JOHN JUNIPER & JEFF SOLORIO: MACH-SIX STORIES
It takes more than fifty different processes to put a DITA Mach-Six together. Each of them has a story – one of provenance or craftsmanship, a spark or a happy accident. And there have been five previous iterations in the Mach-Series that have each been the subject of countless hours of agonizing over details and design nuances that nod to memories or inspirations.
These are glasses where every tweak, every rivet or screw, tells a story. Not just in how it was made, but something more than that – a memory, a feeling, a fragment of an idea located deep in the recess of one’s mind. This is the story of the Mach-Six told through six of those.
The private lives of the Los Angeles’ rich and famous are often punctuated by the public hounding of the paparazzi. And sunglasses — traditionally, the bigger the better — have long been a way of deflecting both attention and the flash of twenty-odd camera bulbs at the same time. Even if they’re now only a gestural tool, the message is one of wanting to be discreet, to not be bothered.
The Mach-One, first launched in 2011 by DITA, a brand well-accustomed to the nature of Los Angeles, is the antithesis to this. It’s a striking but balanced frame, a focal point on the wearer’s face, without overwhelming it. It’s a frame designed to not divert looks, but to attract them and create a look for someone who, in their own way, wants to put on a performance.This was always the plan according to John:
We wanted to spare no expense and make an over-the-top frame. One that would catch people’s attention and that, when they came out, they would be blown away by what they saw.
The Mach-Six was released in September of this year and despite what could be perceived as the 70s Hollywood glamour of these maximalist frames, celebrity is not what inspired them. As with much of DITA’s work, it’s the world of automobiles which has informed the design the most – and, in general, the tastes of John and the brand’s other co-founder, Jeff Solorio. JOHN JUNIPER & JEFF SOLORIO, DITA CO-FOUNDERS, 1976
The duo met in kindergarten, growing up together, going through the same rites of passage at similar points. A first fight. A first girlfriend. A first car. A sense of thrill-seeking was what bound the two together; that addictive rush that comes when speed is mixed with a little danger. John explains that “we both loved to ride dirt bikes, to surf, snowboarding, go-karting... and you do those things long before you start to drive cool or fancy cars.” Jeff also adds that:
Growing up my father always had car magazine subscriptions and when the luxury car shows would come to town, he would take me. As a kid in the 70s, my dreams were of the German and Italian supercars of the time.
And that influence can be seen in the various iterations of the Mach. To label it sleek might seem trite, but it’s also true. It has sensual curves, married with clean lines. It looks robust, yet somehow delicate and lightweight, an inanimate object engineered to look like it’s geared for speed.
Over the past few months, Jeff has spent time fixing up his first car, a 1965 family-size van, which his grandfather bought from a TV repairman for around the price of a pair of Mach-Six. It’s had several owners since, his father and then his brothers, and then him. It’s a bulbous van, that looks like it was made for trundling down tracks rather than careering round corners.
But the duo’s shared obsession with automobiles isn’t one of pure childhood nostalgia, or sheer practicality. (After all, they both grew up in Laguna Beach, in Southern California, an area where “before taxi-apps came, that was the only way you could get around. You had to get a car to get yourself out,” according to Jeff.) Making frames is much like making cars. The Mach-Series, John explains that the process isn’t dissimilar to how luxury car brands would release different, updated versions of a signature series, as he rattles off example names with jaw dropping top speeds.
THE DITA MACH-SERIES
“It’s really hard to hire anybody who has experience at an eyewear brand. A lot of the time the designers who we employ are car designers,” Dustin Edward Arnold, DITA’s Creative Director told me earlier this year. “They come from a car design background, and then basically we mentor them in eyewear.”
This can be seen in the Mach-Six, Jeff elaborates. “If I sat down with you and grabbed a frame, I could show you all of the things we’ve done, and what we’ve added to this frame. It’s been an evolution.” Like most people who work together closely for a period of time, the pair have a habit of expanding on each other’s point without skipping a beat, with John adding: “It’s exactly like the car industry. They’ll come up with supercars, and then take that technology and put it into the base models. We come up with some really high-end things, and then use them for frames like the Mach. You’re always looking for new innovation.”
The oldest statue known to man has existed for over 1,000 years. Known as the “Iron Man,” it is presumed to depict the Buddhist god Vaiśravaṇa and was carved from the remains of a meteorite, a material almost as tough as steel, by Tibetans. It is only 24 centimetres tall, but over time more of its ilk have been built, in taller, grander forms. Typically, they have paid physical homage to figures of importance, that are loved or respected in some way – warriors, philosophers, gods and, of course, despotic dictators. In Sabae, a city in Japan’s Fukui Prefecture, there is a statue too. That of a pair of glasses.
“The Japanese, I would say, are the last of the craftsmen, in eyewear,” says John. In Fukui, you’ll find some of the best in the industry. They have been making eyewear for over a century, honing their craft – and commitment to obsessing over what many would class as minutiae. Here, frames are polished and imperfections smoothed out under the diligent eye of a craftsman, using a method that takes many at least ten years to master.
A MASTER-CRAFTSMEN IN FUKUI, JAPAN
Fukui is a region which is a far cry from the vast, sprawling roads of California, punctuated by strip malls and non-spaces, but it is equally important in what DITA is today — it’s where the Mach-Six are made. “They all have the same machines, they can all buy hi-tech 3D machines,” says John of factories in other countries, “but what makes the difference is the craftsmanship.”
“It takes time, sometimes years, to create strong relationships with the factories, the craftsmen, the engineers to really get the best out of them and us.” adds Jeff. “It’s a huge collaboration. You can’t just say, ‘Hey, here’s a design, make it.’ It takes time and trust.”
A pair of Mach-Six will cost you $1,000. (Luckily, your eyes can water at the price tag whilst wearing them and no one will know.) These are, by almost anyone’s reckoning, expensive frames. And they’d probably be cheaper today if John and Jeff had never been introduced to the master-craftsmen of Fukui. A DITA FRAME BEING PRODUCED IN FUKOI, JAPAN
“They were 300 dollars, or 350,” remembers John of the first pair of glasses DITA had manufactured by a Japanese factory. “I remember we thought that was so expensive and so crazy. But we felt like the quality was superior to other frames on the market at the time... I always say, you don’t have to like what DITA does, but our products are made by some the most highly respected factories in the eyewear industry. You have men who have been working in these factories — and their fathers worked there prior to them — for 30, 40, even 50 years.”
In a way, just like a Jeff’s heirloom-automobile, these can even be kept for years. The Mach-Six, when it looks weary or has mechanical issues, can be polished up and repaired. Basically, it’ll last, because of the way it has been engineered and faithfully constructed.
Throughout its six forms, there are versions of the Mach that appeal to different archetypes, while still retaining its signature aesthetic. If we started with airbrushed Hollywood and frames worn with such head-turning confidence that whiplash may be likely, it’s worth pointing out that this does not define the Mach-Series.
Although DITA’s first appearance in a fashion shoot was on a hunky Hollywood heartthrob, way back in a 1995 issue of Interview, there has always been quieter aspects to the brand which readily apply to the Mach-Six. In size, some may consider them maximalist and avant-garde. But the sharp lines of the Mach-Six can equally be labelled minimalist, the design references classic. Through its series of iterations, it has matured in its aesthetic, while retaining those elements that nod to classic 70s automobiles. CLOSEUP OF THE DITA MACH-SIX
When asked to provide the perfect scene in which the Mach-Six would be worn – such as a perfect Californian sunset, a wide-open road, a classic car, wind rushing through the driver’s hair, and a perfectly neat note to end on – John and Jeff demurred. “That’s too romantic for us,” murmured Jeff. “We’ve always designed for our friends and family. The people who are around us and in our lives. We’re designing for these people, kind of like muses, to create a frame that looks good on them.” Just like the Mach-Series contains multitudes, in ideas and processes, so do its wearers.
Words: Calum Gordon
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