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.
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.
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.