August 2019

The Eyes Have It

Words: Louise McClean Images: Tristan Ceddia

Eyewear overlords COLAB are like the cool kid at school, they follow their own rules, with no particular intention of pleasing others. But, somehow they manage to do exactly that and in the process round up a legion of devoted followers.

They’ve brought forward and revolutionised concept in an almost neglected element of fashion – the selective enlistment of artistic talent who change from season to season and are given the task of applying their own uninhibited, creative ingenuity to make something truly different.

COLAB’s prolific pairings have seen sunglasses made by some of the most distinctive creative heavyweights both locally and from afar – D-mote, Perks and Mini, Marok and Kidrobot to name a few. With two strong seasons already behind them, a new team is stepping up again for the third range of collaborative eyewear. Louise McClean found out from mastermind Dave Allison just how he pulls the whole project together.

Louise McClean: COLAB is not only the name of your label, but also the fundamental idea and ethos behind it. All your eyewear has been a product of collaboration with a diverse array of impressive artists and designers who are at the top of their game. How do you decide who comes on board for a collection?

Dave Allison: We like to keep our fingers on the global pulse and are always on the lookout for artists and designers who are really shining. We particularly like edgy creatives who are not afraid of pushing the boundaries and trying something new. Australian artists who have recently broken the international market are amongst our favourites, as are artists and designers from abroad such as New York. I was recently over there photographing COLAB’s new collection and blown away by the place. I hadn’t been there for a few years but the place is always such an explosion of talent.

LM: For this collection you’ve teamed up with Mike Perry, Will Sweeney, Deanne Cheuk, Chris Hopkins and Jonathan Zawada and The Presets. Have you noticed marked differences in the way each approaches their work?

DA: Definitely. As each designer/artist designs in a method true to their personal style and identity it’s always different. Everyone always has different routines, styles, and obvious aesthetics that work best for them, and everyone communicates in a different way. And this is what makes COLAB so unique. Every season adds a completely new flavour to the mix. I’m lucky enough to be able to work with these artists that work in different mediums and have different philosophies and aesthetics, I think for both of us it’s a good thing. The artist working on a unique accessory such as sunglasses and putting their name to a product. And for myself being able to work with these pretty clever cats.

LM: You also have a mystery designer for your third collection. Why have you chosen to involve a guest artist whose identity will never be revealed?

DA: No one likes routine, predictability or banality do they? Instilled deep within COLAB’s ethos is the desire to shock, confront, distort and challenge preconceived ideas – like the artists we work with daily. It also gives us another element of mystery and intrigue.

LM: It’s probably safe to say that although the artists you have recruited are pretty versatile, most of them probably have not dabbled in eyewear design before. When you look at the end result does the artist’s style and creative energy usually manifest itself in a similar way to their known work, or is it quite different because of the nature of the product?

DA: I hope so!! It isn’t any easy thing to achieve by any means… Some artists obviously have this in mind when collaborating, and others just plain and simply wish to create their favourite pair of sunnies. So yes, my plan to be both sympathetic with their integrity and desired outcome. COLAB tries to be the facilitators of function for the artists, and for the people, the purveyors of taste. In the end it’s all about personal style and expression. Working with a niche accessory is something attractive to most creatives who in the past, may have been limited to a two dimensional palette.

LM: Are you ever surprised with what they come up with?

DA: Yes! Of course – always – and to me, this is the charm of the design process we adopt. Like a naive student in art school – the rules and preconceived ideas of what you can and can’t do are thrown out the window and we start from scratch mostly. Sometimes the artists’ alter-ego’s come out and they come up with something that I totally wouldn’t have expected. Sometimes little things such as functionality are compromised for the ‘look’ so then it’s back to the drawing board. I can never forget how amazed I was when working with Rockin’ Jellybean and he hand sketched all the frame shapes and coloured them with a pencil, he then scanned each sunglass image and photo montage it (to approximate scale) onto a photograph of himself. Genius! Though the actual dimensions were hard to work out…

LM: Collaborating is an ideas driven process, in saying that surely there are a multitude of ideas flung around at the drawing board. Is it challenging to work with so many different artists at the one time?

DA: Again this is the charm of the process we adopt – I guess the most challenging part of this is in the end product. I need a collection of sunglasses that are delivered seasonally. And like other designers, we have deadlines! Sometimes these deadlines don’t always fit in with the schedules of the international artists we’re working with, that to me is the most challenging thing – the timing and delivery.

LM: I know that creative freedom is paramount and unrestricted for anyone who has designed eyewear for your collection, but have you ever worked with someone that had the most insane idea, something like solid gold glasses, and you’ve had to say no?

DA: Yeah we’ve had a lot of crazy stuff like the ultimate wraps that Rockin’ Jellybean designed that were almost verging on a headband that’s over your eyes with a mirrored lenses where the actual sunglass was yellow. That’s verging on costume jewellery! In saying that everyone wants to design a pair that are classic with a twist, or just make some that are cool. So yes, but rationality prevailed!

LM: It’s a distinctive concept behind COLAB sunglasses, having a unique character which embodies its creator, although it may not necessarily appeal to anyone, as the purpose of their design is not to please any particular target market, but to unleash unbridled creativity. How important is this philosophy?

DA: It is very important and that is why our ethos shall remain – There’s no constraint, no rules to follow, no target market to appease. We leave the design to the designers and then turn their vision into something tangible.

LM: Your eyewear is extremely exclusive. Only 1000 pairs of each style in the whole world, serial numbers with the artists. What are your reasons behind making COLAB sunglasses so restrictively available?

DA: The limited nature of COLAB glasses ensures that they remain as art rather than a mass produced, readily available consumer product. They are collectibles and we want people to purchase them, and love them as such, but we don’t want the edginess of them to wear thin when every store, magazine and Joe Blow is seen with them. Each edition is as unique as the person drawn to them, so it’s a novelty to own a pair.

LM: You’ve created three successful collections of eyewear. Do you plan to broaden your horizons with the Colab label in the future or will it remain strictly sunnies?

DA: At this stage we are content in trying to perfect this craft. Though, this season we’ve released an optical line, which we are all really happy with. The demand was very high, and so many wearers were buying two of the same style and turning one pair into opticals, it just made sense. The response has been phenomenal bordering on overwhelming. There are always ideas in the pipeline, though for the most part, we like to take one thing at a time…

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