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.
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
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.