In 2013, the eyewear industry was valued to be worth around $90 billion dollars and is expected to rise to over a staggering $140 billion by 2020. Eyewear is now competing with handbags and footwear, which together constitute a large slice of the fashion industry’s globally consumed and saturated pie. Glasses are now being taken seriously, and this tectonic shift in consumer patterns and trends is easily proved, as large fashion houses such as Gucci and Celine, have moved their eyewear production in-house and ceased their outsourced licenses, with more fashion behemoths soon to follow. Amazingly, this all started with one man who had the vision and foresight to see such enormous potential in opticals, over 90 years ago.
If you were to look back into the history books and pinpoint the moment that marked the start of eyewear’s precipitous rise, it would be 1926, the year the British optical brand Oliver Goldsmith was founded. “My great-grandfather wanted to bring an aesthetic into what was just a medical device. It was the first thing he noticed about people and he wondered why it didn't attract more attention,” Claire Goldsmith, the great-granddaughter of the eponymous founder tells me. Claire has now been in total control of the family business since 2006, which was arguably the first company that turned a medical device into what could be a sexy, luxurious and rakish fashion statement, representing innovation, creativity and ingenuity in its purest form.
Prior to Oliver Goldsmith’s eureka moment, traditional opticals were made from steel and glass, and it was Goldsmith who realised the potential of a new material, which was causing tremors in the design world: plastic. Legend has it that Goldsmith traded a few pairs of opticals for a few sheets of acetate with a local button maker, went to work and experimented with the new material, which today dominates the Oliver Goldsmith line. Some of his earliest acetate frames — which were a natural, skin-like colour as pigment dyed acetate was not yet readily available — from the 1930s can be found in the V&A Museum, London.
Subsequently after World War Two, the western world let out a huge sigh of relief and there was a shared feeling of global optimism in which creativity flourished. Style icons emerged, musicians became global stars and classic Hollywood reached its zenith. “It was when my grandfather took over the company that things really changed,” Claire informs me, “as he truly understood the importance of marketing and product placement.” He ran the business for 58 years and developed sunglasses and spectacles that have become synonymous with the stars that donned them. If you were a revered style icon, you wore Goldsmith. Michael Caine, Audrey Hepburn, Keith Richards, Hardy Amies, Grace Kelly, John Lennon, Peter Sellers and Diana, Princess of Wales all wore Goldsmith frames and it’s certainly a bygone era in which such an impressive roster can be found to be inextricably linked with a brand. As Claire aptly put it: “Today celebrity is so watered down. I can’t think of anyone to wear our glasses who are as iconic as those my grandfather chose.” We, The Rake, couldn't agree more.