Telling the Story: Part 1- mostly about TURA
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Whether you are buying or just browsing, we hope you are enjoying the collection and perhaps it sparks some interest in things you didn't know about the history of eyewear until now.
Several people have recently encouraged us to create new books - either yet another photo book on vintage eyewear or, more recently, there have been requests for a book on Philippe Chevallier. After some years and a great deal of expense in creating the 456 page book called Udotopia, about the creative genius and crazy life of Udo Proksch, we know that even if they are critical successes they are most likely losing propositions. The vanity presses will have to satisfy the vanity of others. However, while we are going through this process of breaking up this very large collection, I will take time to tell as much of the story as I can.
- Michael Jardine.
This year marks 40 years since I started in the eyewear business.
For the first half I was either manufacturing or else representing manufacturers and selling to many of the companies whose products you see here in The Collection.
In the second half I started an eyewear company to license brands and sell eyewear primarily to retailers in key markets.
Some of the first eyewear I ever made can be found in Cabinet 11 Drawer 1. All three of my first customers are represented there - Slots 9 and 10 for Optique Du Monde for the Polo Ralph Lauren, 4,8 and 13 for Tura and 5 and 14 for Ray-Ban when it was owned by Bausch & Lomb.
Our company was called TannerEye and most of what we did involved leather on the frame in some way. We also did very nice work in acetate. We were located on Prince Edward Island in Canada and so it was low hanging fruit for us to fly to the US and start our customer base there. The Ray-Ban Leathers were probably our most famous product and by the mid-80's we had more than 200 craftspeople covering nearly one million Ray-Bans each year.
My two early mentors were Barton Levoy, the owner of Tura, and Charlie Schmall, the President of Optique du Monde. From Barton I learned to value quality and innovation over price and from Charlie I learned about the power of fashion brands when the right brands were married to the right eyewear.
Tura was started by Barton's father Lamont and no company in the US did more to elevate eyewear from a rather mundane medical device to jewelry pieces. They did the first collaboration with Christian Dior in the 60's and you can see wonderful examples of this in Cabinet 1 - Drawer 1 and elsewhere. Their aluminum collections in the 50's and 60's were in a league of their own and they must have employed an army of jewelry workers in New York and Rhode Island just decorating their frames.
Possibly the greatest gift that Tura gave to the industry was their campaign to teach a generation of optical dispensers that they were now dispensing fashion and not medical devices. Tura was the first company in America to put women on the road and ended up with around 100 of them at any given time. They looked for women with something to prove and as many were single mothers, they made sure that their territories were small enough that they could make it home at night.
In Cabinet 16 - Drawer 15 you will see Tura's Fashion Dispensing training manual. This was a key to their program - teaching their sales ladies to teach their customers about selling fashion. The book was so coveted by their competitors that they would go to almost any length to get their hands on a copy. During training courses the women could not have the books alone in their hotel rooms for fear they would copy them. They had to leave them outside their doors at night for collection.
Working for Barton was such a rare treat for someone developing products. He never asked the price of anything. I once asked him if he wanted to know the price of a frame I was working on and he replied "I don't care what it costs! Make it as good as you possibly can and bill me what you need to get for it!" This encouragement helped a number of manufacturers around the world to elevate their game. That same message to certain factories in Japan in the early 80's helped to elevate them from something very cheap and ordinary to today when they are some of the most highly valued factories in the world.
Barton had some nice stories. One of my favourites was about the time he was skiing in Austria years earlier and had bumped into a man who started telling him about a new material and eyewear product he was developing. It turned out to be Wilhelm Anger and the material and eventually the company became Optyl.
Tura did some export and perhaps there were no better kindred spirits for them than the Jenkins family in the UK, who became the distributors for Tura in the UK and their Anglo-American Eyewear company is an iconic name in vintage eywear itself today. I am still in touch with Lawrence Jenkin and happy to note that he is still in the workshop turning out custom made masterpieces.
After the death of Barton Levoy the company was sold to outsiders; a company in book distribution and library furniture. Needless to say the creative force was lost forever but they still continue to operate as another seller of mid-tier licensed brands.
In my next blog `Telling The Story´ I will speak about The Great American Sunglasses, so stay tuned.
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