For years vintage eyewear has been popular in Europe and the United States, with brands like Linda Farrow and Moscot finding fame with a new generation of eyewear lovers. I always thought that Asia lacked a cool, vintage eyewear brand until I discovered AOC1961.
AOC1961 is the brainchild of eyewear aficionado and designer Martin Leung . A passionate collector of vintage frames (his personal collection boasts around 2,000 pieces) he stumbled upon the original Asia Optical Company in 2006. Founded by trained optometrist Wilson Cheng in 1961, it was one of the few local optical companies that developed its own brand of spectacles back in the day. It remained dormant for decades until Martin saw an opportunity to revive it.
“Meeting Wilson changed my life. I saw the opportunity to continue someone’s legacy and career. Vintage eyewear is unique because it represents culture at the time – it’s not just about glasses, it’s about the generations and what was happening in society,” says Martin.
In 2007, he bought the business and rebranded it as AOC1961, featuring original eyewear and sunglasses designs from the AOC archives. After four years a chance meeting with the president of DITA eyewear Japan made him rethink his business model altogether and he started to create his own styles that mix modern and vintage.
Currently AOC1961 releases several new styles a year in addition to a smaller line featuring styles inspired by Wilson’s archive collection. In keeping with AOC’s DNA they are vintage inspired but also feel and look contemporary. Highlights include the Deacon, a pair of nerdy frames that are given a cool edge thanks to their slightly larger shape. The Rozz, meanwhile has a V-shaped top for a more flattering silhouette. The chunky and bold Wellington sunnies are inspired by the lines of a vintage BMW sports car. Everything is made in Japan using exclusive materials and is designed with Asian features in mind to ensure the best fit.
“We do have certain products inspired by old collection but I don’t just want to remake an old style. It has to be a mixture of my own ideas too, to make the product more contemporary. So I keep the core philosophy but we put a lot of effort in studying Asian faces and shapes and tastes.
“At AOC 1961 we are inspired by a legend to create new products that will become the next legend. Who knows, maybe we will become a legend in the next 30 or 40 years and eventually be referred to as true vintage,” says Martin.
While the frames are currently produced in Japan, Martin has even greater ambitions to move the manufacturing process back to home turf. He is currently working on a new collection to be launched next month that will be made in Hong Kong.
Thanks to him Hong Kong will soon be securing its place in eyewear history.