INDUSTRIAL DESIGN REVOLUTION
The spirit of luxury, the essence of the highest refinement, and the expression of unprecedented craftsmanship are all apparent in Native Sons eyewear. All collections represent Tommy O'Gara's grand vision for eyewear, from elegant design to intricate custom details.
After years of working in the creative industry, Tommy decided to set out on his path to creating unique eyewear with Japanese craftsmanship, blending artisanal techniques with a sense of contemporary style. Native Sons are engineered entirely in-house from concept to design and production, combining traditional woodworking techniques with modern practices for a genuinely exclusive eyewear experience.
Since moving to Japan in the eighty's and starting his own company, The Light Co. Ltd., amongst other things, Tommy produces eyewear for Sauvage, Native Sons, Visvim, Supreme, Neighborhood, and Max Pittion — a brand owned by John Mayer — Julius Tart, and others.
What are you up to these days?
I'm traveling throughout Japan, doing a lot of research and experiencing nature and architecture. I'm also sketching, writing, playing vinyls, eating great food and drinking moderately, riding motorcycles, some swimming and surfing.
How have you been keeping during these times? How have you adapted to the change?
No change, really, just no trips to Haneda to go to other countries. I spend about 75% of my time alone, traveling, working, and camping these days.
Camping! What's your set-up like? And, what are your top five essentials for camping?
Depends on season and transport. My gear is minimal for motorcycle trips: Snow Peak pad, a pillow, a North Face bag, a 2000 lumens headlamp, a gas burner, a compact cooking set, a hand ax, and a Big Agnes tent. If I'm in the G Wagon for longer trips, I use a Big Agnes 3-person tent. If I'm in the van, sometimes I just van camp, bringing a cooler and water, or a portable shower, for after surfing.
Day after day, what is it that renews your passion to create?
Movement. Experiencing life and locations. Life is a trip while you exist. It's important to enjoy every moment!
What does a “rebel spirit" mean to you?
To me, the rebel spirit means to do as much as you can in your own way. Using your own methods to achieve a feeling of self and existence. If you are creating, create from your Self; there are people who will enjoy and share in your creations.
Do you consider your substantial educational foundation an influence in how you design today?
Hmm. Not totally. You can learn the basics of design, composition, colour theory, and, of course, drawing and computer skills. But much of it comes down to both sense, and the other side of the coin: engineering.
My MO for design is to gather a vibe around a series of themes that I set, based on what I am into at the time. Once I create the Vibe Sheet, then I make notes and start to sketch the Oculars. Then, I build the frame design around that base. It's more like actual sculpting.
You have a knack for art history. Did sculpture ever catch your attention?
I studied and created sculpture as an undergrad. My dad's friend demolished a bridge in our hometown and I constructed twisted calligraphic sculptures with the remnants in my studio. I also set up Richard Serra works at Sheldon Gallery. In school, we also did bronze casting, lost wax, and sand mold methods. I am a good mold maker [laughs].
You're also educated in human anatomy. How does that factor into your designs, if at all?
Yes, this is a large factor when it comes to the different skull configurations globally and dialling fits in for design. It's a very interesting problem.
Tell us about some of your favourite side projects.
With respect to design, I worked on a large section of Gull Diving, designing masks and gear. I was also creatively directing their films and shoots while rebranding the company. I pretty much did the same at BRIEFING. I had a great time working with Errolson on the Acronym Frame, as well — a futuristic sculpture of a frame. And, the Heart Frames for Human Made with Nigo and Pharrell! It is always a blast to do these projects.
I also build and ride bikes all over. Two years ago, my son, Jake, and I were invited on a ride with El Solitario in Spain. We flew to Paris, left some Baggage at CDG (we had the sacai show later), and then Flew to Galacia to the ESMC Ranch. We had two days of prep and brotherly drinking and eating before the ride. It was great fun! Lisa Yamai of Snow Peak shipped ten Dome 6 tents for the trip. We had two support trucks and one chef truck ... and 40 wild men and women. Twenty of them rode almost totally off-road and twenty others rode the ranch and mountain roads. In total, we rode more than 2,000km from Galacia to Andalucia, through Spain and Portugal. What a trip! Camping and waking up to amazing vistas, eating from giant-sized paellas in the Shepards Lodges — definitely once in a lifetime!
Shady Character' is a favourite, niche collection. How did you uncover that project?
Shady Character is an interesting story. I knew about it from the JTO Archives and working with the Tart Family. I felt Shady would be a great addition alongside JTO, so I did some research and brought in Michael Carney to creatively direct the branding. Working with MC was amazing and I am looking forward to more!
I looked for the original owners and could not find them. So, I thought, perhaps they had passed. I had our lawyers register the IPs globally. Right after the listing, one of my coordinators finally found them. Their licenses had long since expired, but, of course, we would include them.
MC and I took a trip to NYC to meet with the original owners. We went through their amazing archives, had dinner, and hung out a bit. They are both in their seventies, but doing ok. We created a royalty for their heritage and are still working together on the project.
Your styles are heavy, yet utilitarian in their design. Tell us about some of your most prominent artistic influences.
Well, our line is very diverse. But, for example, we have the Cornell named after Joseph Cornell, the Krasner in the nsxsacai collection named after Lee Krasner, the painter and Jackson Pollack's wife. The Matheson is named after Chef Matty. I look to Rothko and Richter quite a bit, too.
- What's your favourite modernist movement?
A tricky set of words, to be sure! If you have ever read my mini manifesto, I point out that the industrial design revolution was borne on the back of WWII. The same goes for art and design. I am a retro-modern man, through and through, but NOT a revisionist by any means. When I'm in Paris, I visit Piccaso and Brancussi, for sure. But, I relate more now to Richard Prince, Tom Sachs, KNARF, Kostas Seremetis, and Jose Parla.
Were I to take a jump back, it would be to the abstract expressionism of Pollack, Hoffman, and De Kooning. But, my actual school days were all about the primitives like Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, Julian Schnable, and Gerhard Richter.. Yes, I call them Primitives. Urban Primitives!And what will be ... what is the new phrasing? Futurism infinitism?
What is that sense of 'infinitism' in The LIGHT Co.? What is it in Tommy O'Gara?
We are all stardust.
“Details that were previously considered practical are revived as a good design today." This statement really speaks to your design and attention to detail. What forced you to reconsider how eyewear should be made?
You know, nothing really forced me into any considerations or reconsiderations. One day, I was in Sabae, directing Dita Japan at the time. I picked up the phone and called my partners, Jeff and John, and said, “We have to start an optical line". They weren't objecting, but they were a California sunglass brand at the time.
I had a direction: to do Retro Modernism. So, I started with that. At the time, I was doing a frame with Jonio at Undercover and using computer motherboard screws. This became a main design element and part of the Retro Modernism vibe of the line.
With Native Sons, I brought back the star nut to adjust the hinge and incorporated it as a design element. At the time, the motorhead beauty marks were huge and nobody was really using beauty marks at the temples and front.
Also, Native Sons construction is layered in a very architectural manner, with respect to design and construction. Diamond-tooled core wires lie behind the beauty marks, which are screwed in. It's constructivism ... at work.
In your eyes, What is the greatest accomplishment that a blackbox principle environment can generate?
I do not look at other brands. So, really, I just draw what I'm after. The Black Box thing is that we are vertical, in that we have our own engineers and factories. Nobody sees our stuff. BOOM!
What is your definition of 'fun'?
I don't really do things that are not fun or rewarding. But, I can say it is great to catch up with friends. You definitely get a feeling of elation!
What's the most rewarding part of the creation process?
The process itself in total. Going from a spark of colour, or a shape, to drawing, to a blueprint, to the prototype, and finally to the finished product, while creating original designs, patinas and colorways.
Who is the coolest person you know? or, know of?
Hmmm. I'm not sure that “coolest" is the word I would use. But I have been around Bob Dylan for 30 years or so. My good friend, Victor Maymudes, was Bob's assistant for 30 years till he passed. We spent a lot of time backstage and hanging with the band. Now, Barron Taub, a good friend, is in his security detail, so they always hit me up when they come to Japan. Bob is a treasure of a person. He walks through cities, by himself, when he tours — and always with his hoodie on.
Let's have a little fun. Answer these using no adjectives:
Minimalism or maximalism? minimalism
Form or function? Form & Function: Dieter Rams
Sci-fi or fantasy? Sci-fi: William Gibson
Leather or wool? Leather — I ride bikes.
Mountains or shoreline? Mountains to Shoreline
Kesey or Kerouac? Kesey and Kerouac