“The more glasses you have in your wardrobe, the better. There’s less anxiety in the morning” says Cutler and Gross design director Marie Wilkinson, laughing. “If you only have four pairs to choose from, it’s hard. But if you’ve got 20, I think it’s much easier.”
Torontonians are in luck then, as the London-based eyewear brand has reopened its flagship boutique in the city at 758 Queen Street West, following the closing of its Yorkville location this past January due to fire damage. The sparkling new space is a spectacle of spectacles, with a seemingly limitless number of classic and unusual frames in an array of colours, both neutral and bright.
Cutler and Gross was founded in 1969 by Graham Cutler and Tony Gross, who met in optometry school in England at Northampton College. They opened the first Cutler and Gross flagship at 16 Knightsbridge Green in London in 1969, and began crafting frames upstairs. Everything from the milling of the lens groove to the fitting of the hinges is done by hand, and today, the company’s designs maintain that classic London feel, updated with a modern twist.
Wilkinson joined the company in 1982, and remains at the helm of the four-person design team today. “I had just graduated as an optician. Mr. Cutler and Mr. Gross were hiring, and my friend had gone for an interview and he said, ‘They’re crazy, they’ve got a workshop upstairs and they’ve got acetate everywhere. It’s very creative, it’s not for me.’ So I went for an interview, and Mr. Cutler and Mr. Gross didn’t want a conventional optician, they wanted someone who would indulge their super creative clients.”
Neither Wilkinson, nor Cutler or Gross has any formal design training, but this lends itself to the playful, unconventional frames on the Cutler and Gross shelves. “Mr. Gross was very interested in Surrealism, and he called those his eccentric glasses,” Wilkinson says, pointing to a pair of circular spectacles, one circle rising slightly higher than the other. “I think he always liked the fact that they suited some people really well, as some people do have one eyebrow higher than the other. He liked to tease people.”
Each pair takes roughly four weeks to make. “They’re luxurious glasses, and we spend a lot of time making them,” says Wilkinson. “That’s our interpretation of luxury, which is a word that is used quite a lot. But for Cutler and Gross, it’s the luxury of time. I hope that comes through when people feel the glasses, feel the weight and the quality and the strength.” The design team works closely with the team in the company’s factory in Italy—the process of creation is very much a dialogue between the designers and the artisans making them. “They always want to know why and how they’re making the glasses. It’s not just that they’re taking them and making a product.” Each person in the factory has his or her own specialty, and glasses are passed from person to person, with as many 42 unique processes involved in the making of each pair.
When it comes to choosing the right frame, it’s not just about your face, it’s about your entire body—height, bone structure, proportions. “We deliberately put lots of full-length mirrors in the boutique,” says Wilkinson. “If you’re choosing glasses for someone who has a small face but they’re actually quite tall, if the glasses fit the face too well, then they’ll look too small on the person overall.” Hairstyle is also a prime consideration, particularly if it’s a strong feature, such as fringe bangs or a beard. “Don’t choose glasses in a rush,” Wilkinson warns. “There are a lot of things to consider.” When selecting glasses for summer, she suggests wearing a typical summer outfit when shopping—choose the colours that you’ll be wearing for the season—and if you’re planning to chop of your tresses in favour of lighter layers for summer, be sure to come after your haircut, not before.
Wilkinson’s must-have for the hotter summer months? “You have to have a pair of mirrored sunglasses this summer in acetate frames. Be bold, have some fun.”