I am not typically brand loyal and I hardly ever pay attention to designer labels. I watch fashion shows as the colors and silhouettes are usually good indicators of what will be trending in the optical industry, but I never watch for a specific designer. This search for aesthetics over designer labels is a practice I use in my own personal clothing shopping, and led me to an unintentional purchase that has influenced my designs.
I am addicted to a plain T-shirt that costs $130.
I don’t have the most exciting closet. It consists mostly of shades of white, gray, blue, and especially black. Since my daughters are old enough to start eyeing my closet, they often ask why I own clothes that are so plain and black. “Black clothing makes my life easier,” I
reply. When I’m on the go, I don’t have time to be thinking about which colors will match, so I simply go with one that can withstand the test of time and occasions.
I don’t have a favorite designer. When I shop, I look at the quality of the material, the cut, and whether the style is one that suits my own. I hardly have any time to shop, so when I do, I go straight for a few stores that are known for quality, and search for pieces that are similar to the tried and true styles that I previously owned. I never have been one to go for any particular label or designer. Until I found these T-shirts.
I discovered these incredible T-shirts by pure coincidence, as I never intentionally seek them out. One day I was in a rush to find some plain T-shirts, and Neiman Marcus was the closest store near me. I ran in, asked the sales lady where I could find some plain shirts, and she pointed to a rack in the corner. I quickly grabbed three: a black, gray, and navy blue, and darted to the cashier. When she told me the amount I had to pay, I was shocked. I instantly regretted not looking at the price tags, but I didn’t have time to shop elsewhere, so I dutifully but painfully paid.
What made those T-shirts different from inexpensive alternatives was not immediately apparent to me. Yes, the cut was great; they felt as if they were tailored specifically for me, but I am no stranger to clothing with a proper fit, so I still thought I made a mistake for not being a more careful shopper. But years went by and I finally took notice. I became aware of the fact that those three T-shirts are the ones I always reach for. I also noticed that after years of countless washing, they have not faded and have not lost their shape. They feel as comfortable as when I first bought them. I also finally understand what “feels like your second skin” means. Not because they are skin-tight, but it means they are so utterly comfortable that I always feel at ease while I’m wearing them.
I will probably wear tees by Neiman Marcus’ Luxury Essentials until the day I die or they stop the collection, whichever comes first. I came to accept the fact that paying such an exuberant amount for a plain T-shirt is my guilty pleasure. I wear them all the time, and they work well with either dress up or down: with jeans, with long skirts, layered under a blazer, and especially when I fly as they are thick enough to keep me warm while on the plane.
Four years after I bought those tees, I went back to NM and got a couple more black ones. I brought them home, put them side by side with the old one, and found no difference whatsoever between them. They are exactly the same shade of black and look and feel identical.
This is an era when fast and cheap fashion such as H&M and Zara are all the rage. But I refuse to shop from them because their clothing cannot withstand the test of time so one ends up creating more wastes in the landfills. I will always prefer paying more for quality and styles that actually last as I believe it’s actually better value in the long run and better for our environment.
No fashion runway shows have inspired me as much as these plain black T-shirts. It shall always be my goal to create versatile, understated, and timeless elegant eyewear with quality that lasts.
I often question what it really means to be a designer.
Take the fashion industry for example: for the last few decades, most of the runway-worthy designers package their latest whims and ideas with dramatic theatrical elements tailored for the media hoping to make headlines and glossy magazine covers. But the more regarded the fashion designer, the less likely we will ever see their clothes sold at retailers, as they are deemed “unsellable.” So, in order to recover the exuberant price tag of runway shows, the fashion houses will request the designers to create a simplified “ready to wear” collection. The glorified fashion kings and queens will eventually cater to department stores and the down-to-earth needs of regular consumers to recoup costs in order to remain profitable.
Then what is fashion but a form of self-indulgence of the fashion houses and of the designers? It is all done in the name of creating an image and to satisfy the press with article-worthy materials. The consumers merely get a watered-down version of the designer’s aesthetics. They are buying the label of the designer whose name was in the news, but the clothes they get from Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue have barely any resemblance of designers’ original creativity.
Yet the shows go on season after season. Millions and millions of revenue is spent and lost. The fashion the world once knew is being reduced to serve only a select few. Couture is alive only on runways and red carpets.
Gone are the days that men need to be all suited-up in order to look professional and credible. Most women ditched their pencil skirts and stockings for good. People want clothes that can take them from day to night, and consequently, most people hardly ever pay attention to current fashion. People just want to wear what suits their personality, budget, and lifestyle. The smarter and savvier the consumer, the less likely he or she will care to chase what’s trending in fashion.
I am such consumer. I will pay for quality, but never for a label. I am a working mom who needs to go from the office to the grocery store, and then home to whip up dinner in 30 minutes flat. My weekends are filled with cooking, catching up on movies, and lounging in my backyard while I read and listen to my kids’ laughter. I hardly have an occasion that requires fancy clothes. Even when I attend business expos, my outfit has to be able to take me from a 10 hour work day to a business dinner, and withstand the occasional coffee spill.
Before I launched TC CHARTON, I used to work with 20-30 collections of “designer eyewear” each year. For each collection, I always tried to stay focus on each brand’s theme or the colors of the season. But that’s where the consistency of the brand ends. Most license brands would request that the styles sacrifice functionality or cut costs on the materials in favor of the placement of a big logo—which means all temples have to have a certain height or thickness to accommodate such logo. Worst of all, they want to “recycle” eye shapes. Once certain eye shapes are proven good sellers, they wanted me to reuse the same shape over and over again. The end result? All collections look strikingly similar and the uniqueness of each label is lost.
So, when I design my own collection, one thing I try to always keep in mind is “What do real people want.” (Let’s keep this sentence in order to provide some kind of transition). Once I forgo the types of styles that are meant to “wow” but have little practicality, I focus solely on the consumers’ needs and draw my inspiration from real faces. There’s no ego behind my label, and therefore no styles are ever meant to create headlines. They are, nevertheless, carefully crafted with simple and minute details to maximize comfort and durability while looking great on an Asian face.
My customers may never know who’s behind the frames they are wearing, because being famous as a designer was never part of my agenda. What’s important is for them to get to wear products that were sincerely created for them; one face and one style at a time.
“You’re high-end! You don’t need this!”
That is usually what people say to me when I tell them about TC Fit, especially those who love our TC CHARTON collection. It’s true; I didn’t need to create another sub-collection. We are quickly earning the loyalty of our fans, and the practices that carry our products are doing well. Nobody complains about our prices because we have proven the value of our products.
Besides, I never had any experience creating products at “lower” price points. My past professional experiences and my upbringing has shaped me into a designer/consumer of quality goods with medium to medium-high price points. I will be the first to admit that I am one of those with “expensive tastes”.
However, moving my family and the company out of Silicon Valley has been a real eye-opener. We relocated to the North Texas’ DFW area, and I am delighted to find the diversity that I craved while living in the most expensive area in the country.
I actually have neighbors of ALL ethnicities, and gone are the days that everyone we interact with is in the tech industry with a household income in the top 1%. I actually get to know people from all walks of life. My children no longer bring home friends that roll their eyes because they HAVE TO go to Europe AGAIN for their summer vacation.
Once I got out of the unrealistic bubble of Silicon Valley, I came to realize that maybe not all people can afford our products, but still need them. People who work hard trying to raise a family, or have to work while paying for college tuition; people who are doing their part to contribute to the society but still live paycheck to paycheck; people who have decent jobs but still cannot afford to pay extra on top of their insurance coverage.
Hence TC Fit.
I like to think of TC Fit as a simplified collection. Gone are the intricate decals, metal inserted logos inside the temples, and richly patterned Italian acetates. I still want great eye shapes. I still want the hand-laminated nose pads and tips. It’s still being produced by the same manufacturer that produces TC CHARTON, which is renowned for their craftsmanship and beautiful finishing. I still want quality and I still want to offer a great fit to those who need it.
A customer just told me that TC Fit is a great addition to our existing CHARTON collection, as now he can offer great quality products to a wider range of people. “It’s not cheap. They are plenty of cheap products out there with cheap quality to match. It’s just very reasonably priced. It will never replace TC CHARTON, but it’s a great extension of your collection”.
Recently, my daughter came to the office to pick a frame for her upcoming eye exam. Out of over 150 styles, she ended up picking a TC Fit frame. When I asked her why she likes that particular frame, she said: “It has a great shape, and it’s very clean and fresh looking”.
That put a smile on my face.
By Crystal Natsuko
Model for TC CHARTON
On January 29, 2014, we shot the 2014 TC CHARTON photo shoot with a special twist, adding some Texas flair to our upscale Asian look. Alexandra has gotten a flood of requests for new images, and we are excited to share this year’s new campaign images with you, very soon! Here is a breakdown and behind the scenes peek of how the photo shoot went. Yeeehaw!
Since moving her company, family and loyal employees to their new national headquarters in Plano, Texas last November 2013 TC CHARTON has continued to expand product lines and inluence to fans and beautiful unique faces around the world. Owner and designer, Alexandra Peng, decided to infuse this year’s photo shoot with local flavor and charm and to that end, scouted photographers, videographers, crew and location all from the Dallas area to reflect that TC CHARTON’s new home is the Friendly State of Texas.
Models were flown in the day before. Yun and I departed from Los Angeles and headed to Dallas, and I was surprised that we went across to the ocean, for a while after takeoff, apparently planes fly directly into the wind initially and then turn into the air currents, a pilot friend of mine later explained to me. After a few hours, Regis picked Yun, Eldridge and I up from Dallas International, one of the largest airports in the country.
Alexandra, Regis and the girls, and their new rescue puppy, Cocoa, were gracious to host us. Alexandra welcomed us by making an incredible fresh cherry tomatoes and spinach pasta in under 10 mins flat, no problem. With some non-vegetarian options on the side. It was the best tasting thing in the world as we were hungry and tired, then we all tried to get our beauty rest.
The day of the shoot was cold. Outside it was something like 30 degrees. We drove up North through Dallas, until we reached the outskirts of the city and civilization began to fade away as we marveled at the beautiful, raw scenery. The landscape reminded me of California’s Central Valley where I grew up, stunning yet stark and utilitarian with agriculture being the main industry. We reached the ranch and cottage location.
We had brought enough snacks to feed our little army for the day and everyone quickly set up. Our first set was shot in the upstairs of the barn. Our hosts at the ranch were the owners, a great husband and wife team who had built the structures on the ranch by themselves, him putting reclaimed wood together to build the vintage replica barn, the cottage where we staged the shoot, and possibly their own house, with amazing loving care and attention to detail. She had designed the interiors thoughtfully using reclaimed materials, like champagne corks of different kinds for drawer pulls in the Jack-and-Jill bathrooms.
Makeup artist, Leslie, had arrived early to scout out the best lighting in the cottage and did the makeup and hair for all the models in a window corner where the sun filtered in. Alexandra had opted to do lead styling herself, tying all aspects of her vision for the brand together by choosing pieces that reflect the lifestyle and upscale nature of the brand, but also playing on down-to-earth all American staples like jeans wear, tall boots, flannels, white collared shirts, and leather jackets. Bradie meticulously and efficiently coordinated logistics and wardrobe changes and steamed the garments to perfection.
The videographer and his crew and photographer, Sergio and his crew, who are all Dallas locals, seemed able to survive outdoors in the cold on the various sets for most of the day, while us models, who are all from sunny California, took turns reheating and defrosting ourselves indoors at the Cottage and outdoors in front of an amazing bonfire that the awesome owners lit up for us with a healthy dose of kerosene.
This is my new favorite picture, ever. The dogs belonged to the ranch owners and wandered into the shots with some coaxing, since they were doing the rounds.
Alexandra had chosen Eldridge, a FORD model who hails from San Francisco and was referred by our other model, Charlene, (featured in the counterpart Alexandra Peng collection photo shoot that took place the following Saturday) because Alex had gotten so many inquiries from all around the country, for a Blasian look. I learned that Blasian refers to a mix between Asian and Black American, which is distinct from the identity term, African American. As Alexandra pointed out, Eldridge was making history and creating images that are a sign of our times, as these glasses do fit a variety of faces from all ethnic backgrounds and mixes.
In a hilarious but also awe inspiring moment, Eldridge was helped out by two canny horses, who stepped into the frame on either side of him, while he was posing next to their corral, amazingly the horses held perfectly still and faced the camera. Whoever says animals aren’t aware and sentient beings misses the meaning in moments like these.
Towards the end of the day, we were racing the sunlight, squeezing out as many sets as we could. Luckily, my last wardrobe change and set was inside the cottage, as the temperature simultaneously dropped lower as the sun did. It was a very productive and smooth flowing day, as everyone pitched in and worked together as pros. We celebrated another successful wrap at the Brick House in Dallas, a local sports bar where everyone we met was super cute and friendly!
Location: The Cottage At Bon Terra Farm Aubrey, TX
Photographer: Sergio Garcia
Videographer: Bruce Faulconer
TC CHARTON Asian Fit Eyewear Designs/Stylist: Alexandra Peng
Makeup/Hair: Leslie Belcher
Models: Yun Choi, Eldridge Henderson, Crystal Natsuko
On Saturday, January 26th, TC CHARTON’s annual high-energy photo shoot took place on a sunny rooftop overlooking Downtown Los Angeles. Halfway through the day we changed location for the evening portion to shoot a stylish new look book for the unveiling of ALEXANDRA PENG, a new line of eyewear coming out, with launch set for Spring 2013 in Milan.
We are fortunate that our teams have all worked together before, with the addition of star photographer, Dean Zulich. The photo and video shoot sequences we captured will create the new 2013 campaign for TC CHARTON’s newest eyewear collection.
What a great way to kick off another year for TC CHARTON, our whole photo shoot had good energy, we all worked really well together, enjoyed an awesome day, and had a fun wrap for the crew and talent.
We are excited to share the new collection images with you throughout the coming year.
Call to Action
Look out for these new styles in your local optometry shops across the nation, and soon internationally!
Photography by Dean Zulich, with Studio Manager Sedina Sokolovic, and Digital Tech Mirza Hasanefendic. Cinematography by Keith Duggan.
Styling by Victor Vargas, Editor-in-Chief of LUXETIGERS online magazine, assisted by Ervina Topalli. Makeup by Elena Arroy, and Hair Artistry by Sussy Campos.
Models Yun Choi, Yuki Matsumura, Charlene Phan, & Crystal Natsuko.
Creative Direction and all Eyewear Designs by Alexandra Peng, founder of Prolouge Vision LLC.
We are so proud to be a sponsor of “The A-Style,” a reality show featuring Asian American models, actors, dancers and singers, all wanting to make it big in the entertainment business.
The show launches on July 4th. Watch it!
Mochi Magazine is like having the big Asian sister you never had. The awkward years I experienced as a tween/teen Asian girl with no clue about how to dress, how to put on make up or how to let the cute boy in class know I was interested (hitting him in the head certainly didn’t work), all those questions and more, can be found in an issue of Mochi Magazine. But more than that, it’s empowering. It offers young Asian girls and women a roster of role models to look up to, it makes you realize your brand of beauty is awesome! That’s why I am happy to see TC Charton Eyewear featured in the latest issue.