Features: Conversation With...

Jun
2010

Pure Genius

Ira Lerner reflects on a life revolving around art and technology



I don’t think about it often, but I realize my whole career has been centered on art and technology,” says Ira Lerner, optical designer and inventor. “I started with art as the focus, then evolved into technology. Now I have come full circle, using technology to create beautiful pieces of eyewear for the face.” For more than 20 years, eyewear has been the main thread holding his two worlds together.

Although Lerner entered college as a science major to study animal behavior, he soon switched his major to fine art after taking up photography to document wild life. This interest in both art and science helped him, at age 19, become the youngest photographer hired by National Geographic magazine. After working for National Geographic, Lerner went on to become a successful fashion photographer in New York, opening a small ad agency dedicated to the fashion industry in the late 1980s. Among his clients were such major fashion and cosmetic brands as Calvin Klein and Revlon, and several leading eyewear companies, including Viva International for whom he created the “Beau Monde” advertising campaign. “Until then, eyeglass ads were either close-up shots of someone wearing glasses or a still life of the eyewear,” Lerner notes. “The Beau Monde ad campaign was radically different. The camera was far away from the glasses, showing people enjoying life. It wasn’t about the glasses; it was about the lifestyle you would have if you wore those glasses.” 

In the years that followed, Lerner worked as marketing director/art director for Viva and helped Marchon Eyewear launch its Flexon and CFG ad campaigns. In the process, he became immersed in eyeglass technology, eventually forming his own company, ISL (Ira Stephen Lerner) Technologies, LLC. The company focuses on representing inventors in the eyewear industry, including creators of frame and lens technologies, software technologies and all eyewear-related technologies.

In 1994, Lerner revolutionized the clip-on segment of the industry with Takumi, ophthalmic frames with sun lenses attached by magnets. “Several inventors were working on magnetic eyewear worldwide,” Lerner explains. “I brought them together and perfected the technology, making it one of the most successful eyewear categories in the U.S. Magnetic technology virtually replaced clips. Only about 5 percent of clips sold today have actual clips and not magnets of some sort.”

Since the launching of magnetic eyewear, Lerner’s company, ISL Technologies, has been awarded more than 22 patents in the U.S. and abroad for eyewear technology it has invented. Some of the company’s inventions include a clip-on reader that attaches magnetically behind a pair of sunglasses and a system of interchangeable frames, using the same prescription lenses so the wearer has several fashion options.

ISL Technologies’ most recent invention is Pure Eyewear, which was launched at Vision Expo East this past March. “Pure Eyewear is not just a new design for rimless eyewear; it’s a totally new approach to making eyewear. We call it threading,” Lerner says. A single strand of wire is threaded through the holes in the lenses. There are no screws, no hinges and no compression mounting plugs to come loose or break off. And approximately a third of the styles don’t even have nosepads.

“Of all the inventions we’ve worked on, including magnetic eyewear, Pure Eyewear has been the most thrilling,” Lerner notes. “We believe it will have an enormous impact on how eyewear is made going forward. In fact, we’re describing it with a word used in the technology industry, ‘transformative,’ because Pure has the ability to change how we see eyewear.”

 The concept for Pure Eyewear came from an honest approach to design, Lerner says. “We questioned everything.” But developing the collection wasn’t without challenges. “It’s one thing to come up with an idea and put it to paper. It’s a great deal more difficult to make it actually work. In fact, Pure Eyewear was in the development stage for at least four years after we first put the idea to paper,” Lerner explains. “People have thought for a long time it would be nice to have a flying car and there is one in the works now, but if it had been easier, we would have had one a long time ago. If you’re thinking of inventing a technology, be prepared to fly [in a plane] around the world a few times to find the right people to make it all come together.”

Working with eyewear has its own set of challenges: It has to look good on the face and it has to accommodate various lenses. “We know how to work with full metal and plastic frames, but once you push the envelope and give a different twist to frame technology, there is a whole new set of considerations,” Lerner explains. “Our objective was to thread one piece of wire through the lenses, but finding the perfect alloy was very challenging. We tried bending all types of wire around -7.00 and -8.00 lens thicknesses until we found something that works, is user friendly for opticians and is compatible with the lenses [doesn’t scratch or damage them]. We also had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to have special tools made to work with the material.” The material chosen is a proprietary, high-performance alloy, Xanadium, which has a friendly memory, is easier to adjust than titanium and is corrosion and acid resistant.

Fortunately, the effort put into developing Pure is beginning to reap rewards. “People have been test wearing Pure styles for over a year and they love them. One of the first comments we have heard from various opticians is that the Pure design is so effective high-minus lenses don’t come loose from the mounting,” Lerner says. “This, of course, requires that we customize the wire for each lens. But that can be turned into an advantage. Consumers appreciate getting a true custom fit, bent to accomodate their Rx. It’s very cool for them.”

Another idea Lerner and his team had with this collection was to make eyewear without nosepads. “We thought why do you need nosepads on metal frames? The answer is you don’t. The lenses can rest directly on the nose. It turned out to be a lot more comfortable than we expected and is a great look,” he says.

But there was a lot of trial and error involved. “We fitted them on hundreds of people to see what shapes looked best without interfering with the lenses’ main purpose—improving vision,” Lerner notes. “We do expect to sell more styles with nosepads, but we believe many people will love the ‘no nosepad’ look, especially those who like to be on the cutting edge of new technology and high styling. Pure Eyewear delivers both.”

If Lerner were to leave eyewear, he says he would like to consult with other companies on consumer products such as household appliances. He has already done some consulting for a large camera company, a fluorescent light business and athletic shoes. But his true passion is the optical market. “I love eyewear. I’m personally involved in it.”

 

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