Just a few blocks from the three-story factory where Mykita eyeglasses are designed, prototyped, and assembled by hand by a team of skilled workers, there’s a world-renowned contemporary art museum currently showing works inspired by Joseph Beuys’s vision of the future. There’s a new bar where fancy hipsters go to sip $15 Moscow mules, and more than a few new “luxury” condo buildings, which have begun sprouting like weeds in the area in the past five years. That’s about when Mykita moved its headquarters to their current location in the middle of Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood, which is basically the New York equivalent of setting up shop in Soho. It doesn’t actually manufacture from scratch there the metal and acrylic frames that are its signature — the parts are sent up in flat batches from South Germany — but it does just about everything else that’s required to construct and ship out between 600 and 1,000 pairs of glasses per day to the likes of Colette and Opening Ceremony. “It’s a business philosophy for Mykita that everything is under one roof,” says Lisa Thamm, head of Mykita PR, who gave us a tour of the factory this past June. “It’s actually easier that way, especially when your graphics team, your designers, everybody is really into detail.”
Being detail-oriented is also the main requirement, of course, for the workers that bike to Mykita each day to fold hinges and attach nose pads and bend frames to the precise angle to fit your face. But it appears to be pretty much the only one; some of the folks on staff are trained optometrists or specialists who know how to cut a Zeiss lens on a lens-cutting machine, but the rest come from fields as diverse as jewelry-making or ceramics. “They all have the common, defining element that they’re very good with working with their hands,” says Thamm. “They do get in-house training, and then it’s a bit of a learning-by-doing process.” We followed that process from start to finish this summer, documenting it for the slideshow at right before heading back out into the blissful buzz of a sunny Berlin afternoon.
When you arrive in Zürich, you arrive with a few certainties: The trams will run like clockwork, the city will be spotless, and at least a third of the population, it seems, will be carrying a Freitag messenger bag. During my weeklong stay in Switzerland this spring, the Freitag bag — with its recycled truck-tarp shell, seatbelt strap, and inner-tube edging — began to seem something like a national accessory.
An hour east of Venice, in the province of Udine, Italy, three small outlying villages make up an area quaintly known as “The Chair Triangle.” For centuries, the municipalities of Manzano, Corno di Rosazzo, and San Giovani al Natisone have been home to workshops and factories, woodworkers and artisans, tool-makers and sawmills, all devoted to producing the more than 40 million chairs that emerge each year from the region. The city of Udine itself is no slouch in the manufacturing department — it’s home to Moroso, one of Italy’s most storied brands — but the chair triangle is known more for its specialized production and for manufacturers who do anonymous, subcontracted work for the big brands.
There's an easy way to tell whether or not you were born to be a maker: sit down at a table piled with random junk and scraps of material, and see how long it takes you to conjure something useful and/or beautiful. For the Das Wilde Denken workshop last month, Matylda Krzykowski and the team behind Depot Basel joined forces with my favorite design/fashion boutique in Berlin, Baerck, and invited a handful of local designers to spend two days doing just that. The results, of course, were amazing — where an observer like myself couldn't really make the mental leap past a jumble of discarded trolley wheels and wooden boards, this group envisioned lamps, sculptural table mirrors, jewelry trays, and stationery sets. The curators saw it as a chance for the designers to get back to basics and enjoy the simplicity of an open-ended crafting session, but they also likened the experience to reconnecting with childhood, when making wasn't goal-oriented but immediate and spontaneous — hence the name Das Wilde Denken, which means "wild thinking." (Momentary flashback to Malin Gabriela Nordin's children's workshop, which we featured last month.) All of the pieces created during the session, a selection of which are featured in the slideshow after the jump, will be on view and for sale at Baerck through February 2.