It’s fair to say that there has been a huge growth in the appreciation of eyewear in recent years, with many wearers focussing on beautifully designed and well-made glasses. Consumers are making deliberate choices and now consider eyewear as high quality wardrobe staples.
A brand that perfectly represents this is Savile Row eyewear. I interviewed general manager Liam Franklin to discuss the importance of handmade, heritage and celebrities.
Can you introduce yourself and tell me a little about Savile Row?
My name is Liam and I’m the general manager of Savile Row. In 1932 Max Wiseman imported an entire factory of spectacle frame-making machinery and staff from Germany to London. The Algha Works factory was born in east London and fast became a leading manufacturer of handmade frames, including the iconic round eye shape. Our gold frames are crafted from 18K gold, and go through over 120 meticulous hand processes to produce the finished article. Every stage of production is carried out here in London and each pair of glasses takes 5 days to complete. The frames are produced using a method known as “goldfilling”; a technique which includes coating the frame with a sleeve of gold which extends the life of the spectacles by preventing corrosion.
During the Second World War the production of glasses was no longer considered important and Savile Row began to manufacture gas masks. Post-war, the company provided free eye exams through the National Health Service. We were producing 18,000 frames a week. Fourteen carat gold-filled spectacles were available on the NHS in the UK for forty years. From 1988 free eye care was no longer offered and Savile Row lost its market share and subsequently the company almost disappeared.
However, under new ownership, quality improved alongside the willingness to evolve. Savile Row began to focus and produced more on-trend designs. This outlook led to a celebrity following via the film and music industry featuring Savile Row glasses.
Had you always wanted to be a part of UK manufacturing?
I’ve worked for some major glasses brands in the past and so it’s very exciting to be working for a more niche and artisanal company. It almost feels as though I am working for a brand new company because Savile Row is taking strides to constantly move forward. I feel as though I have found my dream job!
How do you think that Savile Row is different from other brands?
I think that the styling is very unique. Other companies have tried to emulate what we do but we have such a rich heritage and brand style that we will always stand out. I think that it is extremely important for a company to have a great story and we certainly have that. We are the only UK based eyewear manufacturer left and we have a short period of production so that makes us unique too. We have a strong story and a strong look.
Why do you think that Savile Row has such a cult and celebrity following?
Most of the films that the glasses were featured in were being produced in the UK and there simply weren’t other glasses being manufactured here so we were the obvious choice. Italy and France was the centre of eyewear manufacturing and I suppose there was a little bit of a stigma attached to the style of our glasses back then, as we focussed on metal frames when everyone else was focussing on acetate. Luckily, now our style of production and shape is very fashionable, people really like the 1920’s / 30’s style that we offer. Due to our glasses being used in the film and music industry decades ago a celebrity following has grown massively.
The brand has such an amazing heritage, is this something that you think consumers are finding increasingly important?
Quality speaks and consumers want well made luxury products. I think that chunky acetate frames aren’t as popular now and our customers really love our vintage style metal frames. Eyewear is now an important part of an outfit rather than a tool. Some people are purchasing a pair of glasses to match every outfit in their wardrobe. I’m finding that younger people really love our style while the older generations who have already seen it the first time round consider us old fashioned.
What does the future hold for Savile Row?
We want to seize the day and maximise this vintage trend. We have found that the Far East and Europe love our style so we are looking to evolve our products for that market. The business almost closed due to us not evolving enough so we understand the importance of staying relevant. We want to offer a totally bespoke service for our customers in order for them to get exactly what they want out of our glasses. We are also moving forward to a ready to wear collection which we are very excited about.
Interview by Nancy Straughan / Photography by Julian Anderson
This is an abridged version of our interview which appeared in Issue Two of our print magazine. For the full article and much more grab a copy below.
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