Tommy O’Gara: Optical Excellence
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of one of Hong Kong’s busiest areas, an afternoon meeting at a bar in the Philip Starck masterminded JIA Hotel serves as an unlikely setting for a presentation of Dita’s upcoming collection . Upon entering, I’m met with two friendly figures, Dita’s China region rep Martin, and an integral member of Dita itself, Tommy O’Gara. Given the chance to speak with Tommy, any unfamiliarity I had with the brand quickly turned to a great respect for one of luxury eyewears’ most well-received brands.
Sporting a stylish hat and a pair of well kept Visvim Folk Virgil Boots on his feet to match his Visvim x Dita frames, my initial interactions with Tommy were definitely not how I had previously envisioned the meeting to go. Despite the high-end nature of Dita’s offerings, Tommy quickly came across as an extremely easy-going and well-articulated speaker who speaks with a great passion for eyewear design. Prior to forming a union with Dita, Tommy O’Gara and his background in product design and color theory led him to Japan as an architect which eventually developed in him becoming a member of the Dita team which includes co-founders John Juniper and Jeff Solorio. When asked if there were any differences between architectural design and eyewear design, Tommy casually notes that if you have a true penchant and love for design, crossing the mediums is a seamless feat.
Despite being based in Japan, a common vision in design philosophy amongst Tommy and the rest of the Los Angeles-based design office provides a nice integration of ideas between the East and (the) West. Dita’s philosophies are rather simple yet executed with flawless accuracy. Having been blessed with a great following based on their ability to create designs that appeal exclusively to them with little regard to trends, Dita’s following in both Japan and amongst the celebrity crowd has been staggering. With some Dita fanatics with collections numbering in the triple digits, it’s a certain “retro modern edge” with a strong appreciation for Japanese craftsmanship which has propelled Dita to the top. As Tommy concedes “we’re not on the cutting edge, but we are who we are,” contemporary designs of traditional shapes ensure that many of Dita’s eyewear offerings are easy to wear. From a design ethos, the way each part of the frame runs cohesively is a testament to the fact that within the process of design, “everything is tweaked, morphed and runs together” as a well-constructed final product. However, through the use of collaborations, Dita’s aesthetic is often shared with like-minded individuals and brands as non-traditional eyewear brands can branch out to create quality frames.
Seeing a well-rounded collaboration earlier this fall with Visvim, Tommy goes on to explain the relative ease in which this particular co-branded project was created and finished. Prior to any discussion of collaborations, together Tommy and Visvim founder Hiroki Nakamura would spend many quiet outings which developed into a nice understanding of one another. When a collaboration began to take shape and it was time for a sketching of an initial design for the Visvim x Dita frame, one sitting was all that was required to create something both parties agreed on. The first sketches featuring a ‘V’ to represent Visvim’ shape went largely unchanged throughout the production of the frames. Bringing the concept of collaboration full circle, Hiroki supplied the veggie tanned leather cases to provide his own touch to the project. Beyond collaborations with Visvim, the respect commanded by Dita along with a Japanese outpost has allowed Tommy to develop close relationships with many of the Japanese fashion landscape’s most influential brands and designers including: Nobu of Hysteric Glamour, Shinsuke of Neighborhood and Jun of Undercover. With close ties with these well-documented brands, be on the look out for more interesting and progressive styles to develop as these brands co-create the future of eyewear.
While avant garde fashion has often been the center of much speculation regarding its ability to be worn on a day-to-day basis, Tommy’s own opinion’s feature along the lines of “when it gets freaky, how can you really wear it” philosophy. With this, Dita’s understanding of the limitations in eyewear design has made them create a focus on the manufacturing and production side of eyewear. Working closely in line with their factories, Dita has looked to perfect the art of eyewear creation, striving to introduce new techniques which allow for a certain aesthetic. Given the current global climate and a consumer who is more educated than ever, the lower-quality frames from licensed fashion brands don’t hold a candle to those produced by master Japanese craftsmen. With a firm grasp of what works in the world of eyewear, branching out with products beyond the realm of eyewear is met with some caution.
For a brand that has developed organically over the years, Dita’s rise could be described as slow and steady as their strong foundation has allowed them to develop a platform. As I asked Tommy regarding the brand’s progression and how many brands and the current generation are often looking for instant gratification, Tommy had some choice words in regards to how growing too fast for your own good is detrimental to a brand’s health and will often lead to too many mistakes. A burnt out customer, and more importantly, a burnt out brand are inevitable by-products of forcing things when they should be slowly nurtured and brought along. Their current path has allowed them to develop a solid foundation, being sold in the best accounts worldwide as well as becoming the eyewear of choice for no one genre but for many different segments of the optical market. Without a definitive answer to their future outside of eyewear, there has been mention of delving into leather accessories while small accessories like croquies has become a strong focus for Tommy himself. Regardless of what direction Dita takes, we’re confident that their previous track record ensures that the brand is well adapted to continue leading the way as one of the finest at their trade.
Text: Eugene Kan
Photography: Season Chan