mission to meet one of the important players on the Antwerp fashion and style scene, as well as internationally, Wim Somers, founder of a funky eyewear brand, theo. At the end of my journey through Antwerp's most fashionable streets that are host of great shops and funky cafés, I reached theo's office building. As I entered it, the exuberance of colors struck me with a good dose of positive energy, that I especially appreciated on a cold and grey day. My funky journey began, and here's an account of what I discovered by talking with Wim Somers, who had founded theo back in 1988.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Wim, the main reason I am here is that a couple of weeks ago I went to my favorite optician's store in Brussels, Capelle Opticien, to get a new pair of glasses. After having a little chat with the shop owner, I was recommended this great pair of theo glasses. Its design, a big edgy and unusual, and yet extremely elegant, prompted me to find out more about your company.

The frame came in a bright box, which displayed a very simple yet quite powerful message: theo loves you. Could you tell me the story behind this brand slogan? Wim Somers: We have been using this slogan for over 20 years now. It began as a memo on an order form and has developed into the slogan of the brand theo. This phrase communicates theo's core philosophy quite well. Since we distribute our glasses through opticians' stores, we rarely touch the final consumer.  By stating that theo loves our final consumers, we have a better chance of connecting with them closer, and communicating the fact that we have first and foremost their interests and their tastes in mind when we design our glasses. The phrase theo loves you encapsulates the spirit of the company, which is loving and friendly.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What makes theo so different? How do you make sure you stand out from the crowd?

Wim Somers and Olga Slavkina

Wim Somers: I guess, I can mention strong recognition of our brand, and our distinct style, by the end user. This is our strength and differentiating factor.

SCHMOOZY FOX: And who are your customers? What is the profile of theo's “typical customer”?

Wim Somers: For theo, the most important characteristics of our customers have to do with their emotional profile. By the way, these days more and more business people talk about emotional marketing, but when we started the company, it wasn't so common. However, already at that time, we thought of our customers in terms of their emotional profiles, not only gender, age and location. When we started, we served a very narrow avant-garde niche. With time, the niche expanded greatly, and now I can say that our customers are people with personality, those who prefer top-quality design that allows them individual expression of style and personality to the power of “labels”.

Photo courtesy of theo: Flandria model

SCHMOOZY FOX: I have the impression that most of the big eyewear brands are actually brand extensions of big fashion brands. Since theo is purely an eyewear brand, what are the advantages of that?

Wim Somers: Our advantage is that we are very strong at superior design, something that big fashion labels, that usually work through licensing agreements, do not often have.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Do you think of yourself in terms of geographical scope? For instance, do you say that you are an international brand, a Belgian brand, an Antwerp brand? Wim Somers: Well, I often associate theo with Antwerp, but we're often approached by opticians from many different countries who have heard of us as an international brand.

Photo courtesy of theo: Andalouse model

SCHMOOZY FOX: theo is for sure an important player on the Antwerp fashion scene. How does actually the image of Antwerp, you can say, the Antwerp brand, help you? Do you think that Antwerp has a strong image internationally?

Photo courtesy by theo: another snapshot of theo's funky office

Wim Somers: An interesting fact is that our end consumers usually know about Antwerp, and the fact that it's a style, design and fashion city. In fact, the end consumer is much more aware of Antwerp, and the fact that theo comes from Antwerp, than our collaborating opticians! The latter have rarely heart of Martin Margiela or Dries Van Noten, who are  famous fashion designers from Antwerp.

We often tap into the great fashion and style resources that exist in Antwerp. For instance, we have recently collaborated with an Antwerp-based rising star of fashion design, Tim Van Steenbergen, to create a spring-summer 2010 sunglasses collection.

SCHMOOZY FOX: What are the values of theo brand, and how do they correspond to your personal values? Wim Somers: Positive attitude to life, quirkiness, and fun.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Could you give your personal advice to anyone who wants to build a funky brand? Be different. Observe. Look at people in the street, see what they like and dislike doing.  I do most of my “customer research” in modern art museums around the world. Just by looking at their visitors, I can definitely get a good feeling forhow popular theo  is in that particular country!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Thanks for this  interview, and stay funky!