I was lucky enough to get a few minutes to chat on the phone with the super-lovely Gok Wan today!
Yes, Kiwis, I meant to ask him about Tamati, but we ran out of time!
Jo: How did you first realise that glasses could be a fashion item? What made you come to that conclusion?
Gok: I’m quite lucky that I live in a fashion environment in Europe where glasses and eyewear have always been a respected accessory – they haven’t always been used for optical reasons. I suppose glasses were really, for me, invented in the ’20s and ’30s and so I kind of grew up adoring the old black and white movies, the old Hollywood movies, where glasses were always part of a woman’s outfit or even a guy’s outfit and so I’ve always known it. I think in Europe our attitude towards glasses is slightly different.
My first pair of glasses was when I was probably about 15. They were my dad’s from the 1950s and I’ve still got them. I didn’t need glasses then and they had his prescription in. I used to go clubbing in these glasses and fall over and hit the wall and trip on the steps because I couldn’t see properly. Then I bought a couple of fake pairs when I was in my teenage years. I didn’t get prescription glasses until I was 28. So I’ve always had them as part of my uniform.
Jo: You’re so lucky! I got my first pair of glasses when I was 14 (1995) and I was horrified at the range available in New Zealand back then.
Gok: Absolutely! I couldn’t believe it last year, let alone when you were 14. When I came over last year just to see what was available in Kiwi-land it was, basically, hardly anything and they were really expensive. Which is why I think Specsavers have done an amazing job in the country to make glasses so affordable and also the different styles. I think people are genuinely getting excited now you’ve got the merchandise to choose from. I think last year, what I definitely discovered was that people were interested in them and they were fascinated with the idea that glasses were all over the world and being used as fashion accessories. But in this country, I suppose you didn’t have that accessibility to them because either you couldn’t afford them or the styles were a little bit prehistoric. Now obviously it’s all changed.
Edited out a very long ramble of a question on my part where Gok’s reaction was that I’d answered my own question! Amateur hour, there, Jo!
The gist of the question was asking how people can be more adventurous with eyewear.
Gok: For some people they are always going to be an optical device to make themselves see better. Now that you’ve got Specsavers in the country you no longer have to have that as a rule. What you can do is you can be more adventurous with the ones you’re wearing. You know, the 2-for-1 is probably one of the best advertising campaigns I’ve ever known because you can buy a day-to-night pair of glasses – you can buy two pairs now for the price of one. All of that stuff is just giving you far more license and far more accessibility to having glasses as part of your outfits.
Jo: How many pairs do you have?
Gok: About 140-ish. Ish.
Jo: How do you choose which to wear!?
Gok: You’ve kind of got your old favourites and every now and again you kind of dip into the pool. It’s like, you say, someone who collects shoes – you never wear all your shoes and you have a handful of shoes you wear constantly. It’s exactly the same with glasses, I love them. I think they’re beautiful. I love the design, I love the product, I love the material that’s used in glasses. I love what the shape can do to your face and your outfit as well. So it’s exactly the same thing. Depending on what I’m wearing, I will wear a particular type of glasses.
Jo: I noticed when I walked into Specsavers, they tend to stick to the little plastic rectangles. Do you see them diversifying from that soon?
Gok: You know, it’s supply and demand really, isn’t it? It’s what people are going to buy first of all and I think that what Specsavers and the guys here are doing is they are producing a line of frames that are generic enough for people to not to be frightened and are made with enough style within them. I think over the next few years you’ll see a different type of merchandising coming in and you’ll probably see different designs that are probably fitting slightly more with other designs around the world. What Specsavers can’t do, is they can’t be a value brand and have huge Vivienne Westwood-style glasses – nothing too avant-garde, because it will only scare people off. And at the end of the day Specsavers is still a business and the business model for them at the moment is to – number one – supply value for the product and also to have choice. And then, once the customer feels they’ve got some security and also have a relationship with the brand, then they can start introducing bigger, probably more contemporary frames.
Jo: I can see they’re also in the position to influence fashion as well, once people start to trust them and trust their judgement.
Gok: Absolutely. The thing with Specsavers, I know Doug and Mary very well, who own the company. They run the company very much as a family affair – all the kids work for them and everyone knows each other – they’re all friends. It’s quite an old-school way of running a business and what they want to do is introduce that to the customers as well. They don’t want customers to feel that they’re not part of the spectacle family. For somebody like you who loves glasses so much, I’m sure you can appreciate that what it’s doing is giving you a sense of community – that you are wearing glasses and fellow spectacle-wearers – that you have something in common with each other whether or not you discuss it – you have somewhere you can go to have similar frames and even find each other. It’s like anyone having a love of shoes or handbags or clothes… or men!
Jo: It is quite different with glasses, though, because if I’m wearing my more unusual ones and I walk past someone who is wearing something similar and I give them a little grin, they know why I’m grinning at them.
Gok: People used to do that with Volkswagen Beetles, didn’t they?! If you saw someone with a Volkswagen Beetle, driving past you, you’d wave wouldn’t you? Same thing with glasses.
Here we were told we had a minute left and quickly discussed Twitter!
Jo: Thank you so much for talking with me!
Gok: Thank you! You’re more than welcome. I look forward to reading the blog. I love bloggers! I think it’s brilliant.