The Man Who Made Palin's Spectacular Specs

Kawasaki's frames have adorned the faces of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.

TOKYO, Sept. 12, 2008— -- The rise of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin suddenly pushed someone across the Pacific into the spotlight.

"The glasses Ms. Palin wears seemed like one of the pairs I designed, but I was not 100 percent certain," Japanese designer Kazuo Kawasaki told "I was never able to get a closer look on television. But when a Japanese reporter told me they were mine, I was very excited."

Palin is not Kawasaki's first client from the U.S. political arena.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell once posed for the cover of Time magazine wearing one of Kawasaki's creations. Time's current issue carries a photo of Palin wearing hers. The list of his fans goes on -- former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and, proving Kawasaki's bipartisan appeal, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Kawasaki takes advantage of his many artistic talents in designing glasses. An industrial designer with a doctoral degree in medical science, Kawasaki has designed a variety of products from cutlery to artificial organs.

Basing his designs on the concept of human engineering, Kawasaki said he tries to design glasses that are "functional," meeting both the medical and the fashion needs of the wearers.

The MP-704 model, Palin's choice, was already popular among male customers in Japan, according to Akira Nagayama, a manager at Masunaga Optical Mfg Co. Ltd.

Now, Nagayama said his store has been receiving inquiries every day from people wanting to know more about this particular model. The three-point tension-mounted frames use beta titanium, the leading material in modern eyeglasses.

"Now both men and women are interested in this model," Nagayama told

The boost in popularity is likely to travel to the United States as well. "We will be shipping between 4,000 and 5,000 pairs to our U.S. distributor. Ms. Palin has led quite an eyewear trend. She is already a good leader," Nagayama said.

"I do not design glasses for a particular gender," Kawasaki said. "I design them for people. I think Ms. Palin looks sharp and competent with those glasses, and I think that is part of her message. She knows how to present herself -- a pretty smart lady."

But that does not mean he would necessarily vote for her. He said he wants politicians to be able to feel what ordinary people feel, and he thinks Palin can do that. But he also thinks an Obama presidency would help America make racial progress. In the end, Kawasaki said, he remains politically neutral.

And his aspirations go beyond politics. Asked if there is someone he wishes would wear his glasses, Kawasaki mentioned Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, preferably wearing the same model.

"Two people wearing the exact same model can look different," Kawasaki said. "Eyesglasses can help create a style, but the final look depends on the personality of the wearer."

In Palin's case, Kawasaki thinks that look is both sophisticated and down-to-earth. That may be one reason his Japanese designs are an early winner in the U.S. presidential election.