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Clear all

AA Gill

The author and critic AA Gill sourced his eye furniture from 16 Knightsbridge Green for decades. Here he opens his heart (and our eyes).
Introduction from Forty Years of Vision and Style, Cutler and Gross (2009).
 
Out of the darkness, a voice. A kindly concerned disembodied voice. There, floating ahead of you, an eerily illuminated sign; a meaningless hieroglyph of letters that grunts and grasps and fades, like the inscription on an old grave. And the voice says, “I think you could probably do with some glasses – or if you’ve gone private – some spectacles”. This is the crossroads. The line in the sand moment. You have a choice. Either squint, sleep with ugly people and run over slow dwarves at zebra crossings or watch life come at you through the round windows. For most people spectacles mean tears. They are a medical blight; a self–conscious embarrassment. A cause of the only indoor game for the middle aged – ‘hunt the reading glasses’. Most people take their spectacles off when they are photographed, or to kiss, or fight. But there are others, fewer perhaps, who go, “Thank you God for myopia and astigmatism, ahead of me is a lifetime of the joy of wearing spectacles; not just the tinted ones, not just when the sun shines, not fairweather specs, but all year round. Indoors and out I can be spectacular in restaurants, in cinemas, and in the sack”. To these people – for people who realise the spectacle – spectacles are an architectural opportunity, decorative features that’s are devoutly to be prayed for.

 

"CUTLER AND GROSS HAD SPECS THAT WERE DESIGNED WITH MODERN,
CLEAN AND AMUSED INTELLIGENCE. THEY BELONGED TO MY WORLD -
THEY WENT WITH OUR MUSIC, OUR POLITICS AND OUR NIGHTS"



As an art student in the 1970s I discovered I needed new windows onto the world and by happy serendipity I came upon Cutler and Gross. Actually, it was a girlfriend who was a designer who said I should check out this brilliant new optician – it was an eye opener. At that time there were no other shops remotely like Cutler and Gross. Opticians tended to emphasise their serious medical responsibilities – dentists for the eyes. Men in white coats who smelt vaguely of methylated spirits and gin would inspect your frames as if fitting a prosthetic to an amputee. As a bloke you had a manly choice of looking like an embezzling civil servant in brown or black plastic, mock tortoiseshell with a bit of metal rim, or you could have the eternally childish look of Piggy from Lord of the Flies. Either way they made you look like the defendant or the victim. And lady specs weren’t much better. The pastel colours of motel bedrooms, with swooping edges like the fins on toy Cadillacs, they all came in sturdy snapping cases and were designed to be taken off as soon as possible. Sufferers’ expressions seemed to grow round their boring medical face calipers like old trees round barbed wire fences. But Cutler and Gross had specs that were designed with modern, clean and amused intelligence. They belonged to my world – they went with our music, our politics and our nights; rather than harking back into some dark 1950s national health austerity.

I brought a pair of large black frames for £15 – a week’s food. But who needs to eat when you could look interesting and be fed? It was the first of many. Many, many, many. Because by chance I discovered the only innate talent I’ve ever had – I own a face that was born for spectacles. Bins are my fender, my Ferraris, my canvas, my ode and my opera. And it’s enough. Most people go through life never discovering a vocation but in Cutler and Gross I was given my métier – to be a small, bifocal genius.

 

"MOST GLASSES BY THEIR VERY NATURE ADVERTISE SHORT SIGHTEDNESS.
CUTLER AND GROSS CELEBRATE VISION."

 

Now the world is thick with glasses. They hang out at airports and at the accessory departments at fashion stores. Everyone designs them from cobblers to rap singers, models and car mechanics. Spectacles are billboards advertising brands, and over–ear–hook–on–élan. But mostly they reduce the faces underneath to a smudged forgetability; the spectacles win by a nose. But still you can walk into Cutler and Gross and find clear, elegant, modern design. It’s such a simple and fundamental formula. Most glasses by their very nature advertise short sightedness. Cutler and Gross celebrate vision.