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.
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.