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Photos courtesy of Ralph Vaessen

Going Dutch

Eyewear designer Ralph Vaessen creates luxuriously handcrafted natural horn sunglasses and frames for eyewear fans with discerning tastes

At the beginning of 2006, Ralph Vaessen was still an unassuming Dutch government employee. Yet a radical change in life awaited him: not managing to find the frames he wanted, he got in touch through a Dutch optician with a small German-based atelier that could produce single sets of frames. But why making only one set when you could have an entire collection and share it with the rest of the world, Vaessen wondered. Soon, he designed an entire eyewear line and eventually changed job, creating exclusive and luxurious handmade frames in natural horn.

With a host of celebrities who have been wearing his designs – including Laetitia Casta, Anton Corbijn, David Lynch, John Malkovich, Kate Moss and Dutch actresses Carice van Houten and Gaite Jansen among the others – and a list of shops such as Colette in Paris and United Arrows in Tokyo selling his designs, Vaessen is looking at his new life not through rose-tinted glasses, but through elegant hand-crafted horn frames as he prepares to launch his new eye wear collection and his first fashion line.  

Dazed Digital: You don’t come from a conventional fashion background since you first worked for quite a few years for the Dutch government, did you find this career change difficult or exciting?
Ralph Vaessen: My career switch turned out to be a very refreshing and exciting journey. Looking back, I think it was the best decision I have ever made as it allowed me to do and learn many new things and meet interesting people. I must admit that I enjoy the appreciation I get for my designs even more than the commercial success. I love getting involved in all the creative aspects that my new business imply, from designing my glasses to arranging the shoots or working on the films that accompany my collections, such as the one inspired by Bryan Ferry’s music video for ‘Slave To Love’ shot in collaboration with Dutch photographer and filmmaker Hessel Waalewijn.

DD: Who has been the greatest influence on your career and what inspires your designs?
Ralph Vaessen: Bijan Azami, a local optician with a very beautiful store in The Hague. I met him while I was still working for the Dutch government and looking for new frames for myself. Azami referred me to a small atelier that could produce single sets of frames if I could make a drawing of the shape I wanted. This was the start of my career as a designer. Other figures influenced me in more recent years, among them photographer and director Anton Corbijn. One of the main inspirations for my designs is the British indie music scene and the subculture created by art students.

DD: Though your latest designs also feature water snakeskin, you mainly work with buffalo horn, what made you opt for such material?
Ralph Vaessen: I think that natural horn is a luxurious and classic material, it has such beautiful colours and an interesting fibrous structure that makes every frame simply unique, über chic and sexy. Besides, horn is also a very light material, so it’s very comfortable to wear.

DD: Who are your favourite accessory/fashion designers?
Ralph Vaessen: Among my classic icons there are Chanel and Dior, but I also admire Ralph Lauren. He created one of the strongest brands in fashion in a relative short time even though he didn’t have a conventional fashion background and launched a very recognisable look. I also love Camoshita and Tom Ford’s designs and always check out Vivienne Westwood’s new collections when they arrive in store. Among the Dutch designers my favourite ones are Viktor & Rolf, Alexander van Slobbe and Lucas Ossendrijver, Lavin’s menswear designer. I also like SuperTrash, a new and very successful brand launched in L.A. by Dutch entrepreneur Olcay Gulsen.  

DD: You also developed a style on request of Dutch car company Spyker (, what sparked such a collaboration?
Ralph Vaessen: I’m proud that we have such a great sports car brand in The Netherlands. In a way Spyker and I both work in the same kind of field since we produce a niche product, so it was a natural collaboration and an honour to design the “Spyker” style, that was recently nominated for the eyewear “Oscar”, the Silmo d’Or, in the sunglasses category. I hope that in future I’ll be able to collaborate with other Dutch or international companies.

DD: What are you working on at present?
Ralph Vaessen: My 2011 sunglass collection and my first fashion collection. When I design my frames I usually think about what kind of frames I would like to wear and I have decided to develop also a complementary fashion collection, conceiving it as my personal wardrobe to share with other people.

DD: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Ralph Vaessen: In the swimming pool of a large villa on the Côte d’Azur! Jokes aside, I really hope I will have created by then a larger and stronger brand for luxury goods and I hope I will still be enjoying what I’m doing as much as I do it right now.