An Interview with KaL MichaeL - Jacques Marie Mage Collector

An Interview with KaL MichaeL - Jacques Marie Mage Collector

It’s fair to say that Jacques Marie Mage has a pretty passionate fanbase. Whether it’s their unique designs, their quality craftsmanship or their super-limited nature, there’s something about the Californian brand that commands a cult-like following of eyewear obsessives. 

One such obsessive is KaL MichaeL, a San Francisco-based software designer who as well as owning an enviable collection of JMM glasses, also gives back to the community—running the Jacques Marie Mage Facebook group which helps connect fans of the brand from around the globe. 

As one of the brand’s most dedicated supporters, we thought it only made sense to call him up to talk about glasses, collecting and why he loves JMM so much…

When did you first start collecting Jacques Marie Mage glasses? What sparked it off?

Eyewear and shoes have been my jam ever since I can remember, and as I’ve gotten older my taste has gotten more refined. I wear glasses all the time—I tried to switch to contact lenses, but glasses are kind of like a security blanket—they just feel right. 

A few years ago I started researching different brands, thinking, “What are my 40s going to look like?” And then around that time I discovered Jacques Marie Mage. I took my time—I’d pop in and try different things on, and make my notes—it was like I was doing a research study for university.

Kal Michael
A thing of beauty — Kal wears the Yves in Black Fade

It sounds like you were taking it pretty seriously.

Yeah—but collecting things and investing things in the right possessions is my hobby, so I enjoy the whole process. Eventually I circled my way back to JMM from there. I’ve always been drawn to things that are timeless—because I’ve worn the same kind of outfit since I was a teenager—and I think that’s what really sucked me in with JMM. And then when I found out about the limited batch thing… it became like different layers of a great tasting cake.

What were your first frames?

I got two pairs—a pair of Enzo in the Noir 3 colorway and a pair of Molino in Frost. I have a feeling that the dealer thought I was wasting their time—because I was asking so many questions and was in and out so often. So when I finally said I’d get them both, they were shocked. And that’s kind of a regular thing for me—people’s assumption of me is often incorrect, and they’re delightfully surprised… and I kind of like that.  

You’re clearly a pretty serious collector—was that always the case? Were you collecting things back when you were a kid?

Yeah—I think it’s nature and nurture. It’s ingrained in me. My mother does interior design, and if you walk into her place it looks like something straight out of a magazine—with antiques from all over that she’s bought from estate sales. And my dad was similar in that respect—just with different things. He would be meticulously organised, and I’m the same way. My JMMs are all organised in boxes with labels on the outside, but at this point I should probably catalogue them. 

I try not to count how many I’ve got—I always like to give people proper perspective. People might be jealous of my collection, but the same love they give to the two that they own, I give to the dozens I own. It's the same exact feeling. Once you have two or more—then things don’t really change, unless you’re trying to one-up somebody for ego purposes, but that’s a whole other story. From a seemingly balanced perspective it makes no difference.

"You’re a collector because of your passion for the creation of that product. And when it comes to Jacque Marie Mage, there’s so much more to it than just the product" - KM

It does seem like collections are always valued in terms of size—or how much they’re worth, but maybe that’s quite a shallow way of looking at things. 

It doesn’t change your status. If you look at Jay Leno, he’s got dozens of antique cars, but I’m sure he’d say the same thing. I own probably close to 200 pairs of Dr. Martens, but they give me the same feeling as when I had two pairs of them. If I have a piece in any of my collections that doesn't work for me anymore (for one reason or another) I hand it off.

All hail the Jacques Marie Mage Enzo

So you’re not being precious.

No—finding the balance between adding to a collection, and having it be something you add to a collection because you sincerely love it is not as straightforward as people think.

It’s a tough line—collecting something for yourself versus collecting something for status. How do you avoid getting caught up in that?

It’s easy to get caught up in it because the instant gratification you can potentially get could be… dare I say it… addictive. I really don’t like using that term—because really it’s a fun hobby or an obsession. And obsessions in a positive way are just passions. 

If you’re stealing food from your family’s mouths in order to buy a pair of JMMs, yeah, it’s an addiction, and you probably shouldn’t be doing it, but otherwise, it’s a fun hobby. Just like having the original Yoda figure from 40 years ago. I got that from a convention and I keep it on a table and when I stare at it, it makes me smile. 

"Everything JMM does really supports the collective nature of people—there’s versatility on which styles can fit faces like with no other brand." - KM

The human mind seems to crave these kinds of things. 

Yeah, and I think a healthy part of the collection process is passing along your collection. At one point I had so many toys that my house looked like a toy store. It put 40 Year Old Virgin to shame. And then one day I went to a convention with 90% of my collection and sold it at a table. I didn’t even put price tags on anything—I said, “You give me what you want to pay for it.” And to see the look on the faces of these kids… and adults, when they finally got to get ‘that thing’ was joyous. 

I’m in my kitchen right now—and I’m sure I can find something here that I’ve had for 20 years that I’m not getting rid of. It’s just about being true, and not getting caught up on being a ‘collector for collector’s sake’. 

You’re a collector because of your passion for the creation of that product. And when it comes to Jacque Marie Mage, there’s so much more to it than just the product. There’s how the brand stays small, how their staff are treated—it’s very clear that Jerome has no interest in being a billionaire. And I dig that. It all just adds to that tasty cake. 

And then there’s the community that we’ve built. On the Facebook group the discussions are ‘we’ and not ‘me’—it’s about the collective. It’s great being able to meet people and talk about these things—because if I went to a neighbour and started talking to them about my glasses, they’d look at me all glossy eyed—they couldn’t care any less. So it’s great having these common minds coming together. 

Kal Michael Jacques Marie Mage
Jacques Marie Mage's Ascari is an angular masterpiece.

When did you start the Facebook group? There’s a big community on there now.

I guess it’s been a year and a half now. I did shelter-in-place for something like 220 days, and that made me pick up a lot of different hobbies I had on the back burner. It made me make time for things I wouldn’t normally make time for, so when I saw that a Facebook group for JMM didn’t already exist, I made one. 

Facebook groups are, for me, the only thing that is easy to tolerate on Facebook. Once we get everybody on a base of shared passions, I think there’s a better ground for community—versus a free-for-all. I wanted to see if I could lay down a good mission statement, and see if people like these things as much as I do… and then people from all over the world started popping up. 

There’s clearly a passionate fanbase for the brand.

I think everyone in the group is very passionate over the quality of the frames—that that kind of goes across the board. Everything JMM does really supports the collective nature of people—there’s versatility on which styles can fit faces like with no other brand. I’ve done my homework—and no other brand that I’ve found has that range. It’s not like “I only wear Enzo and Yves.” No, it’s across the board. I even have a pair of Lacys that are technically women’s frames, and they look tough on me, but they’d also look elegant on a woman. 

I think that’s what really fuels the people who are in the group. As niche as it is, it’s also very dense. 

"It’s all fandom. Some people dive deep, and some people stick to the surface. And I think that’s down to what satisfies you." - KM

And that presumably adds to the collective flavour of them. You can wear them all.

Yeah—and then the community supports it. Someone will post a picture and say, “Hey, I’m not sure about these.” And then we validate it. Or we might say, “Hey, I love those frames, but maybe these ones will be even better on you.” The discussions are very healthy. Where do you see discussions like that on social media? Usually it’s horrible. But yeah, the frames usually look great to begin with. 

30 years ago it’d be hard to find these communities. It’s so much easier to find people with similar interests now.

Yeah, for sure—but you know, I’ve always found that birds of a feather flock together. It’s way different now, but I met my best friend in the classifieds in the back of a magazine, in 1994. And then most of my friends—we met at a Nirvana concert even earlier. And every single one of those I’m still friends with. Back then it was about getting out there, but we did gather through our interests. If you do the work, you’re going to attract some similarities—but yeah, it goes without saying that having it online boosts that. 

Why do some people get so obsessed with things, whilst others just don’t seem bothered?

It’s all fandom. Some people dive deep, and some people stick to the surface. And I think that’s down to what satisfies you. If I say I’m a collector of something, I feel like there’s an expectation, so I’m not going to say that I’m a collector until I cross that threshold. If I tell you I love Doctor Who, I’m going to know a fair bit about Doctor Who. I like Mickey Mouse—I’m looking at paintings of Mickey Mouse in front of me right now. But I’ve dived deep into those things because when I love something, that’s my style. 

Cheque KaL out in these limited edition chequered Dealans...

And some people might not need to geek out like that, but then they’ll be geeking out as much as you in the same moment. Just think of football—there are people who are just so deep down the rabbit hole, to the point where they’re saying prayers and they're wearing a certain shirt that’s pressed a certain way, at a certain time. But then if I go to a game once every three months, I’m going to be just as excited as they are. It’s just their style. That’s what it comes down to.

And there are a lot of things that I really dig that I do keep on the surface. I just don’t have the bandwidth to break through. There are only so many hours in the day. I know how obsessive I can get, so I have to pick and choose. 

Talking of picking and choosing, do you have a favourite pair? In a Desert Island Discs type situation, which pair would you want with you?

If I don’t have a specific frame in mind before I leave the house, I’ll always grab an Yves, that’s just how it goes. It’s more of a security blanket than any others. They’ve had the most mileage for me. I don’t have to think about them—they’ll always be acceptable, whatever the situation. But if my house was burning down, there are very few things I’d take out of it besides my dog. I live, and then I collect—I don’t collect to live. As much as I appreciate my collection, and it really brings me so much joy, it’s not life. 

You’ve already given us some wise words here, but have you got any words of wisdom to end this with?

I always stick to the basics—you can’t keep what you have, unless you give it away.