Thistles, The Eyewear Brand Beloved by Kaia Gerber & Alexa Chung, Has A New Zealand Connection

By Dan Ahwa
AL sunglasses worn by model Isabel Jones. Photo / Oliver Hadlee-Pearch

From Te Tai Tokerau to New York City, stylist, photographer and designer Thistle Brown shares the inspiration behind his eyewear label, Thistles, as it finds a physical home in Aotearoa — just in time for summer.

Over the past year, stylist, photographer and designer Thistle Brown has been busy honing

Since its launch, Thistles eyewear designs have been seen on a coterie of friends, muses and famous faces, including Alexa Chung, who wore a pair of The ALs at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in July. At New York Fashion Week in October, model Kaia Gerber wore her pair while off-duty in between shows.

Speaking from his studio in New York, the multi-faceted creative says he is looking forward to seeing the brand find its physical home at Simon James, and joining a roster of international retailers including Maraym Nassir Zadeh’s stylish Parisian outpost on Rue la Fayette (Thistle has long served as a stylist and creative collaborator for the designer’s mainline) along with Studio AMT in Seoul and Carmen in Amsterdam (which also stocks New Zealand darlings Paris Georgia).

Thistle’s previous contribution to Viva included a poignant photo essay in collaboration with childhood friend and writer Samuel Tekani, celebrating the rangatahi of his homeland of Te Tai Tokerau for volume three of Viva Magazine in 2021.

“New Zealand’s summer to me is very sensory and precious,” says Thistle. “I have some of my fondest memories back home with friends and family during the summer holidays. There is such a flow to the New Zealand summer that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s all about spending time with the people who make you laugh the most and are down for the adventure.”

Along with friend and longtime collaborator Callan Malone, the former AUT fashion student has focused on creating an eyewear brand that offers a considered and timeless approach to an otherwise trend-driven and oversaturated accessory category.

“I love that sunglasses hold a universal value. They serve as an anchor to someone’s outfit and then, not only do they become a tangible accessory that adds that special touch, but also there is a complete functionality to them.”

Kalman Ocheltree wearing The Thistle sunglasses. Photo / Thistle Brown
Kalman Ocheltree wearing The Thistle sunglasses. Photo / Thistle Brown

“We aimed to establish a strong foundation for our brand, acknowledging the pervasive visual clutter in the market. My belief in the enduring value of accessories guided our choices from the very beginning of the brand’s conception. In an era dominated by fleeting trends, we sought to create designs that embody a timeless quality, cutting through the noise to present a collection that is both stylish and evergreen.”

His connections have also allowed Thistle to tap a stylish group of friends and muses to star in the brand’s campaign, including singer and songwriter Dev Hynes, interior designer and model Camilla Deterre, and Succession star Annabelle Dexter-Jones.

“People will always respond to things they can relate to. I’m naturally drawn to collaborating with individuals who possess a genuine quality,” says Thistle.

“When it comes to the subjects I photograph, there’s no pretence; I genuinely know and appreciate them on a personal and authentic level. I believe people can sense this connection, making it easier for them to see themselves in the world I invite them to be a part of.”

Model Chloe Nguyen wears The AL. Photo / Thistle Brown
Model Chloe Nguyen wears The AL. Photo / Thistle Brown

Designed in New York and handcrafted in Japan, the eyewear focuses on acetates composed of recycled material, with two universal styles that work on a range of face shapes and nose bridges.

“For now, we want to establish ourselves within the eyewear market. We will be releasing new shapes and styles in the coming year. It feels important to hone in on what we started with before we expand to new categories,” says Thistle. “I would love to explore possible collaboration opportunities with someone like Canterbury New Zealand or even Icebreaker — I think that would be quite unexpected and cool. Also, doing something that is connected with home would be nice.”

For one quick pro tip, Thistle offers some sage advice when it comes to taking the concept of a classic pair of sunglasses as a starting point for understanding and developing your personal style.

“I firmly believe in wearing the clothes rather than letting them wear you. I am particularly drawn to individuals who exude an ease in themselves and their style. Whether it’s minimal or bold, as long as it feels natural, it resonates with me. When it comes to eyewear it’s even more particular because it’s directly at eye level to the observer, it’s the first thing you see when you look at someone wearing them. So in a way, you want it to make sense and count for something. People like Al Pacino, he knows what’s up from head to toe.”

"I love that sunglasses hold a universal value."
"I love that sunglasses hold a universal value."

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