It’s a trope much favored by the film industry—the geeky girl or nerdy boy whose radiance is hidden behind a pair of spectacles. Ignored or even bullied, they sit at the back of the class or office, alone. Until one day, they ditch the lenses and are transformed into a world-saving hero (Superman and Spider-Man) or an irresistible beauty (She’s All That and My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
Glasses have had their own transformation, from an optical aid only used when necessary to a glamorous accessory that is often worn purely as adornment.
Celebrities such as singer Justin Bieber, basketball star LeBron James, and model Helena Christensen have all sported plano- (clear) or no-lens specs. In an interview she gave in 2011, Christensen said she chose to wear glasses because they made her “feel more interesting, a little bit smarter, and more grown up.”
People think nothing of owning numerous ties, scarves, and hats, but then stick with only one pair of glasses, which they wear all day, to all occasions, and with all outfits. This attitude is finally shifting, and more spectacle wearers are now investing in multiple pairs—Tom Davies, bespoke glasses designer
“The vast majority of my customers are in their middle years,” says bespoke glasses designer Tom Davies, who made all the glasses for the films The Matrix Resurrections and Cruella, and whose clients include Ed Sheeran and Angelina Jolie, “But eyesight is deteriorating in all age groups. Myopia, or shortsightedness—which is when people can only see close up—has doubled among young people within a single generation.
“In many regions of East Asia, including Seoul, Hong Kong, Singapore, and in major cities in China, more than 90 percent of the population are myopic, and it’s an increasing problem in all countries where children spend too much time indoors and too much time staring at computers and cell phones. Both cause the eyes to lengthen, which shortens the field of clear vision.”
Increasing numbers of people needing to correct their vision, coupled with growing awareness of how important it is to protect the eyes from the sun, has led to a boom time for the eyewear industry. As the New York Times said in a feature on aging, reading glasses are as inevitable as death and taxes.
The trend will continue for developing better-performing lenses that offer excellent protection from the sun; eco-friendly materials that are durable; and a greater emphasis on tailor-made—Yair Neuman, bespoke maker
The global market, which includes contact lenses and sunglasses as well as prescription specs, reached $140 billion in 2021 according to market analyst Research and Markets, and is predicted to soar to $209.5 billion by 2027.
Forecasts from market researcher Statista indicate that the luxury eyewear sector will be worth $21.5 billion by 2025, and the latest returns reported by Kering Eyewear, a leader in high-value frames whose portfolio includes Maui Jim, Lindberg, Gucci, Balenciaga, and Cartier, seem to back that up. Last year the company’s revenues hit €700 million ($776 m), up from €487.1 million ($540.17 m) in 2020.
Davies, whose core business is made-to-measure frames that can easily cost up to £10,000 ($13,143), says his sales have also increased because of changing consumer perception.
“People think nothing of owning numerous ties, scarves, and hats, but then stick with only one pair of glasses, which they wear all day, to all occasions, and with all outfits. This attitude is finally shifting, and more spectacle wearers are now investing in multiple pairs. One of my first clients ordered a frame I’d made for him in 30 colors. That’s rare, of course, but everyone should have at least three pairs—one for work, one for lounging around at home, and one for going out. My long-standing customers have a wardrobe of glasses. Each year they add another one or two designs to their collection.”
Davies says that glasses are a statement of personal style, an expression of who we are, or what we wish to convey. We wouldn’t wear a suit to walk the dog, or joggers to a job interview, so why do we think that one frame can work in all situations? “Different frames help you portray different identities. Plus, let’s not forget the technology of the lens itself. There are special lenses we use for watersports, for cycling, for golf. One size really doesn’t fit all.”
Yair Neuman, bespoke maker and artistic director for French heritage brand Maison Bourgeat, agrees. “The right eyewear can have an enormous bearing even on how we perceive ourselves. I have had clients who have asked me to design a frame that will make them feel more assertive or more in command. Eyewear is one very powerful way of changing how we look. We can use it to draw attention to ourselves, or to recede into the background. Who hasn’t hidden behind a pair of sunglasses when they’ve wanted privacy?”
Neuman’s clients, like Davies’s, appreciate the craftsmanship and skill that go into a tailor-made frame, and the freedom it gives them to have a unique product, one that can even include precious metals or stones. It’s not unusual for his customers to spend up to €30,000 ($33,253) on one item, for example.
Sustainability Issues and Future Trends
Others come to him because of his commitment to sustainability. He has created a material called Delerex, which is made from the otherwise landfill-bound demo lenses that are fitted in spectacles before they are bought, and hopes to develop this side of his business beyond the range he has made for Cubitts, an optician based in the UK.
What does he consider to be the next trend for eyewear? “Well so many companies are flirting with smart glasses, but for my own part, I think the trend will continue to be developing better-performing lenses that offer excellent protection from the sun; eco-friendly materials that are durable; and a greater emphasis on tailor-made.”