SUPER Future Swag
I Like, You Like: A SUPER Philosophy
We thought our SUPER interview for CONTRA would warrant a translator, but when founder Daniel Beckerman answered our Skype call, he had us gobsmacked at his almost perfect English, and the colloquial manner with which he spoke it. It was as if we had known Daniel for ages, and we were just catching up on a Sunday afternoon. On these terms, he divulged in some stories he â€œonly reserves for family and close friendsâ€; like the one about avid SUPER fan and soccer star, David Beckham – more on that later.
SUPER by RETROSUPERFUTUREÂ®, probably sounds familiar and it should. Along with a slew of zines – Vogue (USA), i-D (UK), WAD (France), NY Times, People Style Watch (USA) – and blogs – High Snobiety, Hype Beast, Josh Spear, SlamXHype – we too have been eyeing the ‘tiny’ Italian sunglasses company, for sometime now.
Since the first prototypes were introduced in 2006, SUPER has gained the attention of media and of celebs to a point of cult-like status. Among the fans; Kanye West, Daft Punk, Simian Mobile Disco, CSS, Beyonce, The Kills, Elio Fiorucci, Sienna Miller, and Jessica Alba. And that’s just naming a few.
Officially known for igniting the phenomenon of acetate sunglasses, SUPER sunglasses were made instantly recognizable, for their funky colour gradation frames and their kooky shade names; of which we learned, don’t have any sort of special significance. “We never take time to decide names of the silhouette”, says Daniel. “At the beginning, a stupidish name came out and we laughed – “Gino” – a Flat Top with gold in the middle. It keeps everything like a more homeish feel. Naming the frames is just the first names that come out of our mouth. But, when we’re thinking of a collection, we spend a little more time.”
How should it be that a small, maybe even silly, sunglasses company should surmount to SUPER star status?
A Super Story
It all started with a magazine, nearly ten years ago. “Me and my brother, Simon, published a fashion and music magazine called PIG or, ‘People In Groove’. We felt at that time in Italy there wasn’t a publication giving space to younger, talented people, so we went for it.”
The brothers started on their venture with a graphic design company, a field Daniel was familiar with, inasmuch as his two year affair with art and industrial design studies would permit. “I dropped out after two years, because I needed to work” he says.
From the start, both Daniel and Simon gained lots of awareness with PIG, stayingÂ true to their initial goal; to maintain a very true magazine, without letting advertisers make things complicated. PIG would be the launching pad for many projects, in and including SUPER, like a radio show, “that you can check out on iTunes”. PIG helped them to discover things, and to be relevant to the people, and be stimulated by ideas, brands, and products.
But perhaps what would be most inspiring for Daniel, is what he didn’t see.
“I saw there was no brand representing a certain type of fashion in the eye wear business. I thought that this was a very big hole. I used to see a lot of trend setters and stylists types heading down to flea markets and picking up a lot of cheap shades because that was the only place they could find something they liked. I was beginning to look around, searching, and I thought maybe if I didn’t see it, I could have been looking in the wrong direction? But that wasn’t the case. Then I thought, if no one was doing it, then maybe it was a very bad idea.”
How very wrong he was.
A SUPER Star is Born
Daniel’s bad idea shades needed a name. He liked ‘super’ but it wasn’t up for trademarking. Flipping through an issue of PIG once, Daniel stumbled upon a fashion shoot called ‘Retro Super Future’ and “I thought, that it was perfect! My shades were all the three aspects; they were retro in style, and we were trying to make them super, and we were making them thinking of the future so RETROSUPERFUTUREÂ®.”
Their first pair of shades, released in 2007, wasn’t revolutionary. The Wayfarer by SUPER was in fact a Ray Ban original. “With the Wayfarer, the first idea, we just made it a little big bigger, flatter and thinner and gave it lots of colours”. And the sunglasses giant took notice of the Wayfarer re-imagined, releasing a shape in bright colours. But that’s the norm now. “We see a lot of releases from big brands. Maybe they are feeling this pressure, even though we are a small brand in respect to them. It’s a demonstration I think, that we are followed. When a brand like Ray Ban follows in a strong way like they did, I have to be honoured. Of course that’s exciting, and it’s good for us to have pressure from other companies. I am happy because they stimulate us.”
“By the time we released them, that’s when everything went crazy in my life because everyone seemed to want them. They were like candies. People went crazy RETROSUPERFUTURE.”
Daniel accredits the frenzy to the Internet for pre-promotions. SUPER was different from other businesses, in that they weren’t just a web-based business. They came with the promised product. “It was the thing that people wanted,” says Daniel, “and no one else was doing it.” The product was concrete and made from the best materials, one being the acetate, with which we became quickly disenchanted. “It’s just a plastic” says Daniel. But maybe not just. “I must say, this acetate company is really cool. They’ve been doing it for 80 years. When you go to their archives, for a designer, it’s like going into a candy store for a baby. They are one of the best.” One out of two to be exact. Maybe then acetate’s alluring quality lies simply in it’s scarcity. On pairing lenses, they wanted the best. “We looked around, trying to present our colourful shades in a serious way. Eventually we found Zeiss in Germany, who was doing lenses for Nokia phones and Sony cameras.”
SUPER had the materials and lots of ideas of what to do with them. Their second season would introduce “Flat Tops” and the “Ciccio”, and the first “Flash Electric” Zeiss sun lens. They introduced new production techniques, like prints and special engraving for the first time. In the first two seasons, SUPER enjoyed important collaboration projects. Special limited edition sunglasses starting with Caliroots by SUPER, producing only 50 units that sold out in three days. Barneys NY by SUPER produced only 100 pieces, and the Alife by SUPER have been featured as the product of the day at the Bread & Butter Barcelona trade show in 2008. Of early trunk shows, like Bread and Butter in Berlin, Capsule in New York, and Project in Las Vegas, “when we did it, there were no eye wear brands in 800 other brands. But now there are a lot of brands coming up with a lot of shades. None of them for my idea is so exciting, but I’m seeing now things are shaking up. But we have, you know, shook up the eye wear business in the fashion industry.”
“Apparently”, says Daniel, “it was a good idea.”
Made In Italy
As it stands, for SUPER, being in Italy plays a big factor. Ever notice how everything made in Italy is, well, better? “It’s said”, says Daniel “that Italy has the best design in a lot of aspects: in cars Ferarri’s and Lambos; in architecture, in art; many amazing artistic feats have started here”. Daniel ponders on the reason; “Maybe it’s the lifestyle – it’s good for the design, for culture… maybe there is something about Italy, something in the food or in the water… I don’t know. Probably the chemistry of the people.”
“This kind of ‘Made in Italy’ thing, is kind of something we write because it’s just like that, and not to make it sound better. I personally hate positions of dominance and aggressiveness. If tomorrow there is no more acetate in Italy and we need to move, I don’t care, and we will do so – as long as we can work honestly with the manufacturers. If we had to produce in China, they do very good stuff, but they also do very bad stuff. It’s hard to find the good companies and the good people that you trust. We have to think about the environment too. We put ‘Made in Italy’ because we are not the only people who can make sunglasses.”
SUPER isn’t the only one who knows how to make shades, but no one can make shades like SUPER.
And the people know it. Directly. That’s why SUPER does not feel the need to put their name on the shades. “We wanted to keep it clean. We think people that like to buy products that have something more to say than just wearing a logo or a brand. I think people that buy SUPER are people like that. When you are buying a brand like SUPER without the name on the side. Some people think you need a brand to sell the shades. But we went against that. We took off the brand and concentrated on the product. We think people are not stupid and we put that in the design.”
“From day one,” says Daniel, “we started to have requests from everybody; from people who want to buy shades, to distributors, to agents from all over the world.” At present, SUPER has distribution agents in fifteen countries internationally, and “with all the endorsement the stars are doing. It’s funny though, because we are completely not from that world. It really it seems in certain cases those people are my friends, but they are not. They just buy them.”
One buyer in particular, David Beckham, of whom Daniel tells this funny story;
David Beckham was a funny story because actually, he is, how can I say… a mystery! He never asked for free shades and it’s funny because usually when you are a star you can have anything for free. But he never asked for them, and we didn’t know his agents were buying through our website until he wanted a shade that wasn’t available online [Flat Top Black Leather] His agency contacted us and said one of their clients, Beckham, was looking for those shades and wanted to order them. It was in the beginning, and we felt it very strange someone VIP would be buying our shades. We didn’t take it very seriously, and for a couple of days she kept writing to us, and eventually we believed her. We had three pairs left in production and we sent them. A few days later, a Romanian guy wrote to SUPER and said he had these photos of David Beckham wearing the shades and said if he can have a free pair of SUPERS, then he would send the pictures. To us it was really strange so we thought if he had the pictures, he obviously found them on the web. We looked for them and found them. So he was a liar, but Beckham was real. Many of these things have happened and that is one.”
A Super Season
SUPER puts out four collections in a year. Spring and Summer and Fall and Winter. “All are separate…we used to do just two. We still design two collections at the same time, but we release them one at a time. I was feeling bad when journalists were talking about the sunglasses as a group, because a lot of those shades were not given the importance we thought they deserved – Classics, Flat Top, Ciccio, Ciccio Flat Top, Andrea, People, Lucia
W, Sideviews, Luciano, Topski, Gals, Specials – We put so much work into all of them.”
For their spring collection, SUPER releases a new silhouette and colour combos with a particular acetate horn-like style. “We decided it’s like three years since we released our first collection, and we thought there were a lot of styles people were still buying from the first collection, and new comers didn’t have a chance to see them all properly. We decided to take all our top styles to date, and put them in one collection. We were really working hard in three years and after a certain point, we have so many styles that are interesting still and we didn’t feel the need to add on top of those things. The one you will see in a few months has five or six new silhouettes, a combination of acetate and metal. They are a little bit elegant. We think younger people are getting a little elegant, a little Mr and Mrs, even skateboarders have a more gentle style. The collections that will be released are exciting, terms of quality and design, but feel it’s not cutting edge in all those ways.” And Daniel’s personal favourite, “America”, is also coming up. “But I change. I’m lucky enough to have them all.”
From first concept to release date, a process that takes about eight months – consolidation, drawing, dreaming, and shipment – all happens very quickly. As Daniel and the SUPER team are thinking new collections, he’s releasing shades that, to him, look dated. “Actually you know, that’s our difficult part in the design process. When we release the shades, for me it’s like I have seen them for ages. Sometimes I get confused at the releases, and ask ‘are you sure this is the right release?’ Laughs. But we always have to think very forward.”
He adds, “It’s very stressful and, it’s very stimulating.”
A Super Future
But amid the popularity, SUPER is still that tiny Italian sunglasses company, made up of people, who keep true to the first idea.
“I don’t want to lose sight of the first idea. I want to be able to put the glasses on everyone. There is no one in mind for SUPER. I really don’t care in terms like, to categorize people. I think SUPER will have a success when I manage to put them on my friend, my stylist, my designer, and my mom…not my mom…but actually yes, my mom too. I think that really I don’t want people to come here and say you are a really cool designer. Yah, it’s fun but, it’s really all in the people. I know this might seem retarded but, we just try to do things truthfully you know. We try to be honest and do things we like and that we think people will also like with us …
On the shades and in them, the emotion we put into them and that how we see the same emotion on the people. Celebrities pick SUPER because it feels good. We have people like Kayne West wearing them in NYC after the first collection, and that feels cool. But then the other day I see an older lady in a small Italian village wearing a pair of SUPERS, and that feels good too. So really, it’s everyone who is wearing them. It’s the mood we work in when we are making the shades. When you do something, with a certain feeling, I think when it’s something from your interior, people will feel this at the end. I’m trying to think it. If you believe in it, and being true is not good, probably we would sell more shades with the logo outside. And maybe we will do logo outside, I don’t know but I really believe in truthfulness. I try to do in sunglasses, I try to do in the magazine, and I try to do in my life.”
(Photos by McKenzie James)