The story behind these iconic 90s shades that are making a comeback
“We paved the way for people to look at eyewear as expressive and stylish, rather than purely functional. We created a new language for eyewear design.” What might seem like a lofty statement in a digitized era where cultural phenomena happen overnight, in the case of German eyewear arbiter Christian Roth, the words hold true. Roth created his eponymous line with longtime business partner, Eric Domege, in 1983, “before big fashion houses considered eyewear as a fashion accessory.” They pushed the industry’s envelope and the subversive language of their designs amassed a cultish following amongst some of fashion’s most iconic tastemakers. And in a pre-internet world – before celebrity endorsements, bloggers as billboards, and paid placements – the organic nature of this success attests their mastery of the era’s rebellious attitude. While the brand’s visionary heyday reigned over the eighties and nineties, a recent acquisition from optical empire DITA has catalyzed a relaunch for Roth.
The new chapter is preceded by three decades of going against the grain. Roth’s custom runway collabs with other avant-gardists were unprecedented, as was being inducted into the CFDA in 1990 – a first for an eyewear designer. “As designers, we serve a dual purpose: we are custodians of the past and creators of the future. Reviving our iconic styles allows us to serve both roles at once, while exploring new ideas and experimenting with materials that didn’t exist before.” As such, they recreated their archival frames with a ‘Deconstructed Bauhaus’ concept, “exploring tensions between modernist design precepts and contemporary approaches to deconstruction, representation, and renewal.” Rather than following today’s trends for inspiration, they’ve delving into the core of the brand’s subversive, thought-provoking DNA.
“We paved the way for people to look at eyewear as expressive and stylish, rather than purely functional. We created a new language for eyewear design.”
Fashion has always been a cyclical affair, and the present resurgence of 80s and 90s aesthetic makes a timely setting for the brand’s relaunch. Reminiscing on the brand’s debut, the duo said, “we began our practice during a decade of extraordinary upheaval – politically, socially, artistically – our subversive creations upended the prosaic optical conventions of the 1980s.” Fast-forward to today and find the same rebel-rousing attitudes pulsating amongst the youth. The political climate has lit a fire under the millennial consumer, and that revived activism has become a muse for Roth. “An exhaustive review of the label’s archives enabled us to revisit a design language with modern advances in materials and engineering. The process empowered us to seek new applications for a vocabulary we’ve developed over the course of three decades – to speak to the upheaval and complexity of modern life in a way that feels hopeful, optimistic, celebratory.”
In addition to the technological advancements that open a whole new world of aesthetic possibility, the advent of social media gives the duo a new channel to disseminate their vision. “As a global culture we communicate more emotionally than ever before. We send each other media and images rather than words or conversation. It’s a more impressionistic time; we think our design should reflect that spirit.” The result is twenty archival styles and re-envisioned classics, designed to “reflect the culture, mood and taste of the times.” The highly imitated and iconic ‘Archive 1993’ gets a modern refresh in 7 shades, including its signature white, millennial pink, and murano acetate. Each style marks a moment and feeling in history, from the 80s lens-on-lens ‘Ventriloquist’ shields, their 90s ‘Rock’n’Roth’ cat-eyes, and retro rounded ‘Jackie 60’ frames. The revolutionary silhouettes have since been engrained in sartorial culture.
“Eyewear is similar to any other creative industry; it’s truly a reflection of the culture, mood and taste of the times.”
The same subculture driven formula that built the brand is prime for the youthful rebellion dominating the fashion world today. “As potent symbols for the melding of music, fashion, and celebrity culture, our iconic styles have been updated with an exciting array of new materials and construction techniques for a new generation of discerning eyewear enthusiasts.” For decades, Christian Roth has been ahead of its contemporaries, and now it’s bringing that forward thinking to the tastemakers of today.