"Eyewear has gone from being a specialised niche product to being almost tediously ubiquitous – every brand and every designer has an eyewear collection. And this, along with a few other factors, has led to a general flattening out of what’s on offer," Fraser Laing fervidly expressed on one of my previous visits to his great gem of Stables Market. General Eyewear has concentrated on developing its own distinctive values and ideas without paying too much attention to what anyone else is doing. His wide, passion filled eyes are focussed on providing something more, something better. Now, as we sit inside his emporium of eyewear, he introduces me to the latest development, the Inner and Outer Space Collection. A long considered range that breaks free from the tedium and emerges on the recently unveiled Discover Boutiques.
Chatting over a concerto that echoes throughout the vast retail space, Laing becomes increasingly more animated as, one by one, he proudly places each of the nine frames on to the desk. As ever, his eternal enthusiasm and perpetual passion is as infectious as it is justified. From the 40s inspired but wonderfully contemporary Metz to the uncompromising Tanaka, each frame, which is handmade in England by their master spectacle makers using the very best components and finest vintage Italian acetates, is named after a Science Fiction writer. "We made a long list of science fiction writers and began honing it down to find the perfect fit for each style," Laing explains. Playing with the author's different characteristics, what they represent or conjure up and even just revelling in the name themselves, from phonetics to onomatopoeia. "For example. I know Lem quite well, he's a Russian science fiction writer and I just had this feeling of what a pair of glasses might look like, heavy and ponderous. For another frame, the Ostrander we just felt that they needed a strange name without knowing too much about the author, after a little research we found out that he penned the original Star Wars screenplays. The name just felt right because they appear older, mysterious and austere." Some of the names will be familiar, others might stump even the most arden of SF fans but what is certain, their latest incarnations are taking eyewear to new heights. Now, making use of the beautiful product photography that Discover Boutiques uses to present the stock from its partner stores, let me introduce the collection to you...
From the Lem to the Saberhagen to my personal favourite the Metz.
"The starting point was that they are built around classic shapes but evolved to become borderline unusual. We've been raiding our archives. From as far as I know, no one, in London at the very least, has anything quite like it. It is really coming in to its own now as we developing styles from it. None of these styles will be in people's minds, they are all slightly unusual doing slightly different things. It was about matching up the shapes we wanted to make with the right plastics. For the time being, we are sticking with one plastic per shape. The idea is that each frame becomes a brand in its own right because they are such distinct styles. Of course some might fade away but the hope is that these are a starting point and variations will follow, always looking to improve."
The considered collection has evolved from and takes advantage of the attributes that really set General Eyewear apart from anything else out there. The frames have evolved from an alchemy of form and function from favourites from the archive to the components, from the alluring acetate to the finest hinges possible, and craftsmanship that come together to make them. Laing's museum level stock consists of tens of thousands of unique pieces from the nineteenth century right to now. Inspiration is at every turn, inside every drawer and waiting to be found in an unmarked box.
"We started offering custom made frames very early on but we were very limited by the lack of acetate available in the UK. I embarked on a mission to buy surplus stocks of acetate from the more historic factories that I knew about in France and Italy. The fact that I was able to find so much of it means that the selection of different materials we’re able to offer in the shop is unique. Today, there's only really one factory that produces plastic for everyone because it is highly, highly specialised but the history of it is so much more varied. Italy has always been associated with the development of plastics, it is of course a comparatively recent invention, reaching its peak in the 50s. This one factory that began in the early twentieth century were building everything up, providing all of thee amazing plastics for all sorts of uses, and then in the beginning of the 90s and it must've come as a shock to them, the world just stopped wearing plastic glasses. Armani, Ralph Lauren... every brand that you can think off was making little metal frames. Today, the current catalogue just doesn't have the same choice, the same variety. However hard you look, there's nothing in the direct line of those fantastic marbled ball point pens of the forties and fifties and it's such a shame."
Thankfully, Laing managed to accumulate close to four tonnes of the acetate that continues to excites today and give it a new home at General Eyewear. Some of it might be fifty years old but it is far more interesting than anything on the market now. Up until now Laing's vast collection of acetate has only been used for commissions but they wanted to do something more with it and the Inner and Outer World collection is one of the finest ways to breathe new life in to it.
"The reaction, even before we put them on the website has been great, we have put one of two out on the shop floor and they instantly attracted attention." The frames are limited. They begin with a limited run of just five and a number of the frames have sold out but with in a week or two more can be made and be on the shop floor (both in Camden and the virtual one thanks to Discover Boutiques). "The aim is to continue to have this flagship collection made in the UK and we can be very ambitious with short runs, spinning everything around the acetate. The logistics have been tough. Very few people make anything in Europe because it is not easy," Laing reflects as a wide grin spreads across his face and a glint or two flashes in his eyes. The results, at least in this instance show that it is all worth it.