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Olympians, A-List Celebs, Laser-Thru-Sunglasses Party Tricks… Oakley Launches ‘Disruptive By Design’

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Shaun White just walked in the door, his Oakley glasses reflecting the bursts of camera flashes that light up the room. Lindsey Vonn is not far behind. It’s 7:30 p.m., a Monday night in L.A., and Red Studios is buzzing with anticipation as lasers strobe through the otherwise darkened main room.

A pioneering company in sports optics, Oakley is 30 years old and used the occasion to host a dazzling campaign launch at Red Studios in Hollywood, Calif., and share its culture with celebrities and media from around the world.

Lasers shoot through a pair of Oakley sunglasses in a demo “party trick” at the event; photos by Sean McCoy

I’d traveled to LA from Denver hoping to learn about new products and technology from the sunglass juggernaut. It was turning into a pretty unique business trip.

Focused on the brand’s new “Disruptive By Design” campaign, the party pulled together designers, engineers, celebrities, athletes, and media to show off Oakley’s innovations over the decades and hint at what’s to come.

Shaun White talks about his Oakley glasses at the event

To kick off the official presentation, Kevin Spacey narrated a 5-minute video on the brand, which was displayed 20-feet-tall on three of four walls in the huge room. I watched among a crowd of hundreds gathered in the studio space. A wild light show simultaneously flashed though the room all around.

“Exactly 30 years ago, Jim invented Eyeshades, and with it created a design that disrupted the whole eyewear industry,” Spacey said of Oakley founder Jim Jannard on the video. “The launch of Eyeshades began an evolution of eyewear, taking the product from simply a generic accessory to a vital piece of equipment.”

An Oakley engineer explains how glasses are tested for optical quality using lasers

The video, followed by a presentation from CEO Colin Baden, laid out the history, present and future of the company.

While no new products were announced at the event, Oakley hinted at several technologies under development, such as goggles with full-lens, heads-up displays and made-to-fit customized glasses.

Sunglasses were displayed alongside figures

Winding among a crowd of celebrities, pro athletes, media and company leaders from Oakley, I saw snowboarder Shaun White at the bar. In a lull between adorning fans snapping photos, I squeezed in a few questions.

A light show fills Red Studios for the event

White, who wore Oakley goggles in the Sochi Olympics last week, said he was happy to see the company pushing design. “I mean, look at all this,” he said, motioning toward a massive display. It revealed the company’s timeline, highlighting dozens of products released over 30 years. “It’s a company that pushes this kind of innovation.”

Oakley displayed some crazy designs at the event

I left the suddenly overwhelmed White with his fans and visited a couple “Mad Scientists” wearing white lab coats who demonstrated testing processes used to measure durability and optical quality.

Photographers greet Shaun White and other celebrites

I was fascinated to watch twin laser lights — aimed at an exact point 20 feet away — blast through a pair of Oakley sunglasses, their trajectory not affected in the slightest.

Another “scientist” showed me what happens when you drop a heavy, sharp spike from 5 feet onto the eye of an Oakley glasses wearing mannequin. (In short, the lens deflects the spike, saving the mannequin’s “eye.”)

Oakley CEO Colin Braden onstage

I later spoke with CEO Colin Braden, the “Head Mad Scientist”. During a speech, he had touted the company’s “disruptive by design” philosophy and how it had altered the landscape of product development.

“If we could put our culture in a can and could ship it around the world, people would really understand our passion for innovation,” Braden said, talking over the music and the crowd.

People party in Red Studios

The “culture in a can” phrase struck as marketing-speak. But glancing around at the party — seeing examples of Oakley’s innovations, prototype products, and the people who make the company happen — Braden’s quip and the “disruptive by design” theme were perceptible among the laser lights.

I asked about new technologies for this year, but no amount of prying would get me a scoop that night.

My head is spinning a bit still from the bombastic, “disruptive” event in LA. So while I’m not yet certain what exactly is coming down the line, I look forward to seeing what the company does next.

As Braden paraphrased company founder Jim Jannard during the speech, “it’s not what you did, it’s what you’re going to do.”

One thing is for sure, I’ll never look at a sunglasses-wearing mannequin the same way again.

—Sean McCoy

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