Do you ever wonder how spectacle frames are designed? Students at the Royal College of Art have a chance to take part in an exciting design competition each year, and the winning frames are displayed at the eyewear industry’s trade show, 100% Optical. Read on to find out more about the competition and meet some of this year’s winners.

The competition has been a collaboration with the Royal College of Art Fashion Masters degree and School of Design and the 100% Optical since the fair began in London in 2014. Senior Tutor in Fashion Footwear Accessories Millinery and Eyewear (FAME) Flora McLean says, “I was keen to run this with fashion and accessories students as that is my area of expertise in the University. I run my own fashion label, House of Flora, as well as teaching and expanded to include spectacle eyewear design, so over the years I have built up a network of contacts and friends in this area and share these with the cohort each year. They include, frame makers, opticians, the Eyewear Museum curator and independent designers and makers.”

This year’s brief for students was about reflecting on the past to help us look at each other now and help us see into the future, a more sustainable and a less throw away one. Students used acetate materials from an amazing factory in London, Algha on Fish Island in Bow.  

The frames on display are the first attempts these students would have had to design and make eyewear and learn about the practice and its history. Flora says, “Students would normally design clothing accessories or artifacts. Each year I am bowled over by the passion that goes into these final frame concepts. This year’s focus was on sustainability and new technology and for the students to express their own identity as a designer/ brand DNA via frame design, bearing in mind the customer and the fit . We collected the vintage Mazzuchelli acetate from what was previously Algha in Bow.”

Previously the University had been sponsored by Mazzuchelli acetate as well as LAES in Varese with some amazing materials. Flora says, “We went on a visit to the plant in Italy back in 2018 for a tour of how the material is made. We plan to return this autumn with the new finalists and all the staff that helped make these frames possible.”

Many of the finalists used the Royal Colleges Robotic CNC milling machine with the expert help and guidance from Steve Bunn. Students this year and in the past have worked alongside the Royal College of Art’s skilled dewellery technician, designer and problem solver Peter Musson. The combination of thinking, making, ingenuity in the technical team and beyond enable the students to learn and see their frames come to life each year.

There is an amazing judging panel for the competition, giving all the students who enter the chance to showcase their work to key influencers in the industry. Flora says, “Ackeem from Reframd, one of the 100 Percent Love eyewear finalists, was also part of the briefing back in November and he highlighted the importance of fit and the variety of face and head shape and sizes.”

Judges 

  • Lawrence Jenkin / Frame maker 
  • Brian McGinn / De Selby
  • Ackeem Ngwenya / Reframd
  • Shariff Vreugd / Reframd
  • Jason Kirk  / Kirk & Kirk
  • Romain Caillaud / Cubitts
  • Jennifer Wong / Alexander McQueen designer 
  • Yili Cao / Burberry designer ( RCA alumni)

Some of the previous winners have their frames exhibited in the British Optical museum.

Winner 2022

This year’s winner is fashion second year Maria Nava. Flora says, “Her highly technical Headset has many methods of making frames and has 3D printed parts as well, a traditional acetate. It’s really inspiring to see new ideas come through and change students’ perception of the industry and literally open their eyes to another field of design.

Finalists 2022

  • Ciccy lyu / Fashion year 2
  • Joyce Addai Davis / Fashion year 1
  • Maria Nava / Fashion year 2
  • Morag Seaton / Fashion year 1
  • Sofia Sanchez / Fashion year 1
  • Yuwei Yang (Erin) / FAME year 2

Watch out for posts in coming days from the finalists, showcasing their work and talking about what they got out of learning about spectacle design. And you can follow the RCA FAME course on Instagram.

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