French-born Philippe Vergez has been called “the Manolo Blahnik of eyewear”. With over two decades of international experience in Europe, Japan, Asia, and North America, Philippe has contributed his skills to the product design and development of international brands such as Quiksilver, Oakley, Arnette, Ray-Ban, Bolle, and some of the world’s leading designer brands. His celeb-friendly sunglasses designs have had huge success and gained worldwide fashion recognition from the likes of Anna Wintour, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Jessica Parker, Katherine Heigl, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and Rihanna to name a few. His first personal brand, Jee Vice, featured in the movie Sex And The City II, quickly inspired an entire generation of women worldwide to rethink their eyewear choice. In 2012 Philippe moved to Hong Kong, where he was appointed as executive creative director at Evita Peroni, and 2016 marks his return to the roots of his creativity and entrepreneurship. Along with co-founders Thierry Halbroth and Mike Affatato, he is just about to release his new brand, P H I L I P P E V, a stylish eyewear and jewelry line that best presents his rock’n’roll lifestyle statement.
How is your life in Hong Kong different from the one in France? What is unique about it?
Vastly different! My life in France was rather calm, rhymed by the sound of the ocean and mountain views. Hong Kong never sleeps and the work pattern is brutal – change is the only constant. This is why people in Hong Kong consistently look for ways to slow down time and maintain a more balanced pace. As a result, they search serenity through yoga, Qi Kong or meditation. This helped me to discover an unsuspected space to put my brain back on the creative path.
What are some trends you see in Hong Kong, that you might not see in Paris?
Asian girls spend fortunes to buy themselves a look. They hunt the latest trends and designer items and if they can’t buy the original they’ll buy a copy or lookalike. They have no fear of dressing sexy or being provocative as it’s unlikely they’ll be annoyed in the streets. French girls are more inventive and creative, they dress with style around one accessory, a simple bag or a pair of shoes. Girls here adopt, while girls in Paris create… This is where the main difference is and will continue to be for a while, until the education system changes. Because most kids are formed to conform and copy, creative thinking has not yet reached its full potential. It might take another two decades before this changes. This doesn’t mean that nothing gets created though. A native trend I have witnessed in Asia is a return to the soul and nature with the use of raw material, veganism, health and fitness – a permanent quest for a healthier and sexier body.
You have been called “the Manolo Blahnik of eyewear”. How do you feel about that comparison?
It is of course one of the greatest compliments I have ever received and was proud of the comparison. I liked his art before he became a shoe designer, and also the fact that he comes from a humble family. Having said that, I’d much rather be known for being me and acknowledged for my own distinctive style. (laughs)
What makes you so passionate about eyewear?
This is very simple: a pair of shades is two lenses, two temples and one nose bridge – a very limited space to unleash and express creativity. This makes it an impossible mission to consistently come up with creative frames every time and this is exactly the challenge I love. I have to constantly come up with new ways to push my creativity and put it to good use to create something that perfectly compliments the face, not just beautifying the person but also complementing their personality.
What is the inspiration behind the P H I L I P P E – V brand?
Anarchy is pure Individualism. “The true Anarchist decries all influences save those of love and reason. Ideas are his only arms.” The brand embraces authentic anarchist values and is a direct reflection of what is buried deep inside me and many people: a refusal to be tamed, a desire to live an unconfirmed life, or if living the conformed life, to do it with a twist, with the grace of a chameleon – to keep your true spirit alive. Philippe V enables the formation of a tribe that unites people from all over the world sharing the same mindset, the same ideals about fashion, travel and lifestyle. The inspiration comes straight from my heart, my core values and my way of life. It can’t be more authentic. To those who think they are alone, we want to remind them they aren’t. To those who have forgotten, we want to remind them. That’s our purpose and the reason behind our motto “The soul that sees beauty shall not walk alone.”
Where do you draw inspiration to create your eyewear and jewelry styles? Do you design with a particular person or era in mind?
Inspiration is not quite like science. Everyone has their ways and mine are multiple. Yes, people can inspire me, but also art, words and definitely music. Most importantly, I think it’s the chaos in my brain that fuels my creative juice. (laughs)
Your previous brand Jee Vice had a huge international success especially among celebrities. What was the key element for such popularity? Do you expect the same thing to happen with Philippe V brand?
Jee Vice was one of a kind – right time right place. It was the early days of oversized frames and no one was doing it (designing it) right. Jee Vice was exclusively created for women and designed with their face morphologies in mind. I spent an enormous amount of time studying this and as a result, the fit I created was exceptional. Women could finally wear oversized frames without looking like an alien and each design was a compliment to their natural beauty. This was the strength of the brand. Since I sold it, I guess they started following trends and …lost it. But, P H I L I P P E V will get more traction – the products are great, have a unique rock’n’roll and rebellious feel but quintessentially stylish. The quality is very high, frames are handmade and we will offer these pieces at a fair and honest price. A very attractive value- for-money proposition in the luxury industry.
Avril Lavigne wears Jee Vice Hip Ophthalmic Frame
Can you describe to us your typical working day?
Each day is different. I am definitely not a type that wants to get stuck in any kind of pattern or routine. It’s early days for us and we are in full start up mode. I jump from the boring stuff, like administration and finance, to meetings with all sorts of influencers, suppliers or just staying in. I think, I come up with an idea, have a few more espressos, start designing until the piece is done. As soon as I start something, I have to finish it! Even if I have to stay awake for three days in a row!
Tell us something about your creative process
I have no rules here either. I can start on a piece of paper, or draw straight in Illustrator, or make things with my own hands. It depends on the nature of the object, my mood, the timing, the difficulty. What matters is that by the end of the day, no product will be released until we are fully satisfied with the results. This can take a long time, but we take real pride in that!
You created jewelry with stylized skulls, which is edgier than your previous designs, and in a way reflects your rebellious and rock ’n’ roll inspired personal style. What kind of man would you love to see wearing your designs?
I can now do products which are really me with an edge that resonates with people… Besides the skull, I also have other iconic elements such as the Lily, which is kind of a family heritage. The fleur-de-lys is the symbol of idealism and no other flower expresses better the nobility and the generosity of the heart. The skull is a reminder that says “we have not forgotten, we remember what we were and what we truly are.” These two elements are the brand signature but I do not lock myself in strictly designing around them.
The kind of people I would like to see wearing my designs? People who believe in being different, in being true to their original identities without dramatically standing out. They are the ones who haven’t forgotten their inner selves, who, like sleeping agents – chameleons living among us. Some have tattoos, some have attitude, some have signs of distinction, but all are marked in some way or another and want to belong to that brotherhood – expressing and distinguishing themselves through their choices, purchases and affiliations. Where typical brands define their targets by age, we refuse to do so because our audience is defined (and united) by a sense of belonging. As far as iconic people, I would be proud to see Keanu Reeves wearing my designs. Not because of his Hollywood status but for the man he really is.
What is rock ‘n’ roll for you? Who are your personal rock ‘n’ roll icons?
Before music, rock ‘n’ roll is first and foremost a state of mind and a way of life. It will always be the rebellious sound that says we don’t give a f@#k! We won’t comply with rules. We’ll do things our way or not at all. My own personal icons are Johnny Rotten, Neil Young, Bowie, Sixto Rodriguez, a few punk rock bands like NOFX or Dropkick Murphys. It’s horses for courses and to each its own. My partners have their own distinctive ones.
What is your favorite design from all the ones you’ve created?
My all time favorite design is, by no doubt and always, my next! I’m a perfectionist who constantly pushes the envelope. I am never satisfied, rarely happy with the status quo; always thinking I could have done better, should do better. I‘m permanently frustrated. (laughs)
It is well known your love for islands and scuba diving. How long have you been diving? Have you been able to do any dive traveling?
Please don’t hurt me! I’ve not gone under water for three years now. I miss it badly! Work has been intense for the past years and I sorely miss diving with sharks, Moorea, the sound of my bubbles and being nitrogen saturated. I go tropo here and there, mainly Bali and The Philippines, but the trips are always too short to plan proper expeditions.
Tell us something about your passion for photography. Do you take underwater pictures?
I am an amateur in the true sense of the word. I could have made it a real job but always preferred enjoying the art side of it. I am not a serial shooter and do very few pictures a year. I visualize it in my mind and one day, when the time is right, I go out and get it. It can take years before I take the actual picture. Underwater photography was all about experimentation and discovery. It is a technical challenge and I had lots of fun and pleasure in the process.
What are your favorite places in Hong Kong?
Definitely the calmness of The New Territories where I live, a stark contrast to the picture people have in mind of Hong Kong and its bustling environment. I’m at peace surrounded by nature, the sea, the mountains. On Hong Kong Island, I love Wyndham Street and its bars like Pastis, a little French bistro. I also often recharge at the Boudoir, a small and discreet place located just below Pastis. The new izakaya called Koko has a great selection of food and sake, as well as a fantastic terrace. I prefer Orange Peel for live music and the KEE Club when I go full out. There’s also Bibo, a concept bar and restaurant where you can drool on art pieces from Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Shepard Fairy, Mr Brainwash, Invader, Takashi Murakami and many others. And they have the best absinthe in the world!
What are the next steps for the label? What’s next for you?
Launching our website, pre-launching the brand in April and a full launch in September. At first, we released limited editions. Currently, we are working on the imagery and the brand campaign with an artistic approach that will be the signature of the brand. We are also finalizing agreements with the U.S., Asia, Australia, Korea and Japan. This also means that we are heavily focused on looking for investors to help us level up, just like a start-up. We are ambitious but cautious, as we are building a brand to last a lifetime.