LARKE: A Q&A With Laura Nicholson
Laura Nicholson is helping everyone see life through rose-tinted glasses.
The talented creative director founded eyewear label LARKE Optics in 2013 as a remedy for her long-standing fascination with specs and has witnessed the brand go from strength to strength. Known for slick, sophisticated designs that are handcrafted in England, LARKE has brought the everyday spectacles into the 21st century by perfecting the balance of individuality and wearability.
This unusual mix of contemporary style and traditional values meant LARKE seemed an intriguing choice for a collaboration when the topic of T&A eyewear arose.
‘When I met Laura Nicholson I was impressed with her drive; in the face of so much competition she had begun to carve out a niche. LARKE Optics is one of very few brands that manufacture in the UK, and the fact that they are located on our doorstep in London made it feel like the perfect opportunity. Laura works in a similar way as I would to develop archive fabrics so there was already a common red-thread from a design perspective.’ – Dean Gomilsek-Cole, Turnbull & Asser Head of Design.
After almost a year of discussions, designing, trialling, manufacturing and honing, the partnership project has produced a unique set of shades that reflect the tastes of the man about town. We sat down with Ms Nicholson to get some insight into her brand, background, style inspiration and future plans.
TA: Laura, you worked in marketing before you created LARKE three years ago – what was the catalyst for the transition into design?
LN: I have been myopic since childhood and because of this developed a natural obsession with glasses. Eyewear is an essential accessory for me and my frustration at the lack of quality eyewear in strong shapes and materials was the sole catalyst for designing my own.
My previous roles in marketing and visual communications have proved to be vital for starting up LARKE and establishing how to visually and socially communicate a fledgling brand.
TA: How would you describe your aesthetic? What makes LARKE designs differ from other like-minded brands on the market?
LN: LARKE’s aesthetic is minimal and uncomplicated. The collection is unisex and offers strong shapes in unexpected materials. The unique combination of traditional, age-old artisanal processes and use of rare and end-of-line materials results in limited edition runs and special one-off pieces.
TA: What are your sunglasses made from and how are they manufactured?
LN: All LARKE frames and collaborative designs are made from the finest Italian acetates. The workshop we use specialises in acetate eyewear production and boasts an incredible archive of the vintage, rare and obsolete materials. Like Aladdin’s cave, I can spend hours sifting through the materials, wiping away layers of dust to reveal incredible patterns and designs from decades gone by.
On average it takes several days to handcraft and finish a single pair of frames, this is simply due to several overnight processes they must go through to achieve the desired finish. Each pair is entirely handcrafted from start to finish by one single person, resulting in a frame of the upmost quality.
The Turnbull & Asser designs are assembled in an edit of five colour options with contrast sun lenses. The acetates selected are influenced by the bold monochrome palette seen in the spring/summer ’16 ‘Artist and Architect‘ collection, teamed with classic tonal hues of Smoked Brown and Tortoiseshell synonymous with iconic eyewear of the 1960s and 70s.
TA: Do you follow a different theme or inspiration for each collection?
LN: When approaching new designs I am mostly influenced by shape and form. Sometimes materials inspire a new shape, especially if it’s an obsolete acetate and I adopt a form-follows-colour approach. I don’t necessarily feel the pressure of working within the traditional fashion seasons, the collection is unisex and features a series of ten designs which are refreshed regularly with colour and sun lens options. Often the materials used will influence and inspire a concept for the campaign visuals which are updated biannually.
TA: Has there been a particularly memorable or stand-out moment in the early stages of LARKE that was a turning point for you?
LN: Yes, not long after I launched the collection I was commissioned to design a pair of bespoke frames for Sir Elton John. The opportunity and design brief were totally unexpected and certainly not in-keeping with LARKE’s usual simplistic aesthetic – it required hand-embellishing a pair of frames with over 300 tiny Swarovski crystals! To have the one person who is ultimately known for his love of eyewear wear a pair of frames that I designed and personally hand-worked on was certainly a stand-out moment for me and something I am very proud of.
TA: Is there anyone else in particular that you would love to see wearing LARKE?
LN: I am constantly excited to see all manner of people – bespoke clients, friends and family - wearing LARKE frames. I am mostly interested and inspired by how people incorporate glasses into their day-to-day look.
TA: We consider the T&A glasses to be unisex - do you think a different mindset is required when designing for males and females?
LN: Of course, and I also agree that they are unisex. The design process was approached with a specific gentleman in mind but whilst working on sampling and prototypes stages for the designs I personally tried them out for fitting and scale. I would certainly wear a pair.
TA: LARKE glasses have a modern, minimalist look but your offices and production have a nostalgic ‘Old England’ element - can you tell us about it?
LN: We are very fortunate to be based on a quintessential pedestrianised street in Bloomsbury, it’s a real slice of old London. My little studio is located in the basement of a traditional Dickensian bow-fronted building, littered with original features and steeped in history. So charming it is, I am often greeted by large production crews using the street as a location for film and television.
Our frames are made in the last remaining acetate spectacle production workshop in the UK. The workshop and its craftsmen have a renowned reputation for crafting frames for many famous spectacle wearers, film and TV characters and notably a handful of well-established British eyewear brands in their fledgling days.
TA: What a lovely yet unexpected back story for such a new label, especially in comparison to a tradition-focussed, 130 year old house like T&A; it seems that both brands true ‘Londoner’ element in common.
With that in mind, how did the collaboration with Turnbull & Asser get started? Was it difficult to merge the visual dynamics of both companies?
LN: The collaboration with Turnbull & Asser came about through a shared ethos for celebrating traditional craftsmanship and manufacturing in England. It is a real privilege to work with T&A; to co-create with such a respected and renowned British brand that is so deeply rooted in tradition and history is a great opportunity for LARKE, and for me personally as a designer.
The merging of values and vision came naturally through the shared views on traditional artisanal processes and manufacturing in the UK. With a strong design brief and a clear vision of who we were designing for, we were able to create a series of sunglasses that combine both present day appeal and premium materials with unique, quality craftsmanship.
TA: Lastly, what is your usual everyday style and who are your own personal muses?
LN: My personal taste is very much reflected in LARKE. I’m attracted to minimal, uncomplicated shapes and design, unexpected texture and fabrics. My eyewear often adds colour or pattern to an otherwise simplistic look. I tend to do this with all accessories, perhaps shoes or a bag. I think you can tell a huge amount about a person’s character from the eyewear they choose to wear and how they incorporate it into their everyday look.
LARKE X Turnbull & Asser sunglasses are available to buy online and in-store.