By now, eyewear is commonplace. Prescription lenses serve a very important purpose and the spectacle is worn by all. Gone are the days of the ornate and opulent, the spectacle had become functional and practical, serving simply as a medical device. In 1919, an Englishman named Phillip Oliver Goldsmith was working as a commercial salesman for popular optical firm Raphael’s. Tired of selling these simple, metal designs he set out on a path to change things and launched his own company; Oliver Goldsmith, a brand where functionality and fashion worked hand in hand.
Traditionally, glasses were only really made of one of two materials: (real) tortoiseshell or metal. The introduction of plastic (by Phillip Goldsmith) ignited a tidal wave of innovation. This affordable material was transformational for the industry. It could be heated, moulded, shaped and cut into original designs and was available in many colours. Historically, colour had only been seen on eyewear by inlaying jewels, cut glass or enamel, but plastic made it accessible to all, and the possibilities became endless.
By the late 1940’s Phillip’s son Charles had taken over the business. He shared the same energy for innovation as his father and in 1949, he created ‘Sunspecs’, potentially one of the first ever sunglass designs to be made. He fitted slightly larger and more avant-garde spectacles with coloured glass lenses and they became an instant success.
By the early 1950’s sunglasses had gained a high profile and were worn by the most stylish men and women of the era. A selection of unusual designs started to appear, with Oliver Goldsmith at the forefront of this movement, and it is these vintage sunglasses that we see so readily in modern eyewear design today.
As the industry grew, eyewear became an essential part of both men and women’s wardrobes. Couture and independent brands paved the way for original sunglass design with everything from dogs to diamonds being incorporated into eyewear. What eventually emerged from this myriad of design was a small selection of shapes that have gone on to become timeless classics.