Last week I wrote an overview of Maison Bonnet, fourth generation Parisian bespoke eyeglasses maker.
At the same time as that meeting, I arranged to commission a pair of bespoke sunglasses.
This was a first for me, as I’ve not had glasses made previously, although the process bears hallmarks very similar to that of commissioning a bespoke suit, but this shouldn’t overlook the many differences which exist, too.
This was the first time I met Steven Bonnet and thanks to him, he made what would have already been an enjoyable experience that much more so. As with a small selection of other craftspeople I’ve covered before, Steven projects an enthusiasm and energy for his work which is, and I mean this without hyperbole, genuinely able to be felt when you’re around them (a few of the others who immediately come to mind are Gianfrancesco Musella-Dembech, Francesco Maglia and Nino Corvato). He dashes around the atelier and in and out of drawers which comes only with the familiarity of someone who has done this a thousand times before and its obvious that he loves every second of it.
We started with Steven putting on around 20/25 pairs of glasses on me, each in quick succession, for him to make his own sense for the shape and size of my face and which elements of certain frames he felt were better suited to me. Some frames were put back in the draw, others given a privileged place under an illuminated shelf. As the client, I became more of an observer at this point, trying to work out Steven’s reaction to each new pair which he put on me. I never saw how each frame looked, but at this part of the process it’s more for Steven’s benefit than mine.
One of the nicer memories of this experience with Maison Bonnet, or frankly any bespoke experience to date, will be watching Steven rush to a draw, select a frame, rush back to me, very suddenly slow down, carefully put the frame on me, jump back to cast a critical eye over what he sees, make a face – be it good, bad or indifferent, jump back towards me, switch back into slow motion, carefully remove the frames and then dash back to the drawers or shortlist shelf. It’s as much a theatrical performance as it is a technical one, but none of it is put on, it’s all genuine.
Once we’d exhausted the list of frames which Steven wanted to see on me, we went over to the shelf where his preferred frames now sat. Steven had lined up around 10 frames on the shelf, all of which he felt possessed elements which suited my facial structure. Together we then tried on each pair and looked them over in the mirror to get a sense for their suitability and discuss Steven’s reason for choosing them. What I like about this approach is that Steven obviously enjoys this discussion and is not afraid to put his opinion across, but also took on board my observations and preferences. We narrowed those frames down to a shortlist of 6, then 3, then 1. It won’t come as a surprise to any regular readers that my criteria for making any decision, be it for a suit, shoes or, as it turns out, sunglasses, is that I apply my 50 year rule. Will my grandchildren or great grandchildren look back at an old photo of me and think “that’s stylish”? So with this in mind I wanted to choose a classic frame, which was masculine and, hopefully, timeless. We managed to do that and I can’t see these frames ever dating. The frames will be made 3mm wide as that should best suit the proportions of my face.
The design’s name is “Renko” and was created by Steven’s father in the late 70’s/early 80’s, with hallmarks of the classic aviator designs which were popular at the time. Again, as with anything truly stylish, it will stand the test of time and a design which is well over 30 years old still looks contemporary. It’s something which Maison Bonnet focus on with their designs, working towards something which will stand up over generations, rather than seasons.
Steven then takes several measurements of my face and gradually uses these to build up a 2D image of the soon to be made frames on paper, based on calculations he’s making for considerations I didn’t know existed. An example: he put a frame on me and asked me to smile. I smiled, because I’m nice and compliant like that. He then took them off, adjusted the angle of the lens cavities, so that the bottoms of the lenses moved slightly further away from my face, then he asked me to smile again. I smiled again. Unexpectedly, a big difference. With the fractional change in the angle of that part of the frame, my cheeks didn’t rise up and touch the frame when I smiled. Which, to say it here sounds ridiculous and trivial, but it made a significant difference to the comfort of wearing the glasses.
One of Stevens’ objectives is to have the frames sit cleanly on my brow line, as it stops any light getting in between the frame and my eyes, so this is also taken into consideration throughout the process of measuring.
We also get to forego the typically curled ends on the arms, as the fit should be so good that there will be no reliance on the ends of the arms to hold on to my ears. To test this, he gave me a pair to try on which he was confident were a good “off the rack” fit for me and asked me to put my head down and shake it from side to side. I did (see earlier point on compliance). They didn’t budge. I said “perfect”. Steven laughed and said “No! Good. Not perfect, yet!… but they will be”.
I’d come in determined to choose a buffalo horn frame. I prefer natural materials and turtle shell was beyond my current budget. After discussing this with Steven, we ended up, to my surprise, choosing acetate. Acetate is a man made material which can be designed to very closely replicate other materials. In sunglasses, this typically means turtle shell or horn. Although I typically avoid artificial materials wherever possible, the durability of acetate makes it a serious alternative to other options. Buffalo horn and turtle shell are more brittle materials, which can break easily when stressed. Turtle shell is repaired through a grafting process and acetate can be repaired with glue, though if horn breaks, it is usually replaced with a new part and not repaired.
Given that there’s a good chance baby number one will come along next year, I don’t like the idea of having to adopt out said baby, when it’s a toddler, if it decides to test the structural integrity of my buffalo horn sunglasses after I’ve accidentally left them on the coffee table. So, for the sake of keeping the family unit a happy one, acetate gets the green light in this instance.
Pleasingly, this means that the colours of turtle shell get to come back into the picture. The acetate we chose is similar to a classic turtle shell colour, this being a mottled darker brown and yellow which compliment my skin tone and hair colour. Additionally, as I almost always wear shoes in various shades of brown, they will compliment these, whereas black frames would only work well with black in other areas of an outfit, which is rare for me.
For lenses, we went with Maison Bonnet’s “Scarlet” lens. A semi-transparent brown which worked perfectly with the frame colour. I had thought I’d have chosen a block-out lens (one where nobody can see in) but the scarlet lens worked too well to ignore. We could have chosen a dark grey lens, for better protection from sunlight, but they would have clashed with the frame colour and the scarlet lenses will do a sufficient job of blocking out the sun, anyway.
Since the initial meeting, the glasses have already been made and are back in Paris, waiting for me to come in for a fitting in the next couple of months. For acetate and horn the process usually takes around 2 to 2.5 months from the first appointment for the frames to be ready for a fitting. Turtle shell takes around 6 months. Another fitting may be required shortly after to perfect the fit, before they’re made ready for collection. With a bit of luck, we should be able to have everything finalised at the same time, when I’m back in Paris, hopefully before Christmas.