Born in Aquitaine in southwest France, Philippe Vergez grew up surrounded by art and literature. At 19, he decided to abandon scientific studies to travel and explore new cultures and forms of artistic expression. In the 1980s, he worked in marketing with the California-based Oakley. There he met Greg Arnette and in 1993 joined forces with Arnette to promote a line of sport sunglasses internationally. “At Arnette, I began learning about frame design,” Vergez notes. “When the company was sold to Luxottica, I decided to go out on my own.” His goal was to design a sunglass collection exclusively for women. “Women have different facial needs and facial structures,” he explains. “Often, because they have smaller bridge areas, sunglasses will rest uncomfortably on their cheek bones and when they smile, the frame moves upward.
So in 2003, Vergez founded his own company in France, Jee Vice Optics
, pronounced “G-Vice.” The resulting line has been embraced in a short period of time by an entourage of artists, trendsetters, rock stars and business women around the world.
In creating the sunwear collection, Vergez follows his own style—tasteful extravagance. “Jee Vice designs personify my philosophy, which does not compromise on either beautiful form or real world function,” he says. The eyewear is designed in France and handmade in Italy with an emphasis on innovative design combined with the latest technologies in frames and sun lenses. Lenses are polycarbonate and supplied exclusively by Carl Zeiss. Frames are constructed of proprietary grilamid 90 nylon flex memory injection material with carbon and titanium powder added to enhance performance. The metal used is a corrosion-resistant, hypoallergenic alloy that’s extremely strong and durable. The tagline “Handmade with love and passion” appears on the inside left temple of each sunglass. “I see my eyewear as perfect for the glamour girl on the go who seeks performance, yet indulges in haute designs,” he says.
The sunglass collection takes its direction from the 1950s to the 1970s, Vergez says. “I get ideas from various objects—vintage sunglasses, chairs, furniture, clothes—reworking lines and volumes in a modern way. I’m also inspired by music and French and Italian movies from the ’50s and from my extensive travels. I love Japan and Japanese culture and Indonesia. I also like islands because I love to scuba dive and can draw inspiration for my eyewear colors from underwater.”
But most important, Vergez is always talking to and observing women. He recently organized a workshop centered on the “Sex and City” movie and talked extensively with a group of women about their thoughts, what they like to wear, their day-to-day activities. “What I really find interesting in my discussions with women is that 80 percent of them want the same thing in terms of design and color,” he explains. And what do women want to see in eyewear? “They are looking for big frames that fit and they like various shades of orange, but, of course, they will end up wearing black and tortoise.”
What the designer wants to see in the optical industry is more energy. “I would like retailers to give young designers a chance. They are the ones creating the brands of the future.”
Even though, Vergez believes the eyewear market is oversaturated with product, he still thinks there is room for niche brands that make a difference. “My hope is in the future people will be more aware of quality and fit,” he says. “But for this to happen, retailers need to be educated on new technologies and materials and in turn have to educate their customers. As designers, it’s important we don’t just listen to what the market says they need now, but that we also anticipate what they will need in the future.”