Features: Conversation With...

Sep
2008

Theory and Application

Eyewear’s Theory of Relativity Is a Winning Formula For Theory’s Andrew Rosen


Photographed by Stephen Sullivan


When it comes to eyewear Andrew Rosen is like a man who’s found religion. He’s seen the light and wants to share it with everyone.

For years, Rosen, founder and president of Theory, a company known for its exquisite fitting, sophisticated clothing and accessories, shunned wearing even sunglasses. Then time played its usual tricks and he needed reading glasses.

“I didn’t wear glasses until a few years ago,” admits Rosen. “Initially I needed glasses to read. I started out with cheap readers I bought at the drug store. Then I began having problems seeing the TV. So I went to the eye doctor. He said I needed progressive [lenses]. So I got progressives. Then all of sudden I realized that glasses are a very important fashion accessory. That I could change my look based on what kind of frames I wore.”

Thus began an obsession with frames.

Rosen removes the glasses he’s wearing and shows them off. “I got these glasses because I wanted a modern day Yves Saint Laurent look,” he notes. “I started to have different pairs of eyeglasses so I could change my look. Then I realized it’s really not a bad idea to get into the eyewear business.” Enter L’Amy America, a company that, ironically enough, made the frames YSL incorporated into his personal signature style.

“L’Amy was one of the reasons we decided to do eyewear, to be honest,” says Rosen. “The relationship and the partnership is what’s most important. The people from L’Amy were terrific and engaging, and had a point-of-view about eyewear that was good for us. One of the things I have been a big proponent of is not just— for lack of a better word—slapping Theory’s name on any product that we can, because the brand has a powerful following in the marketplace with the contemporary consumer.”

The Theory women’s eyewear collection launched in the spring and includes 12 optical and 12 sunwear styles. The line is true to Theory’s clean and minimal mantra, featuring both richly hued and beautifully translucent acetate and artisan-brushed metal frames. A men’s line is planned for 2009… which would make one believe that Rosen’s eyewear collection is about to get much bigger.

For Rosen, entering the optical fold has been a learning process. “I don’t think it’s an easy process making eyewear,” says Rosen. “I make clothing. Clothing is a very evolutionary process. We design clothes and where we start is not really where we end up. With each sample, you can change the shape or the proportion. You can wash the fabric if you don’t like the way it comes out. It happens in a very short period of time, unlike eyeglasses where you have to make molds and you have all these technical elements. Eyewear is more of a challenge. But I believe each line that we work on with L’Amy is going to get better and better. They understand more, we understand more. I believe very much in evolution.”

Although he may be a novice when it comes to eyewear, Rosen is certainly no beginner when it comes to the fashion business. It is quite literally in his veins. He is the third generation of his family to work in the industry. His grandfather, Arthur Rosen, founded women’s clothing company Puritan Fashions in 1910. His father, Carl Rosen, built Puritan Fashions into one of the most prominent apparel companies of its time and was one of the first to develop modern licensing, creating licenses with such names as Gloria Swanson, Chris Evert, Diane Von Furstenberg and, ultimately, Calvin Klein Jeans.

Andrew Rosen began his career at Puritan Fashions in 1977 and went on to become president and CEO in 1983. Puritan was acquired by Calvin Klein and Barry Schwartz in 1985 and Rosen continued working closely with them until 1989. At that time, he took the helm of Anne Klein, serving as president and CEO until 1995.

In 1997, he founded Theory, which assumed a grassroots marketing strategy, stressing the fit and fabric of the clothing ahead of “big brand” marketing methods. It’s a philosophy the company still adheres to today.

“Our business is about making things that have integrity and longevity, and not about making editorial statements,” he explains. “We were eight years in business before we had a public relations department— because it’s not about that. We’re about the fit, feel and appropriateness for the modern consumer. We have a strong design aesthetic. Our collections are very forward but not over the edge. They’re cool. But they’re cool because of their fit and proportion.”

The Theory headquarters in downtown Manhattan’s trendy Meat Packing District also reflect that aesthetic. Designed by Rogers Marvel Architects and Zeff Design, they are sleek and modern with an urban campus feel. “If you look at our offices, they are not architecturally overdone,” says Rosen. “It’s about the simplicity of them. It’s about the functionality of them. They’re cool because there is no excess in them.”

Speaking of excess, Rosen is not an advocate of the lifestyle label so many other fashion designers and brands currently court. He does not want his customers and their surroundings saturated in Theory.

“Everyone talks about lifestyle brands,” he says. “I get nervous when people talk about a lifestyle brand because I don’t necessarily believe the modern consumer, man or woman, dresses head to toe in one brand. In fact, I hate the concept. I believe all of our clothing and accessories—although you could wear it head to toe—is about having individual pieces that are mixed and matched through their wardrobe or lifestyle. And the thought of them all being worn at the same time isn’t as exciting or stimulating to me as wearing them one at a time.”

However, he does want the Theory customer to feel empowered by what they choose to wear from the collection and to have it fit into their daily lives. “I think it’s very important no matter what you’re putting on—whether it’s a pair of pants or a shirt or eyewear—how it feels on you,” he says. “You have to feel empowered wearing it. Why do I wear these glasses? Because they empower me or at least I feel that way. Whenever I have an important meeting I have to put on something that makes me feel good. We are a contemporary company making clothes for people’s everyday lives. People’s everyday lives are about versatility and functionality.”

While Rosen may not believe in over-Theorizing his customers with the brand’s collection, he does believe in the collective when it comes to shaping Theory’s image.

“My vision for the company is powerful but not singular,” says Rosen. “The tone is set by my vision but it isn’t as narrow-minded as that. We have a group of people here who are similarly focused to move the company forward. The beauty of Theory is that it isn’t run by one singular person whose name is on the door. We get involved with companies that have integrity. That’s why we got into eyewear. L’Amy was the right fit. And in Theory everything is about the fit.”

 

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