A to Z of Eyewear - I





Peace-loving, independence-winning Indian leader, Mahatma Gandhi’s rather basic spectacles were reminiscent of a time when glasses were a medical appliance for the rectification of sight and not a fashion accessory for the face. Gandhi’s simple round frames made him look intellectual, modest and trustworthy, always with his mind fixed on higher things.

Mahatma Gandhi wearing simple round frames


Bill Gates made the simple, unfussy Lindberg frame an eyewear icon in the Nineties. They are hardly the most stylish of frames, but these small minimal glasses certainly leant him an air of integrity.

Dennis Hopping wearing his iconic Ray-Ban Olympians

Bill Gates in his iconic Lindberg frames


Glazing is the process by which lenses are cut to fit into the frames of a pair of spectacles. Various parts of the lens need to be aligned with points in the eye. Largely unnoticed and unsung, glazers sit at the bottom of the ladder in the eyewear industry. I started my career as a trainee glazing technician at age seventeen. I was fortunate, as it’s very rare for a glazer to go on to become a shop owner, let alone a successful one.


Once upon a time, all lenses were made of glass. Not so nowadays: since the late sixties, the best materials for lenses have been plastics, which are far easier to manipulate than glass. However,  glass holds a tint better than plastic which can only be coated. The best sunglass lenses in the world are made by Barbarini of Italy. Here, the pigment is inside the glass, not a coating added to it. A great example of Barberini glass lenses in action is G15, a specific colour used in aviation-green lenses designed for pilots. Their distinctive green tint comes from the use of ferrous oxide in their manufacture.  G15 lenses have the best colour balance and absorb infrared radiation. Even at high altitude, when the sky is a deep, dark blue, colours are kept natural and pilots can still see things as they really are. This is a timely reminder that sunglasses are for seeing through, not just to be seen in.

Goldsmith, Oliver - Vidal Sasoon Sunglasses

Oliver Goldsmith fashioning Vidal Sasoon Sunglasses

Oliver Goldsmith was a titan in British eyewear design whose innovative designs became the look of many celebrities. John Lennon, Diana Dors, Peter Sellers, Diana Princess of Wales, Princess Grace of Monaco and Eric Morecambe were notable wearers of Goldsmith frames. The iconic sunglasses Audrey Hepburn wears in Breakfast at Tiffany’s are often assumed to be Ray-Ban Wayfarers when they are in fact, Goldsmiths. Michael Caine’s ‘Harry Palmer’ glasses were also Goldsmiths. Founded in 1926, the Oliver Goldsmith Company ceased trading in 1985 but has recently been revived by Claire Goldsmith, Oliver’s great-granddaughter, who has all his designs going back to the beginning. The original offices were on Poland Street, a hundred metres or so from The Eye Company.


Another big bold name in British eyewear design is Tony Gross. A passionate optician, Gross became frustrated that he couldn’t stock the sort of frames he wanted in the shop he co-owned with Graham Cutler. In 1969, they decided to do it their way and together designed exactly the sort of spectacles that they loved. Handcrafted in Italy and with an emphasis on cool, Cutler and Gross  are the most celebrated British eyewear brand abroad, frequently the spectacles of choice for the art, music and film world. They now produce a range for Victoria Beckham. What they aspire to in eyewear is very much what I aspire to.


By the mid-nineties, Gucci had rather fallen by the wayside as a trailblazing eyewear brand. The prevailing trend at the time was minimalist. The rimless frame and unobtrusively slim, sleek frame were ubiquitous. However, Gucci were soon at the forefront of pushing eyewear forward when they brought out a range of insanely heavy, thick, chunky frames. These geeky-chic glasses really took off and not for the first time, Gucci had the courage to move the times rather than follow the herd.