A–Z

— OF EYEWEAR —

BY STEENIE

PANTO/PANTOSCOPIC

The oval Panto frame is another turning point in the history of eyewear where spectacles emerge as desirable fashion items and not just medical devices for ocular correction. They are often associated with the style of the 1940s, but actually originate in the 1930s. Prior to this, the bridge and the temples on a frame would all line up on the horizontal, as in the glasses Winston Churchill can be seen wearing in DarkestHour. However, if we bring the bridge and temples up and therefore the lenses down, the lens fits better with the shape of the eye and less of the lens is above the eyebrow. We can see more by achieving a greater field of vision. Panto is short for pantoscopic, meaning all-round vision. Revolutionary in both the correction of eyesight and eyewear fashion, a panto gives the wearer the look of a classic academic. We associate them with our old English teachers, or a well-turned-out and clever-looking fellow standing at the top of the library steps, with croquet on the college lawn at Oxford or a punting party on the Cam, Brideshead Revisited, Humphrey Bogart in the bookshop in The Big Sleep. They can make the young look bookish but, unfortunately, the old look older as well as donnish. In evoking the old-world charm of the 1930s, the Panto has a sort of timelessness about it, even though in terms of styling there’s not much you can do with it. Despite this, it’s a design that keeps coming back. The first Armani optical collection in the late 80s were Pantos. Pantos are having a retro-Renaissance at the moment. They come back into fashion every 20 years or so. The Panto does mark an important milestone in the journey of eyewear from the doctor’s surgery to the fashion house, but I much prefer working with the less-jaded and more versatile designs of the 50s to the 80s.

DOROTHY PARKER

In 1926, the American poet and satirist coined a catchy two-line rhyme that would rapidly become an adage and have a long-lasting effect on how female spectacle wearers are perceived: Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses. Even though it’s not clear what Parker really meant — whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, for example — she certainly undermined the confidence of many women by suggesting that glasses make you too ugly to be attractive, or at least desirable enough to solicit the unwanted lunge implicit in the idea of the male pass. At face value, it’s a pretty sexist sentiment that implies women should be objects sitting around waiting for men to swoop. Parker didn’t wear glasses until her old age, so it’s hard to see it as a joke at her own expense. As we have seen, in 1926 — pre the cat’s eye, pre-Grace Kelly —ladies eyewear was not yet seen as fashion, as part of a look. It was far more functional and far less glamorous. Even so, a prejudice still exists that women in glasses are somehow frumpy and losers, evidenced by the numerous makeover shows where a girl goes ‘from geek to chic’ by first of all losing her specs. The old Neighbours character Plain Jane Superbrain’s dowdiness was entirely signified by her clunky, squarish glasses she ditches to transform into a heart-stealer. Ultimately, we have no way of knowing how seriously Parker held this sentiment and how flippant or facetious she was being. It is, though a powerful testament not only to how fashions change over time but also how different the past can be. Admittedly, wearing glasses seems less of an issue or stigma for young women today, and in the age of #MeToo, men not making passes at girls who wear glasses could be very appealing.

PERSOL

Persol is not only a big name and trailblazing brand, it’s one of the oldest companies in the history of eyewear manufacture. Founded in 1917 by Giuseppe Ratti and named after the Italian phrase per il sol, ‘for the sun’, Persol started out making glasses for aviators and motorcar drivers. Very soon, though, they produced one of the first examples of truly iconic frames for sunglasses, the Persol 649. Designed by Ratti himself, the 649 was originally intended for the tram drivers of Turin to protect their eyes from the smog and smuts of the city as they coursed through it day by day. Its chief innovation was a flexible spring hinge, the meflecto system which allowed the pieces to be displayed flat and stretched out in shop windows. It was later popularised by Marcello Mastoianni in the 1961 film Divorce, Italian Style, the cool glasses giving his character Ferdinando a suggestion of innocence and affability when he’s trouble. Persol’s later piece, the 714, the iconic, customised, folding and blue-tinted sunglasses worn by Steve McQueen in 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair had a distinct family resemblance to the 649. Ratti’s vision was wonderful and the original pieces can now sell for hundreds and hundreds of pounds. Alongside the Wayfarer, the Persol 649 and 714 stand as the most iconic pieces of eyewear ever made, and Persol itself stands second only to Ray-Ban in the history of sunglasses as cultural touchstone.

PERSPEX

Perspex is an excellent material for making eye-catching frames. The way Perspex layers allow beautiful strata of tinges and tints to form and interact. Used most memorably in the 1950s by Birch Optical, Perspex is little used now as it’s hard to work and scratches easily.

PINCE NEZ

Popular from the late 19th century to the 1920s, the pince nez are armless reading glasses that sit on the nose (‘pinch nose’). Very practical, they allow the wearer to look up and still see what’s in the distance. Nowadays, you only really see them in films, especially those featuring Hercule Poirot, as they give the wearer a grand, imperious, possibly pretentious look. This can be offset by a cheeky wink that some ladies, but few men, can get away with.

POLAROID

Polaroid is a brand of polarising sunglasses. Massive in the 1970s, Polaroid sunglasses were as ubiquitous in chemists as Foster Grants and in many ways a high street brand like Foster Grants, a popular mass-market product well-liked. The USP of Polarising lenses is that that they filter out all horizontal light. When you look at water, for example, you remove its reflection so you can see what’s beneath: shoals of fish, reefs, wrecks. Great for boat trips. Great for fishing. Alternatively, in snowy climes, they remove the reflection of ice, which I am told can make them dangerous for skiers to wear. For just wandering around town, they strobe and cause me headaches, so I only take mine out on the water with me.

POLICE

In the 1990s, every London bus, it seemed, every bus shelter up and down the land, every billboard would be slathered with an advert for Police sunglasses, usually featuring a couple who looked like they’d just stepped off the set of Miami Vice, each wearing the distinctive blue-tinted lenses. The Police range was launched in 1983 by the Italian De Rigo brothers, but it was in the 90s it really took off, primarily on the back of a massive marketing and product placement campaigns. As the saying goes, if you throw enough mud, it will stick.

PORSCHE

Before major fashion houses moved into eyewear, the only brands who lent their names to ranges of sunglasses tended to be associated with dynamic activities like motor racing, aviation or mountaineering. One such brand was the sleek sportscar manufacturer, Porsche. Made by Optyl one of these designs, the Porsche 5621 became both insanely fashionable in the 1980s and highly collectible. It’s USP was a hinged clip on the bridge that allowed you to change the lens to different coloured versions. Fancy a yellow tint today? A pink-tint this evening? No problem. The drawback was that the 5621’s interchangeable lenses couldn’t be made to prescription. The feature didn’t work for short-sighted people. To solve this problem, I designed a lens with a lip that could be assimilated into the 5621’s design. This gained me the respect of Optyl, who made me their recommended lens laboratory and gave me a machine that allowed me to stamp my lenses with the Porsche logo. I don’t know what happened to that machine or where it is now, but it was beautiful, and I have fond memories of working with it.

PULP

We have already established that Michael Caine is not only an iconic wearer of spectacles but also a style influencer based on his role as Harry Palmer in The Ipcress Files and its sequels, and David Bailey’s 1965 photograph that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. The 1972 comedy thriller, Pulp, saw Caine — playing a trashy writer with the pen name S. Odemy — sporting a different, chunkier, large-framed pair of glasses. In the history of eyewear fashion, the changes seem to come mid-decade. Early sixties frames, for example, have more in common with late fifties glasses. Caine’s Pulp frames nod backwards to the 60s; they’re just bigger in a forwards nod to 70s modernity. He needed to be seen as still Michael Caine but in the now-moment of the 1970s. They make his face look a bit weird and never caught on.