Vintage eyewear brands spy a revival

A group of iconic eyewear brands are redefining "vintage", and Hong Kong is getting onboard

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 6:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 10:17am

It's no secret that vintage is a hot topic in the fashion world. This is especially true in the eyewear industry where a host of iconic brands from the 1950s and '60s have found fame again through reinvention.

This time, they aren't just bringing back vintage styles; next-generation owners are offering contemporary and fresh designs while still paying homage to their brand's heritage and legacy.

No one knows vintage better than Oliver Goldsmith. Its original founder, Philip Oliver Goldsmith, was a pioneer in British eyewear and started out with handmade tortoiseshell frames in 1926.

By the time his son, the next Oliver Goldsmith, took over in the '50s, the brand was making headlines for transforming humble spectacles into a must-have accessory - worn by the likes of Princess Grace, Peter Sellers and Audrey Hepburn.

Many of the designs bordered on art, and are displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Today the company is run by the third generation Andrew Oliver Goldsmith, who joined the firm in the '60s.

He told me never to make a woman look stupid in glasses, so I bore that in mind
Andrew Oliver Goldsmith

"Initially, I wanted to create something that wasn't available but was different from my father's way-out wacky style," he said during a visit to Hong Kong. "He asked me to remember three letters when I designed: Q for quality, E for elegance and C for comfort. He told me never to make a woman look stupid in glasses, so I bore that in mind."

Over the years Goldsmith has created styles equally as famous as his father's, thanks to their classic, modern appeal. Highlights include the RIP, with its unique construction (the arms are fastened to the middle edge of the frame rather than the top) and the Vice Consul, popularised by Colin Firth in Tom Ford's film A Single Man.

In 2002 the company signed a licencing agreement with a Japanese manufacturing company. Now it releases eight new styles from the archives annually (Goldsmith says he has around 600 styles still waiting to be made) along with several newer designs. While quantities are limited, the brand is available throughout Asia - its biggest market.

This year, Goldsmith has ambitious plans to take the brand forward with a contemporary line called OG x Oliver Goldsmith, featuring minimalist metal frames including titanium.

"At the moment retro is still the big thing, but there is a slowdown. So in addition to our line, OGOG [which stands for Oliver Goldsmith Original and Genuine], we are launching a second collection that's more modern," Goldsmith says.

"[This month] we will launch the first five models and while they won't immediately be different, you'll see subtle differences. Eventually I want to expand it into a range of hi-tech frames while still continuing the classics."

If Oliver Goldsmith is the king of vintage eyewear, then Linda Farrow is the queen of retro sunglasses. Established in 1970, the brand is regarded as one of first to "fashionise" sunglasses during that era, and was known for collaborating with the likes of Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent on luxury eyewear.

Farrow also created Yoko Ono's signature wrap-arounds.

The brand was revived in 2003 when Farrow's son, Simon Jablon, and his now wife, Tracy Sedino, discovered the designer's archives of more than 2,000 styles.

The couple began selling this back catalogue to exclusive retailers worldwide - and the Linda Farrow brand was reborn.

"We don't want to be pigeonholed so it's about timeless classic pieces with a little twist," says Sedino. "Linda Farrow is semi-based on Linda Farrow Vintage because it has something that is irreplaceable. I like to think we create trends in eyewear today."

Initially, the brand offered original pieces from Farrow's archives under Vintage.

Its current incarnation is a line of luxe styles that blend past and future. Collections feature materials such as titanium coated in 24-carat gold and exotic skins like python in bold, bright colours. Its contemporary designs have gained a following - Kate Moss, Madonna and Lady Gaga among them.

"We are constantly trying to find new concepts, but the archives help for inspiration. We modernise the collection through materials and technology depending on the designer and collection. We experiment with colours and materials like alligator and water snake," says Sedino.

The brand is also appealing to a new audience with its popular Gallery collection, boasting limited edition collaborations with Raf Simons, Dries Van Noten and Alexander Wang, among others.

For Linda Farrow's upcoming 10th anniversary, it announced a new string of collaborations with 10 designers including Agent Provocateur, Nicholas Kirkwood, Cire Trudon and Falke.

While these British brands have made their mark, aficionado and designer Martin Leung is hoping that Hong Kong will also become part of eyewear history through his brand, AOC 1961.

A passionate collector of vintage frames (he owns around 2,000), Leung in 2006 stumbled upon the dormant Asia Optical Company, founded by optometrist Wilson Cheng in 1961, and sought to revive it. It was one of the few local optical companies that developed its own brand of spectacles.

"Meeting Wilson changed my life. As a lover of vintage eyewear, I saw the opportunity to continue someone's legacy and career. Vintage eyewear is unique because it represents culture at the time. It's not just about glasses, it's about generations and what was happening in society," says Leung.

In 2007, Leung bought the business and rebranded it as AOC 1961, featuring original eyewear and sunglass designs from the AOC archives. After four years, a chance meeting with the president of Dita Eyewear Japan made him rethink his business model.

"In the beginning I was so green. My idea was to take over the business and not change it. Then I realised I wanted to rebuild the brand and company through different stages. I wanted to keep the brand's heritage alive but make it modern at the same time. So I spent much more time studying manufacturing and started to create our own styles," he says.

AOC 1961 releases several new styles a year in addition to a smaller, archive-inspired line. Highlights include the Deacon, a pair of nerdy frames which are given a cool edge through a slightly larger shape; and Rozz, with a V-shaped top for a more flattering silhouette.

The chunky Wellington sunglasses are inspired by the contours of a vintage BMW sports car. Everything is made in Japan - although Leung is looking to move production to Hong Kong - and is designed with Asian features in mind.

"I don't just want to remake an old style. It has to be a mixture of my own ideas, too, to make the product more contemporary," Leung says.

"Who knows? Maybe we will become a legend in 30 or 40 years and be referred to as truly vintage." [email protected]