Giving Everyone the Horn
Great optical options from recent New Zealand import Lewis Fredericks
Article by Nicolas Payne- Baader
Last month Sotheby’s auction House hosted its first auction consisting exclusively of handbags. Unsurprisingly the event caused much consternation, celebration, and concern. Considering Sotheby’s is an auction house which can easily clear into the tens of millions for a major auction item this did seem a little out of character – how exciting could handbags really be and how expensive could they actually get? Prices however were what you could call significant: the biggest ticket item was a crocodile skin, diamond encrusted Birkin bag which went for a cool £155,000. Pretty good whack for an accessory really… Whilst luxury handbags may be perceived as overpriced and people routinely and justifiably claim that they are, they have financially out performed a great many other investments over the last decade.
With half a percent interest rate in the banks, everyone and their mother have been looking for new investment opportunities which offer something vaguely more inspiring than a pound a month – and give you something to talk about at a dinner party.
Whilst glasses could never be classed as a long term investment it is a peculiarity that people seem to be reticent at best and outraged at worse when faced with idea of investing in a pair of very good quality but expensive frames. With few exceptions, people wear glasses out of necessity and not choice so there is always a sense of inevitability rather than whimsy in the purchasing of new glasses. It is also a purchase that tends to rack up a significant bill at the best of times, a nice pair of frames often comes in anywhere between 250 and 500 pounds and then another 150 without too much trouble on the lenses means a pretty large hole in most people’s pockets. However, when comparing glasses with almost any other accessory or item of clothing in any wardrobe a pair of glasses has just about the lowest cost per wear. For someone that wears glasses every day, assuming that a pair lasts at least three years before they are lost/broken/you get bored of them, then surely a well-made pair is worth spending proper money on.
There is also the wider argument of whether it is any more absurd or idiotic to spend £5,000 on say a Savile Row suit which could easily have cost £3,000 to make (keeping in mind a cool 1,000 of that final sale is going to HMRC) or to spend five pounds on a t shirt from Uniqlo where the product costs significantly less than a pound to make. One of the most galling examples in modern consumerism is in fact the glasses market. The market is hugely dominated by Luxxotica, which owns and manufactures pretty much every designer frame under the sun; look on the inside arm of your glasses and it will probably say Luxxotica. The company also owns retailer Sunglasses Hut as well as production plants, logistics and basically every other aspect of putting a pair of glasses on your face. Both because of the nature of acetate manufacturing being cheap in itself combined with this sort of vertical integration a pair of frames made by Luxxotica should cost next to nothing, 20 to 50 pounds and everyone’s still making a good living. A pair of Ray-Bans has almost as good a mark-up as your cinema popcorn and the frames, whilst not bad, are nothing special from a quality perspective.
Over the last few years however there has been a huge boom in independent glasses manufacturing, better produced and more originally designed frames, companies like Illesteva, Harry Larry’s, Smoke and Mirrors, all producing fantastic product which cost within the same region as a pair of Ray Bans or Oliver Peoples.
There is one material however which until fairly recently has been the reserve of the extremely few: that is horn. It seems like the sort of material that in the post ‘Cowspiracy’ world may have naturally fallen out of favour, a bit like real tortoise shell frames just seeming a little cruel at this point, but horn glasses can be a bio-neutral product to produce.
One company leading the way in horn manufacturing with sustainability and renewability as an essential part of their manufacturing process is Lewis Fredericks. Hailing from New Zealand, the horn they use is a waste product of African domestic livestock farming and any wasted in the frame manufacturing process is then is ground up and made in to fertiliser for crops.
It is difficult to overstate the pleasure of real horn glasses, the first time I felt a pair was at a very old school glasses shop in Mayfair. I’d seen some lovely glasses in the window so popped in and asked to see some. There was something vaguely reminiscent of Olivander’s shop from Harry Potter about them; the feel was completely different – utterly light, completely natural and very textured, something that I have never seen replicated by plastic. Unfortunately their glasses were all bespoke and started at well over £1,000 which was more than marginally out of my price range at the time.
Fortunately, Lewis Fredericks offers a non-bespoke service which means their glasses start at £320 which is somewhat lighter on the wallet than a grand. Horn being a natural material also means that every frame, like every horn, is slightly different. The colour, texture and striations varies a fair amount so no two pairs of glasses will be exactly the same.
The styling of the collection is also superb, glasses just on the right side of conservative, colour variants subtle and beautiful. The two founder’s main design cues come less from fashion or other eyewear but from modernist architecture greats like Eames and Corbussier. The modernist principles of the company show through the latest lookbook and range as a whole, the simple names LF001, 002 etc. all being examples of stylish frame making at its best.
Although only just launched in the UK Lewis Fredericks is currently available at Carlotti in Paris and should be expanding rapidly. Additionally there is a collaboration with Monocle coming later in 2017. Glasses are currently available online and coming to stockists very soon – so at least New Zealand will have something to fall back on if the rugby’s gone out the window!