While a good white shirt does a splendid job of framing your face, if you’re sensitive to the sun or suffer less-than-perfect vision, you’ll also want to frame your eyes — the windows to the soul, so they say — with an excellent set of glasses. There are few better than those crafted by Cubitts, a relatively new company trafficking in the old-school spectacle-crafting arts, founded in the British capital in 2013.
“Our perpetual inspiration is London’s remarkable history,” says Cubitts’ Founder Tom Broughton. “The first pair of spectacles was made in 1730 in Soho, spawning an industry which was a hallmark of craft for two centuries,” he explains. Broughton feels the industry has lost its way in recent decades, “But by using technology and a modern progressive approach, we think Cubitts can help make craft and bespoke relevant again, make spectacles exciting again, and create a new generation of spectacle wearers, driven by want, not necessity”.
In less than five years, what began as a purely online business has grown to include five brick-and-mortar stores and a workshop, with a spiffy new atelier recently opened on Jermyn Street, St. James’s in London. Asked what sets Cubitts’ glasses apart from those of competitors and contemporaries, Broughton says: “We like to think it’s a really splendid product, executed well, with fantastic customer service. We don’t try to be a cutting-edge fashion brand, but instead focus on enduring styles, impeccably made, and well curated.”
Broughton says the Cubitts philosophy is based around creating a long-lasting and high-quality, though nonetheless, accessible product. “We aim to be fiercely independent, and the antithesis of a high street optician. Our goal is to make the finest spectacles we can — using the best materials, handmade in a traditional way. We don’t cut corners in craftsmanship to save time or money, and we believe, if you can, it’s far better to repair rather than replace.” This concept is in step with the tenets of sustainability, buying less but buying better, eschewing the ‘throwaway’ ethos of fast fashion (or indeed, most fashion, full stop). Finally, he says, Cubitts strives “to be decent and honest, providing fair pricing, never unnecessarily up-selling, and treating a patient for life, not just an eye test”.
What should you look for in a good, proper pair of spectacles or sunglasses? As is the case in most other areas of menswear, Broughton says the vital thing is the fit. “Even an impeccably made pair of spectacles isn’t much use if it doesn’t fit you properly,” he remarks. “Personally, I’d always avoid sprung hinges — they’re the sartorial equivalent of adding an elasticated waistband to a tailored suit. Instead, look for pinned hinges — our hinges are always pinned — where small holes are drilled and then domed to form a join between the front and temple. This is more skilled and time-consuming than the modern approach usually employed — heat-sunk hinges — but it means a hinge can be serviced and repaired much more easily.” Mitred joins, meanwhile, provide a discrete angle between the temple and the front, which is a sign of quality, and helps to distribute the strain on a hinge over the frame.
Insofar as construction goes Broughton suggests avoiding injection-moulded, which will always be more brittle and can’t be adjusted. For materials, he says, “Rich, vibrant dense cellulose acetate is always a winner, as are traditional hypoallergenic materials like horn and rolled gold. In metals, stick to stainless steel or real titanium — not ‘beta titanium’, which is actually monel, a nickel alloy.”
Cubitts’ products are not inexpensive, but considering the workmanship, they are remarkably reasonably priced. Unlike many designers glasses, where a great deal of the ticket price covers lavish marketing campaigns, with Cubitts, you’re paying for the glasses, not glossy magazine pages. “I’d like to think by offering a nice product, we don’t need to shout about it,” Broughton says. “Hopefully the quality of the materials, components and construction speak for themselves.”
Instead of profligate advertising spending, Cubitts is educating the consumer via more organic, hands-on methods, aimed at encouraging an appreciation of the craft. For instance, says Broughton, “We run spectacle-making classes at our workshop in King’s Cross. It’s a fabulous way to inspire a new generation of spectacle makers, and there’s absolutely demand — we recently launched our classes for 2018, and they sold out in two hours. We’re also doing a horn masterclass, using water buffalo horn, as part of London Craft Week in May.”
The brand is winning fans — some of them quite prominent gentlemen — the old-fashioned way, by making a really outstanding product whose renown has rapidly spread by word of mouth. “We avoid gifting,” Broughton says, referring to the widespread promotional tactic of giving freebies to much-photographed celebrities and online personalities. “In fact, I only really recently discovered what an ‘influencer’ meant.” Which makes the fact that people like Hugh Grant, Stanley Tucci, Idris Elba, Steve Coogan, Jamie Oliver, and Thom Yorke have all been wearing Cubitts in the last month that much more rewarding.