Beginning as an optician working in his own boutique, the Dutch designer Leo Vanweersch of Ülsje Handcrafted Glasses was led to the world of fashion with his own custom designs and made-to-measure eyewear. We talked with him about the sophisticated art of tailor-made glasses, and the story behind the successful family run atelier.
What is the story behind the Ülsje Handcrafted brand? I worked for many years as an optician in my own boutique. I noticed, through the years, that fashion became more and more important concerning eyewear. I was very happy about it because I have always been interested in fashion.
But I also noticed that eyewear of the high fashion brands were almost looking alike. The logo on the temple tells you which brand it is. And I also noticed that there was a lack of quality and fit, which I don’t think belongs to these brands. But the eyewear of many high fashion brands are manufactured in the same factory because these brands have sold their licenses. Eyewear is mass-produced. And it is necessary to mass-produce because the eyewear of the brands is sold in so many stores all over the world. Eyewear is of course a big source of money because many people can’t afford clothes of these brands, but eyewear is affordable.
I am a person who always wants to achieve highest quality and a perfect fit, so I started to design. With paper and pencil and without drawing programmes on a computer. I draw what is in my head and with my heart and using the experience I gained as being an optician. It is such a beautiful profession. Besides that, I had a couple of clients who were wearing clothes of the high fashion brands and people who like to wear bespoke/made-to-measure suits, shoes etc. and they wanted to have something different. Eyewear that was not sold on every street corner. Their opinion was, “I am not wearing clothes that are sold on every street corner, so I also want to wear eyewear that isn’t sold on every street corner.” And I believed they were right. So I started to design on command. Drawing for just one person and after discussing the design manufacture for only one person. Manufacturing my design by hand and made of genuine horn. A beautiful natural material. And then the next few were made and I noticed that my clients were just as happy as I was with the result. After designing on command I designed a small collection that also can be manufactured as made-to-measure, also manufactured by hand from start to finish and made of genuine horn sometimes combined with silk. I wanted to create eyewear that can be worn for a long time. A beautiful quote said by Miss Gabrielle Chanel, “fashion passes, style remains.” And that is exactly what I would like to achieve with my designs.
Where did you acquire your skill? First of all, I think that it is my interest in fashion and in people that influenced my skills. I really love to talk to people of all kinds of nationalities with their own cultural backgrounds. Talking to all kind of different people makes you to understand others and respect them. I love to observe all kind of people; how they dress, how they walk, how they act. Furthermore, my education and my experience of being an optician taught me so much about how to manufacture and how to achieve a perfect fit. How did I acquire my skill to draw with paper and pencil? I don’t know. It just happened. And by doing it a lot, I made a lot of progress. And oh how I love to design. I also want to mention my talented photographer Hugo Thomassen, my fantastic craftsman Dieter Wollenweber and his atelier and family, and last but certainly not least, my wife Anja Vanweersch who does all of the writing and marketing for me and who always gives me her honest opinion and advice.
What defines the Ülsje Handcrafted name and sets it apart from other designers? First of all let me explain what Ülsje stands for: Ülsje stands for owl. It is a dialect that is spoken in a particular part of the south of the Netherlands. An owl represents wisdom and vision. There are several beautiful eyewear brands, but what makes Ülsje Handcrafted different? Well, I think it is the design and using the genuine horn material in a more pronounced manner. Although my designs are classic and timeless, they are also very distinctive – a statement. My designs are underlining each personality. The rims of my designs are thicker than normal because I want to emphasize the beauty of the material. Genuine horn is so very unique that if you manufacture the same model ten times you will always obtain a different result.
Describe the artisanship that goes into designing and manufacturing a single pair of glasses: It all starts with a drawing. As already mentioned, with paper and pencil. Before I draw I already have an idea in mind. I talk about my design with my craftsman. My craftsman is a very important person. He is someone who understands exactly what I mean and he is the one who has to manufacture my design by hand. After discussing the drawing, a sample will be made. After seeing the sample I can judge if the sizes are correct and whether the design looks like I meant it to be. Any changes have to be discussed, after which the final model may be produced. Before manufacturing, the color of horn must be determined. It’s a difficult choice because so many beautiful shades of horn exist. After that, the final model is made. However, if I have to design on command it is important that I know my client very well. I observe my client well because I want to design the most perfect model.
What is the benefit of made-to-measure eyewear? The benefit of made-to-measure is to achieve the perfect fit. The size of the front, the length of the temples, and the nose bridge should fit perfectly. With a perfect fit the best comfort concerning wearing will be achieved. There are so many nationalities. Take Asian people, for example. Asian people have a totally different nose shape. Most often I see Asian people with glasses that don’t fit at all. Take people with a very large or a very small face. One fact that applies to everyone: a great fit ensures that you will wear your glasses with a lot of pleasure.