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The original rimless fan: SILHOUETTE CEO ARNOLD SCHMIED, son of the company’s founders, shares his own personal perspective on the success story behind the TITAN MINIMAL ART
The development of the Titan Minimal Art twenty years ago was an important milestone in the history of Silhouette International. It ushered in a new era, turning lightness into an enduring theme and key feature of all Silhouette frames. At the same time, the Titan Minimal Art model established the Silhouette brand’s position as a global market leader in premium, rimless eyewear. Since its foundation, the success of Silhouette International as a company has been guided by a strong family with great visions and many incredible employees. Arnold Schmied, the current president of Silhouette International and the son of the company’s founders, talks about challenges, happy coincidences, and entrepreneurial courage.
VisionPlus (VP): Can you tell us any anecdotes about the founding of the company?
Arnold Schmied (AS): Anyone who visits our company’s headquarters today will find themselves surrounded by what feels like a park in front of an aesthetically designed complex of buildings. It wasn’t always that way. The company’s beginnings were simple and humble. From the very beginning, our parents, the company’s founders, had the good fortune of having a small team of outstanding people at their side: Dora Demel, a young, very talented designer, whose incredible designs left a lasting mark on international eyewear fashion for years, a highly engaged technical team led by Hans Deutsch, as well as a small sales team that was focused from day one on the international market and led by the visionary Head of Sales, Alfred Staska, not to mention a fantastic one-man advertising agency in Munich. All of them worked shoulder to shoulder to bring Silhouette to life. Without this group of great people, none of it would ever have been possible. It made a deep impression on me as a young man to witness how Silhouette developed.
VP: In your opinion, what are the milestones that have most greatly shaped the history of Silhouette?
AS: First and foremost, I would say, is our company’s mission which has not changed even to the present day. “We want to make the best and most beautiful eyewear.” That was my parents’ simple yet ambitious mission statement. Today we would call it a “vision.” The first truly great milestone was the step to becoming an all-around manufacturer of eyewear made from all types of materials. My parents started out producing frames made from acetate. At first, another company was responsible for manufacturing the designs of our metal eyewear. Switching to manufacturing all the eyewear ourselves was a big challenge, but it was also the start and the foundation of our technological progress which is still ongoing today, whether you talk about cutting-edge technologies for the most intricate metal eyewear or the high-tech know-how that goes into manufacturing our most complex, sleekest eyewear using injection molding. Shifting our focus to this from of plastic production, which was completely new at the time, and phasing out acetate production, which, in our view, did not meet the requirements for producing the highest-quality frames, was another courageous move, but it was the right thing to do.
The next step, and so far the most successful one of all even though we totally underestimated it at first, was the introduction of our rimless eyewear made from a super-light, super-flexible titanium alloy that was completely new at the time. No one could have dreamed that it would be possible for this type of eyewear, which was so unpopular in the optics world at that time, to become such a major breakthrough for us because of the various technological innovations we developed ourselves. Joining together lenses and frames for the first time without using screws, using a very simple method and completely free of any irritating wobbling — there had never been anything like it in the entire history of eyewear. Another first in the history of eyewear was the completely maintenance-free temples, without hinges and, of course, without screws. A technological paradigm shift par excellence. And to top it all off, you had this unbelievable lightness, unlike anything that had ever come before. It made wearing glasses more comfortable than anyone could ever have imagined up to that time. And lastly, the unprecedented perfect fit thanks to the super-sleek, highly elastic temples. With this innovation, we ushered in a new era in the world of eyewear which fundamentally changed our company and our understanding of eyewear at that time. Yet, the most important question is what does this all mean for the customers who buy our eyewear? In all our company’s 55 years of existence, we never received so much positive feedback from customers as we did when we introduced our Titan Minimal Art collection. It gave us wings, and the sales figures speak for themselves. The latest big milestone up to now came two years ago when we started Silhouette Vision Sensation®, Silhouette’s original glazing concept, which uses lens geometry that was specially developed for our rimless eyewear. By perfectly matching our customers’ individual optical specifications with the precise technical data for our frames, we have achieved unprecedented optical perfection, “tailor-made” for each individual customer. This fusion of frames and lenses is produced in Linz according to the highest technical standards. Looking back on it, this milestone of entering the highly complex world of lens technology was certainly the most intensive and difficult of them all.
VP: What does the twenty-year anniversary of TMA mean for your family company?
AS: An anniversary is always a moment to stop and reflect, and even to take a sometimes wistful look at the past while also being happy and thankful for what we have achieved together. A respectful acknowledgment of the past is always good for the members of a family company.
But Silhouette is not a ‘retro company,’ even if ‘retro’ is continually being revisited and brought back to life in the eyewear market. Since our company’s founding, Silhouette’s aim has been to work in the future. Innovation is our focus. That’s why I see anniversaries as an encouragement to take the things that have made us so special in the past and make them even more interesting and attractive to our customers going forward. It takes entrepreneurial courage, good judgment and intuition to stay true to important principles while also knowing when it’s time to change course.
VP: Can you tell us about the origins of the Titan Minimal Art, which has grown to be so famous all over the world?
AS: During a kind of “Sturm und Drang” period for the company in the 90s, one of our designers at that time, Gerhard Fuchs, designed a very futuristic collection under the title “Minimal Art.” Those models were very similar to today’s Titan Minimal Art, except instead of being made of titanium, they were made of steel. We registered many different patents and our trendy optician customers liked what they saw. It was quite a sensation. However, the high-quality steel was limited in terms of flexibility and there was a lot of breakage, so we eventually had to take the first batch of “Minimal Art” models off the market. A few years later, our technicians came upon something that was completely new at the time: highly flexible beta titanium alloy. This paved the way, from a technological standpoint anyway, for the triumph of the new “Titan Minimal Art” eyewear.
VP: What challenges did you face during the introduction?
AS: The biggest challenge was convincing our partner opticians all over the world to accept a completely new way of presenting this unique pair of eyewear to customers.
A single model, originally always presented enclosed in a case in eight different lens shapes and eight different frame colors, with the possibility of choosing from up to 64 variants. There had never been anything like it. At the time and even still today, it was and is only possible because of the great variability of rimless frames, and it became a cornerstone for the success we still enjoy today.
VP: How has the Titan Minimal Art continued to develop over the last 20 years?
AS: By nature, the minimalistic design of the eyewear does not allow for any dramatic changes. Instead, it called for “attention to detail” which has always been one of Silhouette’s strengths, from the very beginning. That’s why our technicians have been working continually for the past twenty years to improve the already exceptional technical quality, which has reached truly astonishing heights in the meantime. That’s especially true if you look at the break resistance of this extremely sleek eyewear. The earpieces have also been very carefully developed and refined in terms of their appearance as well as their feel.
VP: What do you wish for the Titan Minimal Art on its twentieth anniversary?
AS: To start with, I wish for our Titan Minimal Art to grow in the coming years from being a “new icon” to being an “established icon” that continues to be successful and in demand. It will be up to me and all our employees here at headquarters as well as out there in the distribution companies to spread our excitement for the clarity, beauty and timelessness of the design and share the unique possibilities for individualizing this model with our customers every day, and to give our customers the chance to experience the unprecedented comfort of our Titan Minimal Art for themselves. The motto for it is very simple, and we’ve learned it from the buyers of our Titan Minimal Art eyewear: “Try it. Wear it. Love it.”
As I said before, there are still many millions of glasses wearers who still don’t know what they’re missing!