Covent Garden Backstage: For Art’s Sake
Find out how the little blue shop in the heart of the piazza skyrocketed to success in under 4 years with bold, never-before-seen designs
Xiwen Zhang never set out to start an eyewear brand, but that all changed in 2016 when she went on holiday to Greece with her then partner and now husband + co-founder Yannis. They were looking to buy some sunglasses but couldn’t find any they liked at an affordable luxury price point. Increasingly frustrated at the lack of options, they recognised a gap in the market and went about building For Art’s Sake, even though they had no previous knowledge of the eyewear industry (Xiwen had studied art and fashion, while Yannis was a lawyer for Microsoft).
Flash forward to 2020, and you might know For Art’s Sake as the little blue shop in the heart of the piazza, deliciously decked out in floor-to-ceiling glasses and blue velvet inspired by their packaging and resembling a spot straight out of a Wes Anderson film.
For Art’s Sake has made a name for itself in four short years – just ask Beyonce, J Lo, Rita Ora, Chrissy Teigen and many more of the world’s most stylish women – thanks to its bold details and eye-catching designs. Think sunglasses with frames that, on closer inspection, are hand-sculpted into reclining mermaids clutching onto pearls, have lenses shaped like teddies, or features moodstones which change colour. Like the name suggests, For Art’s Sake designs to delight in everything from its shapes to its colours, breathing new life into a traditional industry; and as you’ll know if you’ve ever passed their shop: they don’t do boring.
“When I first started designing sunglasses, I was spending a lot of time in the Royal Academy, and the beautiful forms I saw in paintings and sculptures started to inspire some of my sketches. I immediately loved this new-found method of self-expression (I had no previous experience designing sunglasses, only fashion) and approached each pair of sunglasses as if it was a tiny work of art, whether I was adding a pearl-encrusted bridge, a gradient lens or marbled acetate.”
“In a sense, we’ve put our own spin on the phrase ‘Art for art’s sake’. It’s not so much about the meaning behind art, but more about our designs as an homage art – at the end of the day we want to design sunglasses that delight, much like a piece of art would!”
Perhaps one of the earliest examples of this approach was their Goddess shades. Taking inspiration from Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus, the sunglasses feature two shells at either ends of the frame which on closer inspection, open to reveal two miniature pearls.
Their passion for the unexpected extends beyond the glasses too: each pair you buy comes with two velvet cases – one a collapsible travel or storage box, while their new range of eyewear chains (some of them 14k gold-plated and featuring embellishments like fresh water pearls) also double up as necklaces. And one of our favourite features are the nose pads – hand crafted from really jade gemstone which is make-up friendly but also known for its healing properties – so you’re essentially carrying good luck with you wherever you go. It’s no surprise then that they’ve drawn a fanbase of playful powerdressers the world over, from the celebrities we mentioned earlier to Fashion Week heavyweights such as Eva Chen, Aimee Song, Caro Daur, Xenia Adonts and many more.
Whether it’s seeing the sunglasses on Instagram’s most-followed women or spotting Xiwen on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list, it’s impressive to see how this four-year-old brand is breaking the mold on its way to the top, without the added boost of external investment.
“It has to be opening our Covent Garden store – it was always a dream, but we took the unconventional route there. At first, people told us our sunglasses were too crazy, that they’d never sell. Then we started stocking iconic stores like Harvey Nichols and Net-A-Porter. Then the celebrities came. We’ve had to make some tough decisions, like refusing investors, as we have such a clear vision for where we want to take the brand, but we’re still learning every step of the way. What pushes me forward when things feel tough? Seeing our creations come to life on the faces of so many strong inspiring women in our shop and the world over.”
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