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  • Writer's pictureMichael Jardine

Telling the Story, Part 2: AMERICANA.

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.

Entering the industry in 1980 was an interesting time as it was on the cusp of a big change in the eyewear market. If you look at the best eyewear in the 50's and 60's it rarely had any names on it at all. If you look at most of the most interesting French eyewear in the collection, they say nothing except "Made in France".

There were a few notable exceptions of course. Tura's previously mentioned collaboration with Christian Dior was perhaps the most outstanding but was short lived. American Optical made frames under the Shiaparelli name for a time.

In France Philippe Chevallier made sunglasses for the runway shows for couture houses like Lanvin, Franck Olivier and Pierre Cardin and eventually tried to commercialize these, without success at the time. 

In the 70's many frames started to carry the names of the manufacturers who made them.  Besides Bausch & Lomb, the big brands in the 70's were names like Victory, Liberty, Universal, Hudson, Tart were a few notables. Sunglass companies had a bit more flair. Companies like Renauld, A Sutain, Bernard Kayman sold quite advanced styling to department stores under their own names. Brands like Tropi-Cal and Cool Ray took a more mass approach. In Germany there were companies like Menrad, Rodenstock and Marwitz. In Austria, Optyl was the number one eyewear company in the world and their house brands, Carrera and Viennaline, were top of the heap for decades.

Americana - There are companies or brands like Tura and Ray-Ban that everyone knows but there are other brands for which there is almost no information at all. I will mention them again here and would encourage anyone reading this who knows anything to write and share this. There have been lots of picture books on vintage eywear but that is really not enough. Read a copy of Udotopia and you will understand what I mean.

Ad selling the Renauld Pilot sunglass to the masses

Renauld - I know a little about Renauld but only in their last days in the early 80's. By then they were a distributor for Ray-Ban to department stores and really on their last legs.

I recall when they were sold to the Bonneau company in Texas. Bonneau was a mass sun seller to retailers like 7-11. It was the end of Renauld.

I would love to know more about their beginning. Look at Cabinet 11 Drawer 8 and see the wonderful collection they had in aluminum sunglasses.

They were out of this world in the 60's and would be today. Their aluminums were made in the USA but they also brought in very nice products in acetate and other materials from France.

Gaspari operated within Art of The Impossible

Gaspari - In Cabinet 11 - Drawers 2 and 3 you will see most of what we have in Gaspari. This is some of the most beautiful and complex eyewear ever made in my opinion. He made the most complex combinations of real gold and aluminum and also just aluminum but made in such a complicated way it is hard to imagine who did this on any scale. Nothing was soldered but everything was mechanically joined - bridges to eyewires, eyes to end-pieces, end-pieces to temples. Gaspari seems to have been gone by the time I arrived on the scene. The only thing I can locate was with the patent office, as he seemed to have a number of them. Seems he lived in America but has Italy listed as place of birth during the reign of an Italian emperor. This is a bit of history in itself that I keep meaning to fact check and so far never have.

A. Sutain mens sunglass. Timeless!

A. Sutain and A.A. Sutain - surely the same company but they seemed to have this brand differentiation.

They made very interesting sunglasses for department stores like Saks and Bergdorfs. Again long gone by the time I arrived but you can see some of their beautiful things in Cabinet 11 - Drawer 4 and Drawer 6. Their beach glasses, using sand and shells and beach glass and pearls, are among my all time favourites. Their bamboo sunglass is as iconic a piece as it gets. Their oversized acetates in block materials that were ahead of their time always guaranteed "best optical quality" on the insides of the temples. Who was Sutain? Where did they come from and where did they go?

Bernard Kayman - there is quite a lof of Kayman interspersed in the American sections. He seemd to be from Florida and used some of the same block materials as Sutain. I think he came a little later. I have some photos and newspaper clippings from the early 70's. The photo is promoting an native American themed sunglass and the tagline has something to say it being a favourite of discerning squaws. I cannot imagine anything more politically incorrect.

The Squaw text from a news paper add.

Original model photo of the B. Kayman Indian sunglass.

If anyone ever write the definitive book on American sunglass, none of the above people should be left out. If there is anything archival saved it should be made known for future researchers. Let me put a plug in for May and for Lumar while I think of it.

There are certainly more and I recommend people see the site of Forgotten Eyewear and the work that Mark Jensen has done to shine light on forgotten brands and frames. Much of our history is slipping away...

I hope to hear from you if you have more light to shine on the stories of the Americana designers and companies.

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