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.

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