The vast majority of modern spectacle frames are made in Italy, France, Germany, China, Japan, or the USA. There is effectively no British frame industry left except for small-scale operations providing specialist frames for the prestige market....a field in which we excel.
These drawings were produced specially for the BOA Museum by Jean-Baptiste Bouvier, one of the top designers at the L'Amy spectacle company based at Morez in France, responsible for their 'Jeep' and 'Lacoste' licensed ranges. Since early 2003 he and his colleagues have moved predominantly to computer-aided design (CAD) though his ideas always start with the traditional paper and pencil.
The art of successful spectacle frame design is to cater for the various different markets in radically different ways. Younger spectacle wearers may appreciate a bold frame. The older user may prefer an understated, conservative design. All age groups contain those who are keen to follow fashion closely and those who couldn't care less, but factors such as lightness of weight, durability and, indeed, economy of price can still be influential.
So how do today’s frame designers react to the past?
Do they wish to respond to the historical patterns discernible in the story of frame development or take deliberate steps to counteract them?
Of great interest to the historians of fifty years’ hence will be the comments given during interviews for a special millennium publication in 1999....
Filippo de Franceschi recognised the difficulty of devising something genuinely new and the factors which, in any case, act as a disincentive to such an approach: ‘It is of course easier to work on the re-elaboration of old ideas’. He suggested that ‘restyling’ was not a negative approach if it sought to ‘improve, perfect and evolve’ and identified a trend towards designers designing for niche markets rather than mass selling. Michele Ceribelli an interior designer noted also for his sunglasses suggested that craftsmanship (an important source of innovation) had all but been killed off.
It seems that the mass populace can find it difficult for people to understand innovative ideas, if they really are innovative. Apparently caring little for that, Fiorenzo Delegà saw eyewear at the dawn of the twenty first century as, ‘essentially a product in constant evolution which is being updated at a dizzy speed allowing no pauses for reflection’. Peter Warrer, the Sales Manager for Danish company Lindberg Optic Design was calmer, recognising that consumers still change their eyewear less often than their clothes and even conceding that the consumer places more emphasis on function, the moderate and classical aesthetic elements. ‘Swings and excesses’ were to be avoided or at least moderated.
This is a typical pair of self-selection reading spectacles as available cheaply from supermarkets at the turn of the twentieth and twenty first centuries. They are so cheap that customers may buy on impulse rather than through need. The decision to buy is thus comparable with that made when picking up sweets close to the check-out till. Although the label warns explicitly that these reading glasses are no substitute for undergoing proper eye tests such spectacles were nevertheless controversial in the opinion of many optometrists.
The modern practitioner should beware of seeing the design of spectacle frames as one long tale of progress. Evidence can be gathered to demonstrate a number of recurrent themes and designers can be shown to have steered an evolutionary course that does not exclude the occasional ‘retro’ step. Such recourses to history are perhaps more frequent than some designers will admit even if the materials they are working with are new ones. One must learn to separate recurring trends from genuine innovation, and where such innovation is present, be careful of assigning individual credit. It should also be recognised that the spectacle-wearing public has not always embraced the latest designs with alacrity and that there have been significant differences between countries. Spectacles remain essentially simple devices and numerically speaking, the most successful have been those that provide a cheap and comfortable means of holding corrective lenses in place.