True visionaries

Haute bespoke optical frames with heritage provenance are enjoying a renaissance, with two historic companies leading the way

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Cast your gaze around many a cosmopolitan city centre and retail seems to be dominated by two distinct, disparate trends: limited-edition sportswear that generates a queue for each "drop" and vast, minimalist stores selling spectacles and shades. But away from these thoroughfares in Paris and London, two opticians steeped in design history are enjoying a new-found popularity.

With clients including Yves Saint-Laurent, Jacques Chirac and Jackie Onassis, Maison Bonnet has been an insider name in French style since its launch by Alfred Bonnet in Jura in the 1930s–although it wasn't until the mid-20th century that it really found its feet, when Alfred's son Robert took the helm.

Currently in the capable hands of the fourth generation of Bonnets, the Maison works on an entirely bespoke level–nothing has ever been off-the-shelf. A standalone atelier launched in the Palais Royal in Paris in 2009, with a second opening last autumn in London's Mayfair, each a space for personal consultation and invention rather than browsing.

Creating a pair of spectacles is as involved as the creation of a bespoke suit on Savile Row. Each pair takes over 20 hours to make, executed by a small, dedicated group of craftsmen following techniques unchanged since the 1930s. Each is made to precise measurements to suit the wearer's face–there are no logos on these glasses.

"Design is not the engine of our thought process," says CEO Franck Bonnet. "The individual takes precedence over the object." 

Maison Bonnet

A standalone atelier launched in the Palais Royal in Paris in 2009, with a second opening last autumn in London's Mayfair, each a space for personal consultation and invention rather than browsing.

A stone's throw from Maison Bonnet's London boutique sit another opticians famed for its heritage and style. As with Maison Bonnet, EB Meyrowitz is a manystoried house, beginning in 1875, when Prussian founder Emil Bruno Meyrowitz launched his brand, with stores in London, Paris and New York. Famous clients included US President Theodore Roosevelt, while aviators Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh both wore flying goggles created by Meyrowitz.

Today, in Mayfair's Royal Arcade, EB Meyrowitz's creative director Sheel Davison-Lungley talks her clients through myriad options of frames. There is a ready-to-wear range, but the core clientele wants bespoke, says Davison-Lungley. And when you're looking at, say, tortoiseshell, that can mean a oneoff product with a price tag north of £20,000.

"We have an uncompromising attitude towards sourcing the finest materials and a holistic and deeply personal approach towards design," Davison-Lungley says. During the initial consultation, the most precise measurements of the wearer are made, so that the glasses that materialise 12 weeks or so later fit perfectly. For customers used to the usual off-the-shelf frames, it is a revelation.

No consultation at EB Meyrowitz is complete without a look at the archive on display: The Birdie, The New Yorker and the angular wonders of The Beluga are just some of the delights on view. It's highly likely that, after you've tried them all, Davison-Lungley will send an assistant deeper into the archive, to show you weirder and wilder frames from the brand's history with a view to creating something new, exclusive to you and entirely contemporary.

maisonbonnet.com