With the objective to produce luxury sunglasses unlike any on the market, London-based design duo Megan Trimble and Gareth Townsend launched ZANZAN – a brand that since 2009 has become synonymous with eyewear “delivered with a fashion sensibility and a strong visual identity”. Hand-made from rare, iridescent 60s and 70s Italian acetate in very limited editions, ZANZAN’s specs are the visual embodiment of their name – a term, the designers say, Maltese gangster’s used in 60’s London to describe a “rush of style”.
Inspired by art, literature and film, ZANZAN draws on a multi-faceted history of style – from the 1920s through the 1970s, resulting in retro wares that are as much objet d’arte as fashion accessories (they even come with a hand-made leather pouch that doubles as a satchel). Stocked at exclusive fashion boutiques rather than eyewear stores, ZANZAN’s mission is to, “Take sunglasses out of the optician’s and back onto the catwalk,” a mission that we’d say they have well and truly accomplished. As if they weren’t already on our New Year’s must-have list, Zanzan also supports The Fred Hollows Foundation, donating funds from each sale to eye-saving operations in Nepal – there really is a lot to like when it comes to ZANZAN.
Megan Trimble, the chic redhead behind ZANZAN, talks Sunday afternoons relishing 70s films and the art of living well with Indigo Clarke.
How did ZANZAN come to life?
Megan Trimble: I started Zanzan with my business partner Gareth Townshend and we released our first collection in 2009. I realised that women’s clothes were being made to an extraordinary standard by some very talented designers, and very few, if any, of them made sunglasses. Almost all of the big brands outsource their sunglasses – even their design – to a couple of big Italian conglomerates and the product has been in decline for years for that very reason. It’s a similar business to perfume and the consumers’ expectations have been eroded in a similar way too. It seemed as though it was easy to find really exciting, desirable brands making clothing and accessories but we just couldn’t find any really great sunglasses. So we set out to produce something really special; handmade sunglasses delivered with a fashion sensibility and a strong visual identity.
Can you tell us about the fabulous name?
Trimble: We discovered the word Zanzan in ‘The Way We Wore’ by Robert Elms – his personal account of the life of a style-obsessed kid in late 60s/70s/80s London. It’s a Maltese word used by gangsters in 60s London’s Soho to describe the feeling of wearing something great for the first time, like a new suit; a rush of style. Actually, I was talking to a young Moroccan boy on a beach in Essaouira recently and he told me that Zanzan means ‘crazy girl’ in Arabic. Maybe he was winding me up though?
Where do you find the inspirations for your sunglasses and their equally captivating names?
Everywhere – we’re both bookworms, film freaks, music addicts. Zanzan is a response to the world rather than a response to the fashion scene. Culture and history are my passions and Zanzan is just a way of making sense of all that ‘lost’ time in cinemas and art galleries, and all those Sunday afternoons watching 70s films, loving the clothes and hair-styles. The names come out of books mostly, and are just words that jump out and have some sort of resonance, romance or lyrical quality. I love it when I discover words in other languages that we don’t have equivalents for in English. We have a men’s style called Sprezzatura – it’s an Italian word for the stylish art of dishevelment. It’s a guy thing really – not trying too hard. Only the Italian’s could have a word like this! Consistent inspirations though would be Italy, France, Brazil and NYC/California in the late 60s and 70s – anything to do with living well. I am fascinated by the arts and crafts that are produced when cultures collide, probably because I grew up in colonial Hong Kong.
So interesting that you grew up in Hong Kong, then Aus and now London?
Yes, I’m Australian but grew up in Hong Kong and Sydney and now split my time between London and New York. I did a degree in Photography and have always worked in design and fashion. I saw sunglasses as a product that weren’t being made well, generally speaking. Italian style is a huge influence for Zanzan, but it seems to have lost its way. That’s part of the problem with sunglasses; they’re all made in Italy (well China really but let’s skip that). We saw the opportunity to bring an English style sensibility to the curdling conservatism of the industry and to present a more strident visual statement to support the product. Sunglasses have gotten boring, but why? What could be more glamorous?
Who would you love to see wearing your specs?
My friends. Nothing beats seeing the people you love get excited about what you do. I’m more interested in seeing them photographed and interpreted by great photographers or used by certain stylists really. I’d much prefer to see them in a Tim Walker shoot than on some celeb, but we sell to all sorts really. I had a woman call me from Africa recently telling me she had read about ZANZAN in the Sunday Times and wanted to buy a pair when she was in London. We met for tea in Liberty, where ZANZAN is stocked, and I sold her a pair. It’s fascinating who turns up. If you make something romantic or nostalgic then you always have a chance of striking a chord with someone.
Can you tell us about your latest collection of limited edition sunglasses that has just launched – why did you choose to craft them from rare, vintage acetate?
We’re showing eight styles at our showrooms in NYC and Paris this year; Avida Dollars, Zuki, Aubade, Spa Ma Ma, Sprezzatura, Paninaro, Ortolan and Erzulie. We collect vintage acetate. The colours can be truly extraordinary – some look like iridescent marble and some of the one-off’s are made from diaphanous veneers – they light up from behind if you catch the right aspect. I get a lot pleasure holding the acetate up to the light and looking at all the beautiful colours and patterns. They’re quite kaleidoscopic. They are all Italian, usually 1970s and we use this acetate because no one else can get their hands on it! 95% of sunglass sales are in black or tortoiseshell but we’ve created a small market for something more unique.
Any exciting projects for ZANZAN this year?
Yes! We’re working on silk kimonos and kaftans, French-cut men’s trousers, leather accessories, a pop-up shop, and a collaboration with a hotel in Asia alongside a continuation of our work with the Fred Hollows Foundation to fund sight-saving operations in developing countries through the ‘ZANZAN Making Eyes Foundation’. A call from Tom Ford to lend a hand with his next collection? Okay well that hasn’t happened – but here’s hoping!
Stocked at Ikram, Maxfield, House on Genesee in the USA and Liberty, Start boutique and online at Farfetch in the UK.
Also available through www.zanzan.co.uk