A 3D printed revolution
Fabián Hofmann is an eyewear luminary. When he came to Berlin in the early nineties, the city was an entirely different place. He was using the fabled energy in the city shortly after the wall came down, was working as an architect only to discover his vigorous passion for glasses shortly after. What began as an experiment quickly lead to designer jobs at globally renowned eyewear brands – and eventually to his own label, fmhofmann eyewear. Meanwhile, he founded another company with his design alter ego and long-running colleague Coerte Voorhees: NEON Berlin, famed for its stunning 3D printed glasses, animalistic DNA and courageous plans.
While still being a student, you were designing and manufacturing your very own pair of glasses. Not the most ordinary thing to do…
As a poor student of architecture, I couldn’t afford opticians’ glasses. All the money went right into the books I needed for studying. Thus I manufactured my dream glasses myself, brought them to an optician and asked him to polish them up a bit. He couldn’t believe a student accomplished something which was usually a master craftsman’s exam. But that’s how it happened. He was so flabbergasted, he gave me the lenses for free. (laughs) Well, shortly thereafter, I found myself designing and producing glasses for friends. Not as a collection in the proper sense, more like on-demand and custom-made. In the nineties I met Philipp Haffmans and Harald Gottschling, the founders of the eyewear brands Mykita und ic! Berlin. Later I took over the position of head of design of ic! Berlin. In the following years, I expanded the range of the brand and ran riot with all the tricks of the trade.
At some point, the time was ripe for the next step. He experimented with titanium, teamed up and started new enterprises with fellow colleagues, finally founded Coblens. Already back then, Hofmann had a mantra: Forward ever, backward never. Standstill was and is poison to him. Rather predictable that someone like him was always aiming for the ultimate eyewear brand. Three years ago, he accomplished this dream with his business partner Coerte Voorhees and their first 3D printed collection. Their name: NEON Berlin. Their goal: to unite new technologies with traditional craftsmanship to a revolutionary new way of thinking.
We complement each other brilliantly and thoroughly enjoy the synergy effects of our cooperation. We both have accumulated a lot of experience that can now be instilled into our glasses. It was all worth it.
How did you get to know each other? And how did this 3D business get underway?
I was once overseeing a competition at the University of Weissensee in Berlin in which Coerte took part as an exchange student – and he won it, as a matter of fact. Back then, I was working on a concept for 3D glasses for a client but didn’t get anywhere with the project in the end. We sat down together, had a beer and decided to start working as a team. My first contact with 3D printing technology happened even earlier, end of nineties or so. The printed material, however, was not suitable for glasses. Too fragile and not UV resistant. Frankly, it was too early to work with it. But it isn’t any more. 3D Printing glasses means consuming two thirds less energy in production and almost no wastage thanks to the fact that the glasses don’t have to be die cut. We use polyamide as a material, a very light and yet strong thermoplast.
And while maybe not every conservative optician will warm to this brave new technology, its advantages are more than obvious: Less waste, sustainable, customer friendly. Thus, the glasses, courtesy of Hofmann and Voorhees, attract attention wherever they appear.
I’m convinced that glasses made of polyamide are a conscious choice, just like glasses made of wood. At least nobody is wondering why wooden glasses don’t come transparent. (laughs) It’s a new material, and a novel material needs new aesthetics. And these aesthetics are what the wearer is after. At NEON, we want to carve new paths and explore an entirely different approach to production. Not better or worse, simply new.
Still, the astonishingly slim glasses are far from fragile. A very special manufacturing process with a darned clever folding method renders the elegant glasses a very stable companion with stunning design. This, however, was not inspired by fashion, cars or some sort of design school. Instead, they found inspiration in the very foundations of existence.
Inspiration is not the question of a single pair of glasses but the question of an entire collection. The collection determines how the single product looks like. A family of glasses must visibly belong together, must be part of something bigger. This is what inspired our first collection “Bestiary”. This collection is our DNA, our nucleus. If it’s ultimately an reef shark, a falcon or a hazel dormouse that comes from this DNA is only a matter of tiny differences. The foundation remains the very same.
All your glasses have a common ancestor.
Exactly! Everything is related, yet there are visible and exciting changes. It’s all about evolution. Working with family trees and a virtual DNA is extremely enticing, yielding and rewarding.
There’s also a new collection of sunglasses named Mars coming along, right?
Well, these sunglasses reduce the invasion of stray light. With a lot of sunglasses, UV light can still penetrate the eye from above. The Mars sunglasses adapt to the face and guarantee ultimate shadow. Hence, they look like ordinary sunglasses up front but are moving deep down at the sides. A baffling effect!
Hofmann and Voorhees – the material sorcerers of eyewear.