Spotlight with Leo Vanweersch: How This Optician Took His Love For Design To Create A One Of A Kind Bespoke Success
" Do something you really like. No matter what profession. Do it because you love to do it. If you are able to do something that you love a lot then success will probably follow and you will be happy in the future. People are so often driven by only money and for me that is not the way that leads to success. " - Leo Vanweersch
I had the pleasure of learning about this great eyewear designer. Below are raw answers by Mr. Vanweersch including insights on how he pivoted from a local optician to a full bespoke eyewear designer now serving clients from all over the world. Leo also shares his opinion to aspiring designers on how to become successful. Enjoy! - Tim
1) Tell us a little about your past. Where you were born and your father and mother's occupation.
I am a Dutch designer who has worked for many years as an optician in his own boutique with a big interest in fashion.
I was born in Vaals, a small town in the south of the Netherlands. My parents were simple people who always worked hard but they didn’t have any interest in fashion. My interest in beautiful things and especially quality I inherited from my deceased grandmother.
I had a happy childhood and spent much time with my friends. Together we played
in a band. After years each went his own way but the friendship continues to exist to this day.
A COMBINED ANSWER OF
2) What were some previous jobs before you started designing glasses?
3) What got you interested in designing this level of quality of glasses?
4)Tell us about the materials you use to make your glasses along with the process it requires to make them. Do you make them yourself?
Before I started to design I, as already mentioned, worked for years in my boutique as an optician. During the years I noticed that fashion became more and more important concerning eyewear but unfortunately I also noticed a lack of quality and fit in eyewear of almost all of the high fashion brands. I also noticed that most of the eyewear of the high fashion brands is looking alike. The logo tells you which brand it is. That is because of the selling of licenses of these brands to eyewear factories. Eyewear is often mass-produced.
In Leo’s boutique he received a lot of clients who could afford clothes and other accessories of the high-fashion brands. But they didn’t want to buy the eyewear belonging to these brands. The reason: they are looking alike. Leo’s clients wanted to wear glasses that made a perfect match with their face. They didn’t want glasses that were sold on every street corner.
" The logo tells you which brand it is. That is because of the selling of licenses of these brands to eyewear factories. Eyewear is often mass-produced."
So I started to draw with paper and pencil. I wanted to feel the lines in my hand and would draw what was in my head and with my heart. I wanted to manufacture fashionable eyewear of highest quality and decided to manufacture my designs by hand and made of genuine horn.
My very first design was auctioned for charity. I was completely overwhelmed by all the reactions to this design and was very happy with the huge profit for the charity organization. Ülsje Handcrafted Glasses was born.
My designs are all made of genuine horn. Genuine horn is a beautiful natural material. Sometimes the horn is combined with silk; a beautiful pattern is created. Of course there are more brands that manufacture eyewear made of genuine horn but I am using the material in a more pronounced way.
I have a small collection and prefer to do made to measure. So therefore I do not have many designs in stock. After ordering it will take about 6 weeks to manufacture. Sometimes the made to measure is happening from a distance and sometimes I meet clients in person.
Then there is another possibility. A couture design. I will then draw a design only for one person. After the drawing and discussing it with the client a sample has been made. After the fitting of the sample I determine if the design needs changes and the client determines which horn plate to use for the final design. A lot of work but a beautiful procedure.
My designs are all made by craftsmen in a small family run atelier in Germany. These men and women are very important to me. They know me well and they understand exactly what I want to create.
5) Who are some noteworthy clients that you have?
Most of my clients are men and women who love quality and craftsmanship in a way I do. People who want to wear glasses that are underlining their personality. Mostly businessmen/businesswomen, doctors, lawyers, architects, artists etc. are wearing my designs. They love fashion and want to look perfect but they don’t want look the same as so many people do. They want to underline who they are.
6) How did you approach growing your business?
Steadily people getting to know my designs. A number of times an article is written about me and my designs. I use social media. But my first customers have found me by themselves. They were already for a while customers in my boutique. They were talking to friends about their new designs and so the demand for my designs continued to grow. So no big advertising campaigns. I don't want big advertising campaigns because they do not do well on a luxury product. I don't want to mass-produce. I want to deliver a high quality design with a perfect fit that suits someone’s personality. I just want to make someone happy and look beautiful.
7) What clothes do you enjoy wearing?
Concerning clothes, I have my own style. I often wear made to measure. For example the fabrics of Holland & Sherry. The tweed and velvet of Holland & Sherry are my favorite and I like the quality and the classical looks of the English fabrics but it needs to be manufactured in the more Italian way. Beautiful elegant lines combined with beautiful fabrics. My trousers are always a little too short. Classic with a contemporary twist. I choose the fabrics myself and combine them together. I am a huge fan of braces. If you look at my eyewear designs one can see also a classic, timeless design but always with a contemporary twist.
One thing, I never wears is jeans and I've never owned a pair of jeans. Not even for working in my garden. I don't like it at all when i see so many people, men and women, wearing jeans.
8) What is your method of coming up with the materials and designs of your glasses?
When it comes to inspiration a number of things are important.
First of all I am inspired by people. By all kinds of people and all kinds of cultural backgrounds. I find it interesting to delve into different cultural backgrounds. I often sit in a park and watch people. How they walk, how they talk, how they act, how they dress etc. I love to talk to people about their traditions. There is so much to learn by not sticking to only your own ideas and traditions.
I also loves music. All kinds of music. Not just listening but also making music with a couple of dear friends. Friends who I've known my entire life. All kinds of different people that makes the friendship so special.
When it comes to concentration, I enjoy listening to classical music. Especially Mahler. Mahler’s 5th. Symphony touches me deeply again and again. Also, I love to listen to lounge and deep house music. I am energized by it.
And an after party with some disco music gives me the feeling to dance.
Large cities with their architecture make a deep impression on me. I love to look at the buildings. A little bit strange maybe: but beautiful front doors painted in great colours are always photographed. Mostly I visit large cities for doing business and mostly regret to have so little time to enjoy the atmosphere.
I also love jogging. At least three times a week I am running. Mostly early in the morning or late in the evening. It makes my mind free. I enjoy running in the forest while enjoying all the beauty nature has given us.
But, although mostly always very busy, I also take time to run when staying in a large city. In the early morning when for example les Jardins de Tuileries open its gates,I am one of the first to run his lap. It gives me a great feeling. The peacefulness early in the morning on the inside of the park and all the noises, belonging to the city, on the outside of the park. It makes me happy and feel very blessed.
Books.I am obsessed with books. No bookstore is run over. Hours, I can stay there. I like all kinds of books: about fashion, cities, history, music, architecture, furniture etc. etc. I do not enough place to store them. With the result you will encounter books in every room.
My daughter Charlotte, who wants to become a dancer and is studying in the UK. It brings me so much joy to see her grow and working so hard. The elegance and strength of a dancer can make a deep impression. Creativity in a completely different field. She also comes in contact with all kinds of different people from different cultures. And as her father she likes it enormously.
I do not have a mood board. I save all experiences, images, scents, colours etc in my memory. I exactly can tell someone what I've has seen, felt, smelled on a certain moment. Even though I've seen, smelt or felt it already a long time ago.
9) What are your top 3 books that you recommend reading to help improve someone's life.
Difficult to answer: Leo’s top 3 books. As already mentioned I have so many books. To choose a top 3 is very difficult. But okay let’s go.
Graham Robb -> Parisians -> it is a well-written book that gives you a good sight on Paris. Although I travel quite often to Paris and I thought I know the city well, reading this book gives you a feeling one is seeing the city anew. The book tells about the history and the present of the city. History, guide and novel in one.
Richard Holmes -> World at War -> it is a document (also documentary by the BBC)-> a book, which illuminates all sides of the war. Interviews with many great names from the war but also with housewives, resistance fighters, spies and Holocaust survivors. Remarkable: when the documentary was made and the book was written many people who were answering questions were still alive. So they could give comment on all the facts. Now it is not possible anymore. Most of people aren’t alive anymore.
Patrick Demarchelier -> Dior Couture -> pictures of couture pieces of Dior from 1947 -> I know there a more beautiful fashion books about beautiful high fashion brands -> so why this one. Because it is about timeless beauty. It is pictured in so many different places with many different models and all styled by many different stylist and make-up artists. It is so many beauty in one book. Demarchelier himself said about the book: “When you are a fashion photographer, you must inspire a dream, but with Dior Haute Couture, the dream is already there”.
10) What would you recommend to a new designer in eyewear to get started?
Recommendations for a new designer in glasses? Well I think my recommendation is rather for everyone and not only for a new eyewear designer. Do something you really like. No matter what profession. Do it because you love to do it. If you are able to do something that you love a lot then success will probably follow and you will be happy in the future. People are so often driven by only money and for me that is not the way that leads to success. There are so many designers in this world but you can make the difference by doing your job with love and passion. Besides that it is also important not only to have passion and the ability to design, but one should also have the knowledge about manufacturing and have the knowledge about materials and fits.
You can See Ülsje Handcrafted Glasses on Leo's website : www.ulsjehandcrafted.com and follow him on Instagram
Notes on ordering Ülsje Handcrafted Glasses:
As already mentioned Leo prefers to do made to measure. Sometimes and if possible Leo meets his clients in person but because the demand is growing all over the world it is not always possible to meet him.
What can be done? If someone contacts Leo he will send by email big pictures of a number of male or female designs. If someone has chosen a design, Leo will then send a sample of the front of the design. Leo would like to receive pictures of the customer while holding the front before the face so he can see if the design is not too big, too small, in width. He can see how the fit on the nose is and how the eyebrows fit in.
He also puts all kind of different colours of horn plates in the box. So someone can see the beautiful natural colours of the horn.
Whether or not a design is ordered Leo would like to receive the box back. But if someone orders it will take about 6 – 8 weeks to manufacture. Because Leo is doing made to measure not much designs are in stock. All designs are suitable for sun and optical glasses.
The design is delivered in a hand sewed velvet sac inside a hand painted wooden box.
Photos by: Hugo Thomassen
Books Recommended By Leo:
Spotlight with Leo Vanweersch: How this Optician Took His Love For Design To Create A One Of A Kind Bespoke Success read
The Personal Style of Geniuses Like Steve Jobs read
What German Scientist Found When Scanning People's Brains While Looking at 'The Dress' read
Trend Alert: The Shades of Purple read
The Spookiest Luxury Accessories For This Halloween read
Notes on Italian Wines read