Thursday 20 October 2011

Cult Eyewear: The World’s Enduring Classics - must-have glasses book

In the 1950s Oliver Goldsmith was one of the first brands to appear regularly in the women's fashion magazines. Picture: Oliver Goldsmith
Few books are written about glasses so when I heard about Neil Handley’s book’s imminent publication via a number of highly respected eyewear designers, all of whom had been consulted in its creation, I knew it must be good.

Disappoint, it does not.

Cult Eyewear is a coffee table tome worth its place in any home.

Eyewear enthusiast or not, anyone with an eye for design or fashion will struggle not to enjoy every carefully illustrated page.

The 1973 Mary Quant 03 model. Photo: The College of Optometrists/Elliott Franks, courtesy of Arckiv
Any book that tries to describe a cult in any manner, be it film, music, or in this case eyewear, will have its work cut out. 'Cult' can be tricky to define. As time passes, one person’s cult can become another’s mainstream.

Robert La Roche 349, circa 1985. Photo: Robert La RocheA few brands, in my opinion, are conspicuous by their absence; and others, on first glance, by their presence. But in his defence, Handley acknowledges that it is an “inevitably somewhat personal selection from the myriad of designer fashion brands...”

He justifies every brand’s inclusion and, as curator of the British Optical Association Museum, the depth of knowledge being shared is always apparent.
Cazal 163 from 1985. Photo: Op Couture Brillen / Cazal
ic! berlin Adlerbrille 9615 from 2007. Photo: ic! Berlin Brillen

Amusingly, he begins by pointing out that this book “not so long ago, would have annoyed many opticians”. He immediately differentiates Cult Eyewear from any book on the history of vision correction, and makes it clear that this book is a celebration of the aesthetic.

Mykita Emmanuelle from 2010, photographed by Mark Borthwick. Photo: Mykita.
The introduction gives an enlightening history of eyewear style, all the way back to the “Nuremberg Masterpiece” from 1663, by Melchior Schelke, “designed less for wear than to demonstrate his prowess”, through numerous brands such as Metzler, Tura in the 1960s and 1970s, to frames by Swatch in1993, Alyson Magee in 2007, right up to Silhouette’s virtual mirror app on an iPhone.

These first 10 pages end perhaps a little too fast but what follows is the book's core, with 31 chapters each focusing on an eyewear brand– or family of brands – with cult status. And the selection is magnificent. It includes names I was unaware of, but will now actively seek out. And while it included a few stories I am familiar with – at CW Dixey & Son, Oliver Goldsmith andmore recently Mykita – frequently Handley has unearthed additional intriguing detail.

These chapters are occasionally interspersed with features on famous glasses wearers (Elton John, John Lennon, Elvis Presley), films and books that include eyewear (American Psycho, Blues Brothers, Easy Rider) and opticians who have pioneered the “cosmetic effect of eyewear”.

A spread on Silhouette
A spread on l.a. EyeworksHandley has clearly researched his material well and most people will learn a great deal (I particularly liked the glossary!).

Anecdotal gems are scattered throughout. There’s Udo Proksch, a designer for Viennaline, Serge Kirchhofer, Optyl and ChristianDior, who attempted an insurance fraud worth 31 million Swiss francs.

There’s the fact the designers behind Dame Edna Everage’s bespoke handmade frames ,would inscribe the inside temple with the line “A hand job by Anglo American”.

There’s the tale of the founders of ic! berlin, before they’d established the company, being caught “illegally” selling on a staircase at Mido, the major trade fair in Milan, and fleeing to the exhibition stand of Robert La Roche. Many more such yarns are dotted among the pages.

The breadth of information is terrific and each time I dip into another chapter, I find out something else. But it is the pictures that steal the show. There's a tonne of great images, a mere handful of which I've been kindly allowed to feature here (hover over pictures for captions).

Cult Eyewear is spectacular in every sense, and it will no doubt help me improve Eye Wear Glasses over the coming years. So when I meet you Mr Handley, I think I must owe you a pint!

Cult Eyewear: The World's Enduring Classics by Neil Handley
Published by Merrell. UK £29:95, US $49:95, 192pp.
English ISBN: 9781858945095

Also available in French:
Lunettes cultes : Les classiques intemporels
EUR49.00 ISBN: 9782884531696

Buy your copy: UK | USA | France | Deutschland | España | Italia

The following is a list of the brands to be profiled in detail. But many other names are featured too alongside these: CW Dixey & Son, American Optical, Anglo American, Cartier, Kirk Brothers, Kirk Originals, Persol, Oliver Goldsmith, Algha, Mary Quant, Savile Row, Ray-Ban, Pierre Marly, Carrera, Porsche Design, Michael Birch, Viennaline, Serge Kirchhofer, Vuarnet, Neostyle, Silhouette, Christian Dior, Cutler and Gross, Lafont, Robert La Roche, Cazal, Alain Mikli, l.a. Eyeworks, Police, Theo, JF Rey, ic! Berlin, Mykita, TD Tom Davies and RVS by V.

All pictures are credited - hover over images to see credits.

RVS by V glassses from 2008

1 comment:

  1. original sunglasses Ray Ban Wayfarer?