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Kuboraum Makes $500 Sunglasses that Double as Objets D'art

Within seconds of slipping on a pair of Kuboraum glasses, from the heft of the frames, the sheen of the lenses, and the layering of shapes, it becomes clear that the eyewear belongs in its own category; the trio behind the brand refers to them as masks. Sure, they'll cost you a pretty penny (some run as high as 2,010 Euros), but one of the brand's three founder's explains the price point philosophically: "People are free in their lives--free to choose what’s good or bad for them, free to lose or to find, free to buy or hesitate." More from the founder's of this Berlin by way of Italy brand, right this way.
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Within seconds of slipping on a pair of Kuboraum glasses, from the heft of the frames, the sheen of the lenses, and the layering of shapes, it becomes clear that the eyewear belongs in its own category; the trio behind the brand refers to them as masks.

"They are, in effect, cubic rooms [Kuboraum in German]--always with us--where we can be comfortable with ourselves and the world around us, and feel free to emphasize our personalities," Sergio Eusebi, Kuboraum's anthropologist and marketing director, told Fashionista in an e-mail. Eusebi, along with Livio Graziottin (designer and sculptor of the masks) and Antonio Pincin (engineer and head of manufacturing), presented their debut collection at a Milan trade fair nearly a year and a half ago. And since then, the Berlin-designed and Italy-produced sun, optical, and 24-hour masks have appeared on the pages of Dazed & Confused and Vogue Italia, and gained a following among the street style set.

Ahead of Kuboraum's first store opening--in East Berlin, apologies America--on Thursday, Eusebi discussed the brand's recent LTD Gold Burnt series (which uses 24-karat gold), the real people featured on his website, and how to think through spending three figures on shades.

Fashionista: Tell me a bit about you and Livio before Kuboraum. Did you both have an interest in creation, objects, and disguises? How did you meet? Eusebi: Livio and I are both Italian, and we each grew up in Italy, but traveled around the world. Before he moved to Berlin, Livio worked in fashion for many years--for a decade, he was head designer at Belstaff. He simultaneously designed his menswear line, 24/7 Suits, an outstanding brand that shows his passion for traveling, different cultures, and other languages, along with his passion for traditional suiting techniques and hand-stitching and combines it into one garment. Every shirt, coat, and pair of pants is a piece of fashion, a piece of art, and a map of human geography at the same time. I was studying in Rome and I went to Berlin to write my thesis about the anthropology of the body. I started working as a stylist, cool-hunter, and editor, and I collaborated with many magazines. I met Livio at a dinner in an art gallery that belonged to a friend – it was only a week after he arrived in Berlin, about four years ago. We had a nice conversation and a few days later, my girlfriend and I went to his studio and I was completely astonished by his work! A week after that, we began our partnership.

There’s also a third member of your core Kuboraum group. Yes. One day, we were in Italy (working on another project) and an old friend of Livio introduced us to our future Kuboraum partner Antonio Pincin. Antonio, an engineer, has a lot of experience in eyewear production, and the day after we met him, the first Kuboraum collection was ready on paper. We then devoted a year to the project, which was presented for the first time at the end of February 2012 during Milan Fashion Week at Mido, an eyewear fair.

How did it go? We had one small table (about two meters) with five different models in three different colors. They were really thick masks--it was a complete rebellion against the way of thinking about eyewear. Now, you can find these types of thick frames in collections by almost every other brand. In four days, we took orders from most of the best opticians around the world and everyone was intrigued by Kuboraum.

It seems integral to your brand that you work in Berlin, but manufacture in Italy. It’s a “conditio sine qua non" for our project: “Dreamed in Berlin, Handmade in Italy.” It’s like a manifesto that summarizes what’s behind Kuboraum: the extreme quality and the best know-how of Italian hand-production synced with experimentation inspired by the metropolis of Berlin--tradition mixed with avant-garde--that pushes Kuboraum beyond the borders of experimentation.

What is it about eyewear, specifically, that appeals to you? Eyewear embraces a sense of timeless taste. It gives the wearer an opportunity to look in the mirror and have a feeling of evolution, authenticity, and amazement. We view eyewear as sculptures that attract people who are ready for a strong relationship with themselves and, later, with the glasses, which is no longer an inanimate object, but acquires the power of a mask. Masks help us feel at ease, but they highlight our characters and emphasize ourselves. This is also the reason why Kuboraum has no logo. Each mask contains its own look and power, but as soon one wears it, it takes on the character of the wearer and not the glasses itself.

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Who are the “models” on your website? What made you decide to use real people? They are artists, DJs, producers, photographers, designers, journalists, stylists, teachers, students, and a lot of friends – even my professor of anthropology, who was visiting us! We use real people in order to document the moment in right now in Berlin, to describe the environment and show that each mask is good for every silhouette. It doesn’t matter if you’re a model.

Sergio, you are listed as the anthropologist, and Livio as the artist, which aren't terms regularly associated with fashion. Likewise, you call the eyewear “masks.” How did you arrive at this vocabulary? We use words to describe actions, so we came to this vocabulary in a completely natural way, simply describing our thinking, doing, and being. At the same time, it represents our distance from anything that has to do with seasonal trends or any of the general practices of the fashion business.

How often do you produce new collections? More than collections, Kuboraum is based on concepts. There are many concepts in each of our collections and one specific and authentic identity. This year we came out with four new concepts and two new manufacturing techniques. The K0.01 collection focused on the concept of the mask; Livio carved the K0.02 masks into acetate and they remind us of the inorganic power contained in Mayan or Samurai masks, but at the same time they look futuristic; the Kuboraum LTD for _Julius [a menswear brand] is based on a relation of esteem, friendship, and mutual respect between two very specific and unique identities; and the Kuboraum T0.01 & H0.01 collections are based on a revolutionary concept--the combination of two different spectacles that are literally engaged.

Can you identify some of the masks that stand out to you the most? We are really tied to each of our masks. A few weeks ago, we presented our LTD Gold Burnt collection at our Kuboraum pop-up stores at Isetan in Tokyo and Monocle in Rome. The pieces are burnt by hand using a remarkable patent-pending technique and during the burning, 24-karat gold accessories made by a Venetian artisan, are inserted one-by-one. The lenses are the results of a long period of research and they have an 18-karat gold finish. We are really proud of them. They are priced from 1,250 to 2,010 euros.

Given the price point of your non-gold masks (about $250 to $500), what might you tell someone who is hesitant to spend more than $50 on a pair of glasses, say, in fear of losing them? People are free in their lives--free to choose what’s good or bad for them, free to lose or to find, free to buy or hesitate.

What do you think of other eyewear at the same price point? We don’t really know brands of glasses; we just focus on what we are doing.

How big is your team? Being only one year old, we are still a small, but well-organized company. I can tell you that we are really efficient.

What’s next for Kuboraum? We’re hoping to add more stockists, especially in America, where we started with a few key accounts, but on Thursday, July 4, during Berlin Fashion Week, we are opening Kuboraum’s new store and showroom on Köpenicker Strasse 96 between Mitte and Kreuzberg, in East Berlin. It used to be an old post office and part of it belongs to Livio’s art gallery, Pastpresent. Eventually, we will close Pastpresent and open Kuboraum in an entirely natural way, as a Tibetan monk destroys a mandala when it’s ready!

Click here for a list of Kuboraum stockists.