After almost a century in the optical industry, Oliver Goldsmith is a brand rooted in British heritage. With knowledge that has been passed down through four generations, the company remains committed to crafting some of the most exquisite eyewear in the world. Their designs go beyond convention, allowing for self-expression and celebrating individuality.
Philip Oliver Goldsmith
Back in 1919, Phillip Oliver Goldsmith worked as a commercial salesman for Raphael's, a renowned optical firm in London. The eyeglasses he sold were purely medical devices, designed for functionality rather than fashion. Recognising the potential for something more, he ventured out on his own to develop a new kind of eyewear that seamlessly merged fashion and functionality.
Raphael's Optical Supplies (c.1920)
In 1926, Philip Oliver Goldsmith showcased his latest designs to the London public from his first mobile showroom. At the time, metal was the primary material used for eyewear due to its availability, aside from the expensive and fragile real tortoiseshell. With a burning desire to revolutionize the industry, Goldsmith discovered a button factory that used a game-changing material - coloured plastic.
The Oliver Goldsmith mobile showroom (c.1926)
Enamoured by this innovative material, Goldsmith bought a few sheets and returned to his workshop. After several weeks of experimentation, he emerged with the first-ever colourful spectacle frames. These historic pieces are now displayed at The Victoria & Albert Museum in London, in the History of Fashion section.
Oliver Goldsmith Peruvian bamboo and plastic sunglasses (Courtesy V&A Museum)
When WW2 broke out in 1939, innovation and creativity were halted. However, six years later, a new wave of optimism and originality emerged from the aftermath of the war. Charles, Philip's son, possessed these attributes and they opened a small factory on Poland Street in London. By the age of 21, Charles had taken over the business and was ready to continue his father's legacy. He believed that eyeglasses should be an extension of one's personality and an accessory for the face. It was Charles' ambition that led to some of the most significant years in the company's history.
Inside the Oliver Goldsmith Poland Street workshop
In 1946, Charles saw an opportunity to transform the modest spectacle into a high-fashion item. He designed a small range of frames and fitted them with coloured glass lenses, naming the collection 'Sun Specs'. He showcased them in the windows of two of London's largest retail stores at the time, Fortnum & Mason and Simpsons. Within a week, they had sold out, and more were eagerly requested. 'Sunglasses' had officially arrived.
Revolutionising the optical industry
In the mid-1950s, sunglasses transitioned from functional accessories to high-profile fashion items, worn by the most stylish men and women of the era. Oliver Goldsmith was a pioneer in this movement, introducing a selection of unusual and distinctive designs. These SunSpecs not only protected wearers from the sun's rays, but also made a fashion statement. Dress designers such as Christian Dior and Givenchy even sought out Goldsmith's designs to complement their seasonal collections.
Grace Kelly in Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses (1959)
The press hailed the brand's success, with Oliver Goldsmith becoming the first eyewear brand to appear in Vogue. This cemented the brand's designs as essential fashion accessories rather than merely necessary medical devices. As music and film culture grew, and fashion became less restrictive, Oliver Goldsmith adapted accordingly and quickly became associated with stars and style. Their frames were intentionally designed to turn heads and make headlines, with styles that wooed even the most fashion-savvy. By the swinging 60s, Oliver Goldsmith had firmly established itself as the brand worn by both rock stars and royalty.
Peter Sellers wearing Oliver Goldsmith "Vice Consul" frames (1964)
Oliver Goldsmith's appeal was meteoric, dressing the faces of some of the most famous and iconic names in history, from Vidal Sassoon and Audrey Hepburn to Grace Kelly, Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, and Princess Diana. By the mid-1960s, Charles's two sons had joined him in the business, and the brand continued to create frames that matched the bold and adventurous desires of the disco era in the 70s. However, in the 1980s, the introduction of licensing and the early stages of fast fashion caused a short hiatus for the brand.
Audrey Hepburn wearing "Manhattan" sunglasses (1961)
In 2015, it was time for Claire Goldsmith, Philip's great-granddaughter, to take the helm as the fourth generation of Goldsmiths in charge of the business.
“As a child I used to pore over the pictures of iconic celebrities and models wearing Oliver Goldsmith glasses. Michael Caine, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Peter Sellers were the poster boys and girls for style defining eyewear’ – Claire Goldsmith
Claire is committed to upholding the legacy of her ancestors. Her promise is to maintain the prestige of the Goldsmith name by continuing to offer collections that combine archival designs with new and distinctive styles, with each frame imbued with the significance of an unparalleled design heritage.
Michael Caine wearing Oliver Goldsmith "Lord" frames
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