Another 2 new vintage cat eye frames

Small but striking, these petite vintage cat eye glasses are filled with retro charms.

Based on the classic cat eye look, these glasses take the design and run with it featuring bolder and more geometric lines.

Cast in light, classic vintage pink, these glasses are truly unique.

pink cateye frames

Featuring just the right touches of glam, these frames shine with two little stars gleaming from either side of the cat eye swoops.

Designed with dainty yet sturdy arms, they’re a wonderful pair of specs for daily wear or for those special occasions!

Featuring extra swoops these cat eyes are a real show-stopper!

Not for you? Check out this one:

Cast in rusty peach, these glasses have a perfect neutral coloration that makes them divine for daily wear! Perfect for the vintage loving and rockabilly girl alike, these frames are a gorgeous finishing touch for any outfit.

Designed in the classic cat eye shape, these specs take the look a little further and make it a little more glam with their added swoops to the peaks of the cat eye.

Adding in to make these frames extra special, they’re beset with shining rhinestones and flowing hand-painted designs on the fronts and arms to make them fit for the extra glam girl.

With a sculptural bridge that really finishes the look, these vintage cat eye frames are an absolute treasure!

Looking for something older? Check out our large selection of our Antique Eyeglasses

Ray Ban in the Era of Cat Eye Glasses

The 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of cat eye glasses and many other flashy styles that had never before been seen on Earth. The cat eye frames shape lends itself to many different fashion statements, unlike the rather sober round or oval designs that had appeared through most of history before then. Overwhelmingly worn by women during the period, vintage cat eye glasses could appear festive, playful, or sophisticated, depending on circumstances and other fashion choices. For these reasons, vintage eyeglasses of this kind are immensely popular today, too.

Ray-Ban is a famous brand name, which belongs to the eyeglasses colossus Bausch & Lomb. The brand originated during the interwar period of the 1930s, when the focus was on producing sunglasses for fighter pilots. After World War II, Ray-Ban turned to stylish vintage eyeglasses instead, and made many sunglasses with the characteristic cat eye glasses outline.

cat eye glasses   Indeed, the first Ray-Ban sunglasses to appear after the war were named “Fun Glasses”, and though they didn’t have the full cat eye shape, they were tilted up at the outer corners. This was in 1948, so the era of cat’s eye glasses was clearly advancing fast in the postwar world. Fun Glasses were described as the “gayest thing in sun glasses” at a time when the word “gay” had no implications beyond “festive and happy”. These brightly colored frames contrasted with the somber hues that wartime glasses had naturally sported.

This is not to say that the line of more “serious” sunglasses was discontinued. Plain (though stylish) black-framed sunglasses were also manufactured by Ray-Ban, as they are to this day. General Douglas MacArthur was a fan of Ray-Bans and appears in many photographs wearing the glasses and smoking his well known corn cob pipe.


Cats eye glasses in profusion from Ray-Ban

One of the most famous vintage cat eye glasses designs at the time bearing the Ray-Ban stamp was the Candy Striper. Though it has faded into obscurity, this model once exemplified the whole positive, bubbly culture of the time and the sense of fun and chic that many designs simultaneously expressed. Though the construction was not as sophisticated as later glasses of this general type, the Candy Striper started the age of cat eye glasses with a bang.

The Candy Striper is an ingenious design that makes use of the same principle as artistic scratchboard to produce a vivid pattern. The main part of the glasses – the two eyerims and the bridge, which form a single seamless unit – are layered together out of alternating slices of red and white plastic. This gives the edges a series of fine red and white stripes, with red on both the outside and inside faces of the eyerims.

vintage black cat eye glasses    If this were the only decoration, the vintage glasses would be unremarkable. However, the top edge was cut away at a beveled angle to reveal alternating bands of red and white in a scalloped shape. Thus, the “brows” of these cats eye glasses are a rippling, brilliant swath of red and white curves and points. The principle is simple, but the effects are very striking.

The temples are also wide, but made out of black plastic rather than red and white. The Candy Striper was an amazingly flamboyant, eye-catching design for its day, and it still evokes all the most exciting parts of the time when cat’s eye glasses were a peacock-bright break with the past and the harbingers of a future that believed in success and progress.

Neostyle Glasses in the Cat Eye Glasses Period

Neostyle was a company founded in 1961, right at the height of cat eye glasses popularity. Though the French and Italians are probably the best known fashion designers, many other nations have produced outstanding vintage eyeglasses interesting to the collector and to those who enjoy wearing unusual, colorful glasses or “shades”. Germany, despite its stodgy and mechanistic stereotype, actually contributed many remarkable and sometimes outlandish designs to the history of 20th century eyewear.

            “Personality Eyewear” was the the title given to Neostyle vintage glasses by the company’s founder, Walter Nufer, showing that from the start fashion and design were to be the centerpiece of the firm’s efforts. Far from being dull and pedestrian, the company was launched with the idea of making spectacles that weren’t just functional but also served as jewelry or artwork for the face.

cat eye glasses         Most Neostyle designs of the time were sleek and heavily dependent on metal, though some frames were also made of Zyl or various plastics in striking colors such as pale aqua fading into darker green at one edge and silver at the other. Few of these designs were explicitly cat eye glasses, though some of those designed for women were narrow near the bridge and wider near the attachment of the temple, very subtly hinting at a cat’s eye shape.


Neostyle and “The King”

Neostyle’s most famous coup was drawing the notice of Elvis Presley, one of the defining figures of the later era of cat eye glasses. Though Elvis tended to flit from company to company and never showed the same dedication to one firm’s products as John Lennon did to Algha’s round eyerim spectacles, he made several famous purchases of Neostyle glasses that helped them to become fashionable in the United States, too.

The Nautic 2 was the specific style of Neostyle sunglasses that Elvis favored, and that is now forever associated with him. These large quadrangular sunglasses have lenses with rounded corners and metal vintage frames, with a golden tint to the frames (and their very distinctive wide temples, which sprout from the midpoint of the eyerims’ outer edge rather than the top corner) and brown lenses similar to many “tea shades” of the era.

These are hardly cat eye glasses, yet they evoke the time period just as strongly. It is hardly surprising that Neostyle has relaunched the style today, pointing out their connection to Elvis – though collectors often prefer to hunt down one of the originals manufactured in the period when “the King” was in full song.

cats eye glasses

The revival of cat eye glasses

Neostyle’s history is interesting because during the main period when cat eye glasses were the most sought after fashion accessories, many of their vintage eye glasses had a stylish but distinctly 21st century look, as if they had somehow traveled back in time from a designer of the future.

Today, however, the company has a range of “semi cat eye glasses” that strongly resemble the designs of the 1950s and 1960s, though in more subdued colors. Cat eye glasses from the 1950s and 1960s remain some of the most spectacular vintage eyewear to be created on the planet, but there is clearly plenty of appeal still left in the design, and it may well rise again. Companies such Neostyle keep it alive just as they contributed to the amazing variety of glasses sold at the height of the cat eye glasses era.

Vuarnet – On the Ski Slopes in the Age of Cat Eye Glasses

Even at the height of popularity for cat eye glasses and other glamor eyewear, the need for practical eyeglasses was never far away. In previous centuries, eyeglasses were used only to correct vision, but in the twentieth century, spectacles took on many additional roles. This was partly due to the plethora of new materials and manufacturing techniques that the modern age brought onto the scene. Many kinds of vintage glasses simply could not have been made before plastics, for instance.

Modern life and the explosive growth in different human activities also called out human ingenuity in making eyeglasses of diverse sorts. For instance, welders need protective eyewear that can shield their retinas from the intense glare of a welding arc. Early aviators and drivers, their faces exposed to air and debris moving at speeds humans had never encountered before, needed a way to protect these sensitive, prized organs from injury.

cat eye glasses  Technological advance and the freedom from continuous labor also brought about new sports on a large scale, such as skiing. Vuarnet was an eyeglass company that was started by Jean Vuarnet, a famous French skier, in collaboration with two eyeglass executives. This firm was founded in 1960, in the midst of the cat eye glasses era. Its decades of success shows that more “serious” vintage eyeglasses were also a vibrant market at the time, since it catered to sporting enthusiasts rather than fashion plates.


Using mid 20th century materials technology for rugged vintage eyewear

Vuarnet glasses were made to be used in rugged conditions – on the frigid, windswept slopes of mountains, on board sailing boats, and other demanding areas. As such, their main focus was on providing reliable eye protection from glare and windblown particles, not looking good. This does not mean that Vuarnet glasses lack a certain stark beauty, but they are far less flamboyant than many contemporary glasses.

The use of tinted lenses for different situations reaches back in eyeglass history well into the 19th century. From yellow tinted lenses used by hunters and soldiers for better visibility on cloudy days, to the dark blue lenses poets wore to simulate night and gain inspiration even at noon, the early tinted lenses were a varied and interesting lot.

Vuarnet lenses were much more scientifically grounded, but were, ultimately, based on much the same principle. Different tints of lenses were offered for ordinary snow conditions, alpine areas, sailing, and general outdoors use.

The frames were usually made out of nylon, so that they would bend and not break if dropped or thrown from the owner’s face by an impact. This ensured that skiers and boaters would still have eye protection after an accident, and also ensured that fragments of broken frame would not be driven into their faces if they had the misfortune to land on a surface face-first. Use of modern materials like nylon for frames set Vuarnet’s vintage eyeglasses apart from ordinary cat eye glasses, which would have shattered under the abuse Vuarnet sunglasses could shrug off.

vintage cat eye glasses

The strengths and weaknesses of “form before function”

Practicality was the strength of Vuarnet vintage glasses, yet also paradoxically their weakness. In an age full of brilliant cat eye glasses and other extremely stylish designs, the glasses looked drab. The fact that they were sold only at ski resorts also limited their spread, though they were immensely popular in their own niche.

The history of the Vuarnet brand shows that function alone isn’t enough to guarantee success. The brand eventually flagged, and has only revived in recent years both because of a makeover and an aggressive advertising campaign to give it a rugged yet suave masculine image.

Pierre Marly and 1950s to 1960s Cat Eye Glasses

If Oliver Goldsmith played a very important role in fostering the spectacular world of stylish 1950s and 1960s eyeglasses, the era of cat eye glasses also owes a major debt to Pierre Marly, an eccentric French artist, historical eyeglass collector, and optician operating from a single shop in Paris. His creations are eminently collectible today, since they are some of the most individual and splashy vintage glasses even from the brilliant era he helped to generate.

Marly’s glasses do not include any technical improvements – the aesthetic sphere was where the French artist excelled. The spectacles are excellent quality, as witnessed by the huge numbers of celebrities who bought from him and signed his “Golden Book”, ranging from Maria Callas and Brigitte Bardot to Madonna Ciccone. However, engineering or materials were not the areas where Pierre Marly broke new ground.

retro glasses The appearance of retro eyeglasses and their acceptance as decorative accessories were the main areas of Marly’s contributions to the world of vintage cat eye glasses and other spectacular mid 20th century designs. Today, his massive collection of 3,000 optical related objects, including historical antique spectacles dating back as far as the early Medieval era, has been organized into a museum.

Clearly, Pierre Marly wasn’t just interested in making money, though this was a necessary and very pleasant “harvest” he gained from his fame. He was also passionate about vintage eyeglasses for their own sake as cultural and artistic objects. This may have helped him create his splendid and occasionally garish eyeglasses – he was working for himself with each new design as much as for the client, and this may have boosted his creativity to new heights.


Many designs by Pierre Marly

Pierre Marly’s designs for cat eye glasses and other vintage eyewear run the gamut from fairly simple (though still striking) eyeglasses to sculptural creations that stretch the possibilities of the medium to their limits. With such a diverse range of retro glasses, it might seem difficult to identify a Marly, but the inside of the temples are usually marked with “Pierre Marly” and with some variation on “Made in France”.

    The French artist’s designs made use of both color and form to create the avante garde effect he was seeking. Some of his designs are just oversized eyeglass frames, with large, colorful brows and transparent plastic for the lower curve of the eyerims to emphasize the sweep and curve of the brows while producing a lighter, more crystal like effect.

Though Oliver Goldsmith’s Tennis Racket design is more famous, Pierre Marly also made a tennis racket design which he dubbed “Pierre Marly”. Rather than the handles of the rackets being crossed, they projected from the upper corners of the eyerims. The same crisscross lines were inscribed over the lenses to resemble stringing, but the lenses were much more oval and tilted than the round Goldsmith lenses, making them a type of cat eye glasses. The eyerims were joined by three large plastic beads fused together in an arching bridge.

Pierre Marly made many other dazzling designs, including heart-shaped vintage eyeglass frames made out of red Zyl and the famous “Windblown Feather” (“Plume au Vent”) model, which he often embellished with decorative flourishes such as jewels.  Marly was active for decades after the 1950s and 1960s, but there can be no doubt that he was a very important contributor to the “golden age” of decorative cat eye glasses.

Famous cat eye glasses from Oliver Goldsmith

Extravagance is the name of the game where Oliver Goldsmith cat eye glasses and other eyewear are concerned. Each new year brought fresh developments that showed both the limits and the possibilities of combining human imagination and vintage eyewear. Eyewear is intriguing partly because it has to be functional – it must fit on a human face.

However, despite this unifying theme, there is clearly room for an immense variety of different designs within a few square inches of celluloid and steel. Some of Oliver Goldsmith’s more memorable designs include:

Tvintage eyeglasseshe Cards cat eye glasses were festive glasses from the late 1950s, the period when flashy vintage eyeglasses was first becoming truly acceptable. These white-framed glasses featured inset card symbols – spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs – jutting up from the top of the eyerims, in red or black as appropriate to their suit. No doubt they were meant to convey the glamorous world of casinos, secret agents, and other exciting details of spy thrillers.

The Butterfly glasses show how far the form of vintage glasses can be altered to produce aesthetic effects. These frames were made in the shape of a butterfly with its wings spread. The main lenses are contained in the insect’s forewings, while two small lenses fill in the hind wings to complete the visual effect. A pair of swallowtail “tails” are molded onto the lower eyerims. The sweeping, elegant wing outlines create a striking cat eye glasses effect.

The TV Screens are square eyerims fitted with tinted lenses to look like tiny television screens, and feature wire aerials mounted at the outer corners of the eyerims! These creations obviously need to be worn with care to avoid damaging them. They are also a good example of how the stylish can be combined with the whimsical.

The Hollywood model was a 1950s model that might be described as “cat eye glasses lite”. There is just enough of a tilt to the eyerims to give a look of feline elegance, while the dark material and applique metal “brows” complete the look of sophistication; a clear sign that vintage eyeglasses had entered a new age.

The Tennis Racket frames were first made in 1954, and were one of Oliver Goldsmith’s foray into Op Art designs. Molded to look like crossed tennis rackets, one black and one white, these extremely large and striking glasses also feature a fine crisscross of lines over the lenses to make the resemblance to the strings of a real racket even closer. These are extremely popular vintage eyeglass frames, especially among collectors, and are probably among the most instantly recognizable of the tens of thousands of designs that have been made.

Several kinds of frames have featured animals, including an Op Art pieces with a black duck and a white duck molded as the eyerims. Another noted variant of back-to-back animals are a pair of rather comical looking hounds with floppy ears, produced in a reddish brown Zylonite that mimics the color of dachshunds.

Nearly equaling the Tennis Rackets design in fame is the pyramid design produced for Vidal Sassoon in 1966. These white glasses form a huge triangle with rounded corners that rises up in front of the forehead. The lenses are enormous and also triangular, though in this case the shape is a round-cornered obtuse triangle, not an equilateral one. The temples are mounted at the lower corners of the eyerims. These glasses are a far departure from the cat eye glasses of the 1960s, but show how much a design could be changed to match a single hairstyle!

Oliver Goldsmith’s Handmade Cat Eye Glasses

As with many of the top end cat eye glasses and other sophisticated retro eyewear of the mid 20th century (and the present day), Oliver Goldsmith glasses were and are handmade. It is an interesting commentary on the unchanging nature of human skill that the finest eyewear, even in our era of computer guided manufacturing, high tech materials, and so forth, is still made by highly practiced artisans and not by machines.

Though production in this manner limits Oliver Goldsmith eyeglasses to a few hundred extremely expensive examples every year, it also allowed the company to showcase many different materials during its history. The earliest material was tortoiseshell, extracted from unfortunate sea turtles as was the custom of the time. Fortunately, this period soon ended.

vintage cat eye glasses The first Oliver Goldsmith broke away from tortoiseshell early, though the plastic he used for the Dawn, Erinoid, was designed specifically to mimic the natural shell as closely as possible (other than in color, naturally). Erinoid continued to be used alongside other types of celluloid until the second Oliver Goldsmith took over the firm in 1947.

The handmade procedure allowed the use of materials that could never be used for mass machine production. For example, some vintage glasses frames during the 1950s were crafted out of bamboo – keeping the form and texture of the natural material clearly visible, though expertly shaped into frames and slotted to allow insertion of lenses into the eyerims.

Plastics of all kinds appear in Oliver Goldsmith creations, including 1950s and 1960s cat eye glasses. Jewels and crystals were inserted into some frames, while others featured metal appliques such as brows, decorative hinges, and the like, using steel, aluminum, and other lustrous metals. Large aluminum brows appeared on some models, such as a unique handmade example created for Monaco’s Princess Grace to wear while skiing.

Sizes also varied greatly, from standard sized vintage eyeglasses to enormous lenses that had to be custom ground from optical glass. Many of these started out as unique pieces for individual buyers and then became standbys of Oliver Goldsmith’s line, perhaps illustrating that customer feedback and inspiration are an important part of the creative process in the vintage eyewear field.

1950s cat eye glasses never out of production

One intriguing detail about Oliver Goldsmith’s glasses, including vintage cat eye glasses, is a result of this handmade manufacturing process. Since any pair of glasses can still be manufactured, no Oliver Goldsmith product ever goes out of production. The eventual end of the company – perhaps when climate change crushes the ability of the plastics industry to keep operating – will put all the retro glasses out of production, but until that day, even the “Dawn” is probably available.

retro glasses    Therefore, all the 1950s and 1960s designs are still available to those willing to pay for them. The famous Butterfly glasses, various colorful cat eye glasses such as the “Cards” model, and even the bizarre but attractive Vidal Sassoon pyramid, will be handmade to order by the firm.

Where other eyeglass companies let their vintage eyewear designs sink into the warm haze of history, Oliver Goldsmith keeps the past vigorously alive – a luxury that only a top end handmade cat eye glasses company can afford. The 1950s and 1960s are not quite past yet, with companies such as this to keep their brilliant styles alive.

The Extravagant Vintage Cat Eye Glasses of Oliver Goldsmith

There are many intriguing twists and turns of fate in our world, and one of these is to be found in the early history of Oliver Goldsmith, one of the foremost firms of the world today. Oliver Goldsmith himself – originally named Philip Goldsmith, but later using his middle name for greater advertising cachet – viewed his first breakthrough model, the “Dawn”, as being extremely hard to see when being worn because of its flesh toned frame.

This is an odd beginning to a company that was soon to develop some of the most garish, imaginative, and outlandish vintage eyeglasses to be found on the planet, and become famous because of that. Even in the era of cat eye glasses, Oliver Goldsmith creations stand out thanks to their bright colors, intricate designs, and unexpected use of shapes, colors, and themes.

vintage glassesThe “Dawn” could be viewed as the last hurrah of the old, rather primitive idea that vintage eyeglasses are unattractive or mark the user as weak and contemptible. Just as the minimalist types of pince nez were meant to conceal the fact their user was wearing them as much as possible, so the flesh tone of the Dawn was supposed to camouflage it on the user’s face, assuming that they had a pink Caucasian complexion.
It was actually Oliver Goldsmith’s son Charles who finally broke the stifling mold of “eyeglasses shame” and helped to lead the charge into brilliant creations that grace a beautiful countenance or evoke the optimistic, lighthearted flamboyance of a bygone age. When he assumed direction of the company after the Second World War, Charles changed his name to Oliver and embarked on the transformation of vintage glasses from burden to fashion statement.

Though Oliver Goldsmith’s cat eye glasses were not the only splendidly aesthetic, colorful, or sculptural designs appearing on the market then, the personal and company leadership of both the man and the brand had a powerful effect on the evolving view of vintage glasses.

Peoples’ desire for stylish eyeglasses was likely percolating right under the surface. Oliver Goldsmith’s bold stand unleashed an era that produced some of history’s most amazing and fun cat eye glasses designs.

The continuing Goldsmith method

The Oliver Goldsmith line has a highly personal approach, which is part of the secret to its success. Each new Goldsmith to take control of the company adopts the name Oliver. Currently, the third Oliver Goldsmith is running the company; the grandson of Philip Oliver Goldsmith, who founded it long ago between the two World Wars.

vintage glasses
The Oliver Goldsmith company pioneered not only fashionable “art glasses”, but was one of the first firms to advertise vintage eyewear as fashion accessories in womens’ magazines. This signaled how far it had come in transforming spectacles from burdens to personal jewelry.

As might be expected from such a prominent firm, many of the clients it has had across the years are high profile actors and actresses, as well as royalty both English and European. Audrey Hepburn, Michael Caine, and John Lennon all sported these glasses at some time.

However, even if Oliver Goldsmith cat eye glasses are outside the reach of the average collector in many cases, they are still a very interesting part of the history of antique eyeglasses. They helped immensely to make colorful frames acceptable and desirable, and thus played a role in ushering in the huge variety of fascinating vintage eyeglasses that people can collect and wear.

Science and Style – Persol Cat Eye Glasses in the 1960s

From its beginning as Giovanni Ratti’s line of vintage eyewear for such “adventurous” types as early drivers and aviators, Persol soon blossomed into a chic line of glasses that appeared in many different forms, including cat eye glasses in the 1960s. Most Persol glasses were and are sunglasses rather than corrective eyewear, true to the company’s origins.


Construction of Persol cat eye glasses

Though very elegant and stylish, they remain functional eye protection against glare and small objects flying into the eye while driving, thus keeping a whiff of the original functionality of driver’s goggles, too. They are interesting in the history of cat eye glasses and vintage eyeglasses of all kinds because they show both the numerous technical advances that the fashion houses made, and the shifting cultural tides of Europe and the world.

vintage cat eye glasses    Aviator glasses and driver’s goggles had to be sturdy, and Ratti carried this tradition on into his Persol company’s products, too. For example, the lenses were made from a pure silica crystal that gave extra toughness and more shielding to the wearer’s eyes.

The lenses were tested by dropping a half ounce steel ball onto each from a height to prove they wouldn’t break. This is reminiscent of the medieval European custom of firing a crossbow quarrel at a breastplate to prove it had been forged strong enough to keep out arrows. This, of course, would not be possible with mass produced eyewear, but Persols were always handmade in Turin and remain so to this day.

The 1960s witnessed the introduction of the Persol Model 649, extra-large sunglasses to protect the eyes of Italian tram drivers. Though the large lenses had a practical function, this was the start of the fad for large fashion sunglasses that caught on across the world and continues even now. However, genuine Persol vintage eyeglasses, including cat eye glasses, can be identified in many cases by the “arrow” – a gleaming metal piece that wraps around the hinge of the temples, and which represents a sword – and by the distinctive “keyhole” bridge that is designed for extra comfort.


Persol vintage glasses and culture

vintage cat eye glasses  Persol cat eye glasses and other sunglasses are also a fascinating barometer of cultural changes. As noted in the first article about them, glamor, fashion, and adventure (that is, something with an element of challenge, danger, and excitement) are often knotted together in our culture. However, as cars and aircraft improved, and being a driver or a pilot became little more adventurous than driving a wagon had been a century earlier, so Persol’s image sought a new avenue to give style a thrill of danger and excitement.

There was little room for adventure in the mid 20th century world of most law-abiding people. The daredevil mountain climbers of the present day, for example, were barely starting to be noticed by the larger public. So, people turned to movie gangsters and other perilous characters to bring the edge and mystique they wanted to their glasses instead.

Elegant criminals in movies of the 1960s, played by popular actors, were often shown wearing Persol glasses. Thus the ancient European cultural mix of high fashion and high adventure was preserved, even if it now had a thuggish slant.

Even now, in the 21st century, the glasses appear in James Bond films – showing that the link between adventure, danger, and aesthetics still continues since its birth before the Age of Charlemagne. The history of cat eye glasses of the 1950s and 1960s is much more than just a catalog of designs; it also gives glimpses of the underpinnings of the human soul.

The Glamor and Quality of Persol Cat Eye Glasses

Italy is now famous as a center of exciting fashion houses and the latest modes in everything from sports cars to jewelery, from shoes to top quality cosmetics. Thus, it is hardly surprising to learn that Italian designers played an important role in the vintage cat eye glasses world of the 1950s and 1960s, too. One notable business that took root at the time of the First World War in Turin, an Alpine city, was Persol, founded by a man named Giovanni Ratti.

Like many vintage eyeglass companies that started in the early 20th century, Persol gained a foothold by selling protective goggles to pilots and early drivers. This association helped to launch the brand with a daredevil image that blended smoothly into the world of high fashion in the following decades.

Red cat eye glasses  There has been a long connection between adventure and haute couture in Europe, as witnessed by the elegant yet adventurous and warlike knights and noblemen of the medieval and Renaissance eras. Glasses like Persol’s prove this link continued at least until the early 20th century – showing just how deeply ingrained cultural currents can be. Persol and its eventual cat eye glasses won their initial glamor from dashing aviators and flamboyant sports car enthusiasts!

Of course, Persol was helped immensely by the fact that style was strongly allied with substance from the beginning. Like many vintage glasses designers, Giovanni Ratti was also an innovator, who experimented with technologies designed to improve the performance of the vintage eyewear while at the same time not neglecting fashion.

Interestingly, some of Ratti’s earliest surviving (and identifiable) designs, predating the official foundation of Persol, show a unique combination of old and new features. These vintage glasses – made after World War I but before World War II – sometimes already show a characteristic cat eye glasses shape, even before the full flourishing of the style in the 1950s and 1960s.

Blue cat eye glasses   Fitted with vented side visors mounted on small pivots to the top and bottom of the eyerims, these glasses are clearly intended for sporty, outdoor use. In fact, they are often fitted with yellow tinted lenses – which, it will be remembered, first showed up for use by hunters and soldiers, including American Civil War snipers, as a tone believed to provide better vision on cloudy or foggy days.

The yellow tint of these early Persol cat eye glasses was probably a throwback to this period – and was meant to give motorists and pilots clearly vision in less than ideal lighting conditions. The fact that the eyewear was meant to be mostly protective is underlined by the solid side visors, which could be folded out to lessen glare from the “edges”. Tiny vents were pierced through these visors – too small to admit grit kicked up from the road or the odd flying insect, but big enough to keep the space behind the glasses cooler during a hot summer drive.

These vintage eyeglasses are also extremely stylish, and wouldn’t look out of place on a glamorous woman with their sleek, cat eye glasses shape. They are also the harbinger of things to come in the future of Persol glasses – which were destined to retain their glamor and their quality up to the present day. Movie stars playing the role of gangsters replaced the daredevil pilots of the earlier 20th century as the iconic figures who favored these vintage eyeglass frames, but the vigor of Persol carried on.

Cat Eye Prescription Glasses by Art-Craft and Bausch & Lomb

The finely made aluminum cat eye prescription glasses frames that Tura made at the start of the 1950s were initially a unique product of the American eyeglasses market at a time when other companies were using only small bands and slips of aluminum for decorative purposes on brows or temples. Durable, strong, and hypoallergenic, aluminum glasses frames soon came to be made by other companies in the United States who had the resources and technical know-how to do so.

Art-Craft Optical Co., Inc. of Rochester, New York was another American firm to successfully take up the banner of making aluminum cat eye prescription glasses frames. Appropriately in light of the avian symbol of the U.S.A., the founder of Art-Craft was one Charles J. Eagle, along with a German-American, Otto W. Dechau, continuing the long history of cross-fertilization between the American and German eyeglasses industries.

cat eye prescription glasses The company appeared in the final year of the First World War, and was headquartered for the next 83 years in the famous Pullman Building, itself a storied fixture of the town. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the company began to produce cat eye glasses frames of its own, using aluminum with anodized coatings, engraving, crystals, and metal appliques quite similar to those made by Tura.

Art-Craft was a leader in high quality plastic cat eye glasses frames at the same time, and never focused completely on aluminum. Many of these frames were embellished with imported Austrian accessories such as metal brows, rhinestones, and so forth. Aluminum did become steadily more common in the company’s offerings during this period, however.

Bausch & Lomb and the cat eye glasses market

Bausch & Lomb, the company founded a century before by a German-American entrepreneur who made pince nez with vulcanized rubber frames and ultimately helped establish a powerful eyeglass industry in the United States during the American Civil War, also had their part to play in producing vintage eyeglasses.

However, the company did not attempt to compete heavily with Tura and Art-Craft in the aluminum branch of manufacturing. Instead, their cat’s eye glasses featured plastic frames, sporting such names as “Haiku” and “Provocative”. Blacks, browns, greys, and purples were the predominant colors among these rather plain, workmanlike frames.

American Optical

cat eye prescription glasses American Optical was another United States firm that entered the cat eye glasses vigorously during the Fifties. The company showed a certain awareness of the changing status of eyeglasses over the past half-century with advertisements that pointed out older glasses were meant solely to correct vision, while the newer types were just as good for vision correction but had the extra advantage of “flattering” the eyes and matching the complexion of the wearer’s face.

Many American Optical designs were light, airy creations with openwork transparent plastic temples and slender, decorated laminate or metal brows. Many featured slender metal bands that held the lenses in place from below – not close enough to the supra design patented by Neville Chappell to violate his legal protections, but operating on much the same principle and giving the eyerims a much more delicate, feminine appearance.

As part of their advertising efforts, American Optical produced a “Sun Glass Guide” which featured a sort of color wheel where the user could choose their favorite color chip for the Zylonite of their cat eye glasses frame and see the available lens styles, frame styles, and product code. As of 1956, American Optical was producing 28 different colors of Zylonite for their vintage eyewear, as the Guide reveals, showing the intense demand for these stylish glasses.

Cat Eyeglasses and Rodenstock’s Technical Improvements

The cat eyeglasses through which Sophia Loren directs a smoldering gaze in a 1960 Rodenstock ad are tinted to serve as sunglasses, but conceal a technical advance as well as providing a mysterious look to the famous actress’s eyes. Rodenstock had been a precision lens manufacturer for over 80 years when the advertisement and the sunglasses that it advertised appeared, so it is perhaps unsurprising that it should add another feature to the eyeglasses manufacturing repertoire at that time.

Up until that time, all glasses, whether of a regular type or cat eyeglasses, had been plagued with internal reflections in the lenses. These produced everything from a shimmer that could interfere with vision or cause a headache due to eyestrain, to ghost images that made it difficult to see where objects actually were in certain lights. Though the vision benefits of eyeglasses far outweighed these optical problems, the reflections that appeared in lenses were still a source of annoyance.

Rodenstock’s solution: magnesium fluoride coatings

            cat eyeglassesRodenstock’s cat eye glasses of this period bear some of the day’s most advanced coatings in a successful bid to quash the obnoxious internal reflections that had bothered eyeglass wearers throughout history up to that point. Magnesium fluoride coatings are transparent, but prevent the double reflections and ghost images that glass lenses create when uncoated.

The glasses produced by the German firm were therefore more comfortable to use than those offered by many competitors, though the use of magnesium fluoride naturally spread like wildfire through the eyeglasses world. Combined with celebrity endorsements and crisp, chic styling, this added freedom from reflections probably helps to explain Rodenstock’s explosive success at the time.

Photochromic lenses on Rodenstock cat eyeglasses

            Rodenstock lived up to its origins as a precision lens making enterprise by continuing to develop lens technology as the 1960s moved onwards. This was still the time when cat eye glasses were very common, though their popularity was waning slowing as round John Lennon glasses began to come to the fore by swift leaps and bounds.

The major advance that Rodenstock introduced in the late 1960s was the invention and sale of photochromic lenses. These lenses were placed into all types of frames, including cat eyeglasses, due to their potential for making glasses more comfortable to wear outside without impinging on their indoor use.

cat eyeglsses      Photochromic lenses are made by infusing clear glass or plastic lenses with silver chloride, or sometimes another kind of silver halide, in a microcrystalline state. This causes the lenses to darken when exposed to ultraviolet light, returning to a normal colorless state as soon as the ultraviolet light is removed. A quarter hour is the time that full darkening or lightening takes, though most of the darkening or lightening process takes place during the first sixty seconds.

This allowed the creation of dual purpose vintage eye glasses, which would be clear indoors and darken enough to act as sunglasses in bright natural light outdoors. More darkening would occur in strong sunlight than on a cloudy day, making the photochromic lenses automatically self-adjusting to a comfortable level of tinting. Rodenstock’s cat eyeglasses, when fitted with photochromic lenses, took the place of separate indoor glasses and sunglasses.

The solution wasn’t perfect because the glasses do not darken inside a vehicle, leaving drivers exposed to the full glare of the sun. However, the photochromic vintage eyeglasses offered plenty of utility nevertheless and the use of these special advanced lenses spread.

Rodenstock Cat Eyed Glasses from the 1950s and 1960s

Some tales from the world of eyeglass history illustrate how a single hard-driving individual with a strong, relentless personality can alter the course of vintage eyeglasses history. Michael Birch’s rise during the 1950s is an excellent example of a newcomer’s potential for sudden success in the field of cat eyed glasses, as the failed ice cream maker seized the initiative and made a fortune with starting capitol of £15 and a sketch pad.

In other cases, a long-established business shows how it achieves mastery over the market by adapting to the new circumstances brought about by the flow of time, picking up fads when they emerge and dropping them when interest in them dies down. Rodenstock GmbH is a company from the 19th century that made major contributions to the cat eye glasses era of the mid 20th century, and went on afterward to remain a strong player in the eyewear market of today.

Rodenstock originated in 1877 by one Josef Rodenstock, who gave his name to the new firm. The company started out as an optical lens maker, as well as a manufacturer of barometers and eyeglass frames. Josef Rodenstock was slightly in advance of his time in that he refused to view vision problems as a revolting personal defect but rather a slight mechanical maladjustment of the eye.

cat eyed glasses     On this basis, he also developed the idea that eyeglasses were not a badge of shame and puling weakness, but a logical method for restoring normal eyesight to people hampered by a visual disadvantage. It was his grandson Rolf Rodenstock, however, who was ultimately to oversee the dynamic era that witnessed the production of Rodenstock’s notable cat eyed glasses.

Rolf Rodenstock reconfigured the company for successful global competition and oversaw one of its most remarkable intervals of expansion. One of his most fruitful methods for promoting the brand was the introduction of celebrity marketing in the early 1960s, but the success of Rodenstock can be traced to the excellent German lens industry that had existed since the Renaissance, too.

Sophia Lauren and Rodenstock’s cat eye glasses

            Current trends, Rodenstock’s new approach to advertising, and the German firm’s technical expertise all appear in the cat eyed sunglasses that the company produced around 1960. Rodenstock’s cat eye glasses, whether made for sun protection or vision correction, were only conservatively cat eyed, with large, rounded-rectangular lenses much like modern reading glasses rather than the narrow, tilted ovals that Tura and other firms added to their glasses.

The lenses were slightly tilted to produce a hint of cat eye, and the brows offered most of the stylistic elementals. Starting slender near the bridge, they rose outward in a gull-winged curve, widening as they did so to end in an upturned outer end. These elegant but dramatic brows imparted most of the cat eye glasses look to the Rodenstock creations of this period.

cat eyed glasses    Interestingly, Rodenstock produced cat eyed glasses for both men and women, rather than just for the female market. Male versions were less noticeably feline than those meant for the ladies, but still featured a tilt and slightly upturned brows, though usually with masculine squared-off ends.

Rodenstock was actually the first company to use celebrities in its ads for product promotion. The cat eyed sunglasses that the German company made in 1960 were sold with an ad that showed Sophia Loren directing a wicked, toothy grin at the viewer, her gaze made more knowing and provocative by the angles of a pair of Rodenstock cat eye glasses. Other ads featured German race-car drivers and other noted people of the time.

Rodenstock made important advances in the technical side of glasses, too, and not merely in advertising – a topic examined more closely in the next article.

Ian Prince’s Interchangeable cats eye glasses from the Fifties

Vintage eyeglasses designers, just like their modern counterparts, have striven to offer something new and different to their clientele with each release. In doing so, they have created a fascinating panoply of styles, gimmicks, and quirky details which immensely enrich the history of vintage eyewear and reveal the endless eccentricity of which the human mind is capable. In the days of the Fifties, when fashion was bursting out in an exuberant flowering following the austerity of the war years, Ian Prince, an English company, made some of the most unusual cats eye glasses of the period.

Since eyeglasses had become a fully acceptable fashion accessory and statement of good taste during this time – thanks in great measure to the need for skilled workers during the early 20th century, necessitating the education of clever children with poor eyesight and thus making the donning of eyewear a mainstream activity – people naturally wanted glasses for every occasion.

Changing cat eyes glasses to suit your mood or the circumstances you were in (shopping, at the beach, at a party, working, etc.) was a good way for people to display their fashion sense, but required them to buy several pairs of glasses and keep them on hand at most times. Buying several pairs was an expensive option, and carrying three or four pairs of glasses at all times was burdensome for anyone lacking a footman to carrying the items for them (that is, the vast majority of people).

cats eye glasses   Ian Prince, an English company of the time, came up with an intriguing technical solution for cats eye glasses construction, which may be unique in the annals of eyewear history: the “Maskerade”.

The Maskerade interchangeable trim for cat eye glasses

            The basic Maskerade cats eye glasses pair was a plain, transparent set of eyewear, with a mildly developed cat’s eye shape. The temples were also made out of clear Zylonite with embedded wires to keep them stiff and hard. If this had been the extent of the Maskerade’s features, it would have been a very drab and eminently forgettable entry in the vintage eyeware market.

However, the designers also made six different colored “masks” or interchangeable trims to attach to the Maskerade to change its appearance. These snapped into place and so could be changed in a matter of seconds for a completely different look. Each was made in one piece out of Zylonite, and fitted over the brows, bridge, and inner curve of the eyerim to give something of the exotic look of a masquerade vizard from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

The colors were all finely speckled, to give a detailed look almost like exotic (and half-transparent) otherworldly leather. The colors included black speckles on a clear background for an extremely fine-grained “houndstooth” pattern, dark wine red (perhaps the most opulent looking tint), a rich aqua blue, bright red, hot pink, and a light orange-brown. Thus, the woman wearing the cat eye glasses could change from passionate red to cool and collected aqua in a moment.

cats eye glasses   The Maskerade was one of the most unusual solutions to the human wish for flexible fashions. Of course, it suffered somewhat from the same problem as carrying multiple pairs of glasses, which probably explains why its popularity was limited. The interchangeable trims were smaller than extra pairs of glasses, but they still represented something extra that needed to be carried, which could get lost, and so forth.

Nevertheless, this intriguing style of cats eyes glasses from the 1950s shows how designers of the time were just as willing as their forebears and descendents to experiment and “push the envelope”, creating unique and fascinating glasses variants in the process.

Tura Cateye Glasses and the Use of Aluminum Frames

Beginning as the offshoot of a Madison Avenue fancy eyewear dispensary, Tura Inc. became one of the major American producers of high quality cateye glasses during the mid-20th century. The bold decision to make cast metal frames – particularly aluminum – on the part of the firm’s founder, Monroe Levoy, gave the eyewear a distinctive flair that helped set the glasses apart from competing brands and create brand loyalty among Tura aficionados.

The aluminum construction of many Tura cateye glasses made them very durable and tough, as well as providing a unique all-metallic look that did not have the harshness of steel. Those who have held a pair of Tura glasses today known that the glasses have a very solid feel despite their sophisticated lines, and are likely to far outlast plastic creations of the era.

cateye glasses    One of the ways in which the choice of aluminum as the construction material for the major lines of Tura glasses affected the embellishment of the glasses, too, opening up some new possibilities which could be duplicated in plastic now, but were beyond the plastics technology of the time.

Anodized colors on Tura cat eye eyeglasses

            Levoy’s choice to make many of his Tura eyeglasses out of aluminum opened up an unusual decorative option that enhanced the brand’s fashion appeal – the ability to color the glasses using anodized colors. Everything from faux tortoiseshell and wood to an array of shimmering, glistening metallic colors seldom seen on other cat eye eyeglasses at that time also made the products stand out.

Anodized metallic colors were complemented by metal appliques, sometimes made out of silver. These always appeared at the outer corners of the eyerims and flowed over onto the sturdily-hinged temples. A motif of curling vines and leaves seemed to be the signature applique for Tura.

Sturdiness in every part: lens mountings for Tura vintage cateye glasses

            The desire to make Tura glasses high quality (in contrast to some cheap American glasses of the time) also informed some other design decisions of Monroe B. Levoy or those working under him. For example, rather than lightweight screws to hold the eyerims closed around the lenses, tiny nuts and bolts with hexagonal nuts were used on some aluminum cat eye glasses from the Tura range.

Tura’s non-metallic cateye glasses – Lucite sunglasses

       cateye glasses     Tura did not focus solely on aluminum cat eye glasses, though these were a major slice of the firm’s business. The company also made Lucite sunglasses with the cats eye shape – vastly exaggerated in some cases. Some mid Fifties styles of vintage eyewear, for example, feature very wide eyerims decorated with stripes of laminated tinsel for a scintillating, fun effect that seems even now to evoke the bright sun of Caribbean beaches or the glitz and excitement of a party beneath the stars of a tropical resort.

Lucite is a polymer product that is considerably tougher than styrene type plastics and is very shock resistant, though it will burn poisonously at 460° F. It is also very lightweight, so although the extravagant eyerims created by Tura for these flashy vintage eye glasses cover a third of the wearer’s face, they remain light and comfortable to wear. Since Lucite is shatter-resistant, these glasses could be dropped with little risk of breakage.

Though Lucite is usually used for more robust purposes than cateye glasses – such as car headlamp lenses, armored windows in police cars, and bathyscaphe windows – Tura showed the willingness of mid 20th century manufacturers to make use of any available materials, and probably contributed to the fund of knowledge about Lucite manufacture and molding.

Tura Cat Eye Eyeglasses – the American Contribution

Though some American made vintage cat eye eyeglasses from the Fifties and Sixties had a reputation for very poor quality – such as those produced by Polaroid – Tura made a series of glasses that were the match of any foreign fashions from Austria, Germany, France, or England. Tura produced some of the sturdiest and highest quality metal cat eye eyeglasses of the era, many of which survive today with little more than slight signs of wear.

The company was born from an earlier Madison Avenue company named House of Levoy, which was founded prior to the Second World War by one Monroe Benjamin Levoy. One of the items sold by the House of Levoy was the “Futura Mirror”, and this was popular enough that an ellipsis of the word Futura – “Tura” – was used for the name of the newly launched brand in 1949.

cat eye eyeglasses      Artistry and innovation evidently runs in the Levoy blood, as one of Monroe’s descendents was to be the technician who developed pioneering computer animation techniques used for Hanna-Barbara cartoons such as the Flintstones and Scooby Doo. Back in the 1950s, however, Tura cat eye glasses made a name for themselves by harnessing die casting techniques to produce extremely rugged yet also very elegant vintage eyeglasses for the eager postwar market.

Aluminum had been used as a material in certain industries since the late 19th century, but it was the aircraft industry during the Second World War that led to massive advances in aluminum manufacturing science that made it cost effect for such uses as cat eye eyeglasses frames. Tura Inc. seized this opportunity with both hands and produced some of the most distinctive, hardy cat eye glasses that the Fifties and Sixties have to offer.

Advantages and drawbacks of Tura aluminum cat eye eyeglasses

            Tura was the first company to make all-aluminum frames for cat eye glasses, rather than just a few metal details, such as brows or decorative bands for temples. It could be argued that this boldness was a result of chance, but it could also be a sign of the innovative spirit that the American eyeglass industry often showed in the past, from Benjamin Franklin’s invention of the bifocal lens onwards.

Most Tura frames had a standard, elegant but not exaggerated, cat’s eye tilt to them, probably because of the casting process making it easier to create similar frames and then distinguish individual models through color and decorative details.

cat eye eyeglasses    Tura’s aluminum frames had several advantages, including light weight, beauty, and durability. Aluminum is basically corrosion proof, since it forms a microscopic but impervious layer of aluminum oxide on its surface within a few hours of exposure to air. This oxide layer is resistant to most environmental factors, and aluminum will never pit, rust, or corrode unless exposed to a handful of rare and powerful chemicals. Aluminum is also very resistant to breakage from normal use – more so than plastics – and retains its smooth sheen unblemished for decades.

The aluminum frames did present some problems, however – foremost among these being that the cat eye eyeglasses made from this metal can’t be easily adjusted. Despite this, Tura glasses were – and are – very popular among aficionados of the “feline” style of feminine glasses.

The aluminum design of Levoy’s Tura line opened up other possibilities for decoration that other fashion houses of the time were hard pressed to match, however, and introduced techniques that would expand the aesthetic range of glasses designs in the following decades.

The Teutonic Influence of Viennaline Retro Eyeglasses

The enterprising Englishman Michael Birch has plenty of highly effective competition to keep him on his toes – including the Viennaline brand originating in Austria. Wilhelm Anger, the founder of the brand, was every bit as colorful and hard-driving as Birch.

Anger was further aided by the design genius of a fellow named Udo Proksch, who was eventually imprisoned for life after destroying a ship and killing six people with a time bomb as part of an insurance fraud plan. Once again, the history of retro eyeglasses is shown to be anything but dull, thanks to the highly idiosyncratic personalities often involved either as creators or wearers of famous styles. Viennaline eyewear was also associated with the exciting cloak and dagger of the Cold War era.

retro eyeglasses  Viennaline was founded in the 1950s as a branch of Anger OHG, which had already been in existence for around a decade as a welding goggle company. The eventually murderous Proksch supplied many of the most striking vintage eyeglass designs, as well as possibly the name as well. At the time, Viennaline was as evocative and exciting as more exotic names are today. Vienna’s reputation was a heady cocktail of high culture – opera, music, ballet – and an exciting city near the Soviet Union, and thus a center for international spying and intrigue.

Today, Vienna seems like a quiet central European city with some pleasant architecture, but to the popular imagination of the Fifties, it was one of the world’s hotspots, a sophisticated and dangerous meeting place of East and West straight out of a James Bond film or novel – and this, as much as the quality of the vintage glasses themselves, was a powerful springboard to the commercial triumphs of the retro eyeglasses made by Viennaline.

Ballet and retro eyeglasses from Viennaline

            Anger and Proksch managed to transform their eyeglasses business from a stodgy industrial supplier into one of the most glamorous retro eyeglasses fashion houses in Europe in a single year with the introduction of two immensely popular designs – the Gigi and the Alt-Wien (Old Vienna). Appearing in advertising photos in front of dramatic pictures of performing ballerinas, these glasses were extremely popular worldwide, with the Gigi alone selling in excess of fifteen million.

The Gigi glasses were not cat’s eye in shape, but Viennaline helped to popularize cat eye glasses as far away as the United States with their mid-1950s cat eye creations. Initially, these glasses were fairly plain, with only a slight upward tilt at the outer corners and heavy brows of the same thickness across the whole width of the eyerim (though with a delicate bridge that prevented them from being a “unibrow” design).

Other designs, however, soon developed an elegant, pronounced “butterfly wing” shape that was technically cat eye glasses, but not as elongated as some American or British types. The brows of these glasses were slim at the inner end, and flared wider towards the outer end, producing a bold but feminine look that women of the time enjoyed wearing.

The experimental spirit and Viennaline retro eyeglasses

        retro eyeglasses    Like many companies in the Fifties and Sixties, Viennaline was involved with materials and technology experimentation which was to affect production everywhere once the techniques spread. Wilhelm Anger and his scientists pioneered use of Optyl, a plastic that was strong and rigid enough not to use metal supports, which was also up to a third lighter than Zyl frames.

Some of the Viennaline cat eye glasses also harked back to an earlier era with filigree silver or gold frames with delicate but richly Baroque decoration. Other than their modern plastic nose pads, these vintage glasses look like something from fin de siecle Vienna of the late 19th century, showing that eyeglass designs always stand a chance of being resurrected and modernized.

Retro Glasses from the Michael Birch Group

Retro Glasses from the Michael Birch Group

            Michael Birch and his consortium of companies continued to be a powerful force in the development of retro glasses during the 1960s. Cat eye glasses were still immensely popular during this period, so many of the glasses made during this time have that overall effect. There are also some retro glasses from Birch’s fertile imagination that were nothing like cat eyes, however.

Both style and manufacturing techniques of the time are strongly showcased in Birch’s creations. Few people recognize the term supra today, but it was one of the major forces of eyeglass design during two of the most extravagant and colorful decades in the history of vintage eyeglasses, and was often featured on the British firm’s most influential offerings.

Polyanna supra retro glasses

          retro cat eye glasses  One of the most exquisitely proportioned types of supra glasses that Michael Birch designed is the Polyanna, a type that appeared in 1964 to supersede the Mischief model. These retro glasses are splendidly balanced and symmetrical, making perfect use of geometry, opacity, transparency, and size to make a pair of glasses that would look extremely fashionable even among today’s creations.

A pair of tilting, transparent brows and connecting bridge were decorated with black laminate fittings that flared out at the end into a nearly crescent shape. Two abstract, open-ended loops of metal accented the ends of these laminate brow details. These elements alone were a tour de force of retro glasses embellishment at the time, using transparency, lamination, and metal to make a detailed yet unified appearance that was simultaneously bold and airy.

Birch also managed to size the “supra” lenses perfectly, using slightly flattened, elongated lenses that fitted the lines of the glasses exactly. Supra lenses sometimes had an unfortunate tendency to look like they were an afterthought hanging off the bottom of the brows, but the Polyanna managed to make these nearly rimless lenses look like an integral part of the glasses – an extremely important feature in eyewear intended to be three-quarters fashion piece, and only one-quarter practical glasses.

The Candi-Doll and full cat eye frames for retro glasses

       retro cat eye glasses     Birch’s Candi-Doll glasses are a good example of cat eye frames made with a full eyerim to hold the lens in place, rather than the supra arrangement. The frames were mostly transparent except for a pair of elegant upswept brows in “onyx colored” laminate or gold-toned aluminum, and small matching decorative bands on the temples. By using transparent Acrilite, the Candi-Doll retro glasses were meant to be nearly as invisible as supra models despite their full eyerims.

The experimental nature of glasses at the time is shown by the fact that the Candi-Doll was made out of non-flammable Acrilite. Though presumably any burst of flame hot enough to set a pair of glasses on fire would destroy the face wearing them regardless of whether or not the eyewear incinerated, this was listed as a selling point – and shows Birch’s ongoing fascination with new materials.

Life in the supra yet – the China Doll

            Though the Candi-Doll breaks with the supra pattern, the style had not yet been abandoned, as shown by one of Birch’s most highly successful models, the China Doll from the latter end of the 1960s. With a very slender upswept brow that flowed directly into the slim temples that continued its sinuous line to the ear, these retro glasses eliminated as much of the eyerims as possible.

The lenses were almost totally supported only by the thin wire in the groove at their edges – a technical achievement that made cat eye glasses almost as minimalistic as the rimless pince nez of an earlier era.

Notable Cat Eye Glasses Achievements of Birch & Green

Birch & Green, the British eyeglass company that was founded by the hot-tempered, creative Michael Birch in the early 1950s, started out relatively small but soon grew quite influential throughout the British Isles and the rest of the world.

Since many of the company’s most successful and famous eyeglasses were cat eye glasses, and since Michael Birch personally created the designs in a laborious design process, it can be said that the Englishman left his stamp on the whole cat eye glasses scene during the time when these saucy, chic glasses were the preferred eyewear for women everywhere beneath the light of Sol.

The Mirage Supra – semi-rimless cat eye glasses

            Birch’s most crucial design and finance triumph was the Mirage supra, a brand that came in both female and male versions and which was to continue in production in one form or another for the whole period of Birch’s ownership of the company. The Mirage was successful enough to allow the Englishman to buy out his partner and then his distributor, transmogrifying Birch & Green into first Michael H. Birch Designs and then Michael Birch Group.

cats eye glasses     Supra frames were a new approach to the age-old quest for rimless glasses that would make the eyewear inconspicuous, or at least fashionably reductionist. These frames consisted of little more than a brow section with temples attached. The lenses were held in place beneath the brows by a wire that looped around them, fitting snugly into a groove cut into their edges, thus allowing the lower curve of the frames to be eliminated totally. The lenses appeared to “float” under the brows.

The supra design was patented by one Neville Chappell, and Michael Birch used it under license, paying out five shillings to Chappell for each pair of glasses sold. The Mirage was well worth this investment, however, since it launched Birch’s true success in the world of vintage eyeglasses

The Mirage had strong cat eye elements, though its lenses were somewhat fuller and more oval than other models like the Polyanna. The brow portions, strongly upswept at the outer corners, gave the glasses a definitely feline look, which was more visible in the feminine than in the masculine form of the glasses. The bridge between the brows was transparent, leaving the highly decorated laminated brows as the main visible feature of the Mirage supra.

Around 60,000 pairs of Mirage cat eye glasses were made annually during the 1950s and 1960s, and given Birch’s fanatical insistence on high quality, large numbers have survived to be collected and worn today.

The Mischief supra – true cats eye glasses in supra form

  cats eye glasses          The end of the 1950s saw true cat’s eye glasses emerge in Birch’s product range, in the form of the Mischief supra. These supra glasses featured the usual arrangements – solid brows and bridge, with wires to support the lenses. The lenses, however, had an elongated, tilted shape, and the wires are positioned to accommodate them. The brows are upswept and wrought of dark red material fading to white at the bridge in almost painterly fashion. The temples were fairly plain other than color – the lenses and the brows were the selling points of these sleek, semi-rimless supra vintage eyewear.

Neville Cappell was still naturally profiting from these glasses, and it is perhaps because of this that Birch’s cat eye glasses started showing solid frames during the 1960s, though some extremely daring types of supras were still produced in this period, too.

Michael Birch and Cat Eye Glasses Frames in the 1950s

One of the most fascinating aspects of the history of vintage eyeglasses – besides all the strange, fantastic shapes and creative designs produced over the years – is the association of various eccentric people with the world of vintage eyewear. Benjamin Franklin, with his sturdy aphorisms, scientific curiosity, and somewhat devil-may-care youth, added a touch of his personality to the history of antique bifocal lenses (one of his inventions).

Teddy Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, John Lennon, and Leon Trotsky are all associated with certain styles of glasses, too. The history of cat eye glasses frames from the 1950s and 1960s is closely associated with another highly colorful but nowadays mostly forgotten individual – Michael Birch.

cat eye glasses   Michael Birch, who was destined to become one of the foremost western carvers of netsuke in the Japanese style after his semi-voluntary retirement from the eyeglasses world in the early 1970s, also left his mark on the design of cat eye glasses frames during their heyday in the Fifties and Sixties. His success had an undoubted effect on the global fashion scene as it related to vintage cats eye glasses.

Birch’s personal approach to cats eye glasses frames design

            A fanatically driven artist and designer, Birch produced his own designs through a long, painstaking process, rather than relying on design teams and just selling the product like modern CEOs such as Apple’s Steve Jobs. The British designer would draw an initial concept, then erase it repeatedly, attempting to draw a further refined design each time until he was finally satisfied that the glasses had been honed to perfection.

Peppery and temperamental, Michael Birch once trampled a defective batch of cat eye glasses frames after molding, smashing them under the soles of his shoes in outrage at their poor quality. His design genius shone through in the numerous innovative, dramatic cats eye glasses frames that were produced at his firm, however, including a number of models that achieved international notoriety.

Birch & Green and the breaking of German dominance

            At the time, during the early 1950s, the world of cat eye glasses frames was powerfully dominated by German concerns operating out of West Germany. Birch & Green, Michael Birch’s firm, was the first chink in the Teutonic fashion industry’s armor and gave other firms the confidence to enter the market – as well as demonstrating to customers that non-German frames could also be stylish and unique.

cat eye glasses           Michael Birch’s manufacturing techniques always showed an experimental urge – his first attempt was to make fiberglass cats eye glasses frames. However, vacuum-forming, another leading Birch technological adaptation to glasses manufacture, soon displaced fiberglass.

Later on, moving into the 1960s, Birch started using acetate and aluminum in many of his creations, thus encouraging their use among imitators, too – though both had earlier been used by the Germans. (It is perhaps interesting to note that the Germans held an advantage in the mid-20th century in eyeglasses just as they had throughout the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, before the Americans supplanted them temporarily during the mid to late 19th centuries.)

Though half a century has passed since Michael Birch began designing and manufacturing cat eye glasses frames, many of them are designs so bold that they almost look like the creations of a modern fashion house – including highly unusual almost-rimless cats eye glasses such as the China Doll supra and the Polyanna, which will be examined more closely in the next article.