Established in 1926, Oliver Goldsmith changed
the way we viewed the world around us. First to
see glasses as fashion accessories, first to work alongside fashion houses to create one off pieces for the catwalk and the first to appear in Vogue, Oliver Goldsmith pioneered a whole new concept – fashion eyewear. Claire Goldsmith relaunched the brand in 2005 with a focus on the British heritage and craftsmanship of the brand. Interview by Caroline Dunne.
Why did you re-launch the brand in 2005?
It was simply the right time. I’d made my way through university and then jumped into the world of business and marketing working for ITV and then 118 118 – my focus was very much marketing and advertising. But I knew this was what I was going to do. I often refer to my old jobs as “work experience” because that was how I looked at it. I was learning as much as I could about business before I tried to launch my own one! In 2005 I took a leap of faith. I don’t think you can ever be 100% ‘ready’ to start your own business, but I was as ready as I could be – and was excited about the challenge – I’d been talking about doing it for so many years that I felt it was time to stop talking and start doing.
What makes Oliver Goldsmith standout within the current market?
Simply the fact that this is a beautiful heritage brand backed by a rich colourful history and supported by iconic timeless designs, that have already shown their longevity being 40/50 years old. I love that OG frames look as contemporary now as they did then, and it makes me realise what talented designers my grandfather and subsequently my uncle were. I also feel that the quality of our frames makes us standout. When people come into the store, as soon as they hold our frames they say to us – ‘wow, these feel amazing’. This comes from people who often don’t know the real differences between frames, brands and costs – so for them to literally just feel it. It’s a big credit my team and the people who make this happen. I’m just the one up front. There is a great team of dedicated eyewear enthusiastic behind me making this all work.
Who is the OG customer both historic and contemporary?
There is a lot about the OG customer that is similar; our customer is and was fashion aware, interested in British design, after quality and something unique. The difference being simply that back in the day there wasn’t the choice that there is today. We were one of only a handful of brands that existed. Our customer today has to be a little savvier when shopping if they want quality and a unique product. We still have a loyal celebrity following, but our customers are incredibly important to us and influence the collections hugely.
Your family started the business in 1926, what are your first memories of the brand?
I have many memories from childhood about this business. I remember glasses everywhere. Dad always travelling the world selling (something that I now do!). I remember Dad always being asked by people if he could fix their glasses at any given opportunity – dinner parties mainly! He would sit at the dinner table with a hair dryer heating the frames so he could adjust them for friends and relatives. Even Princess Diana did it! One year mum and dad attended a Christmas party at Buckingham Palace and Diana came up to dad and pulled out of her handbag, a pair of broken glasses and said, “I wonder if you could fix these for me?” The bit I remember is my mum coming home and dancing around the house with these lopsided broken glasses on her nose and I asked dad what she was doing and he said that she was dancing in Diana’s glasses!
What was the first iconic shape?
Large was the first iconic shape – large round, large square, large oval! Big glasses made iconic by Jackie O and Audrey Hepburn.
What was the first fashion designer collaboration?
Givenchy was the main designer who we worked along side mainly due to the Hepburn connection we both had. But we also designed for the catwalk for Dior, which was a real honour.
What is the Oliver Goldsmith aesthetic?
60’s/70’s iconic classics – sunglasses that emulate a by-gone era of style and sophistication that is still so coveted today. Contemporary colour-ways keep the brand up to date and being a small unique brand allows customers to have frames, which have huge, wow factor – you just don’t see everyone walking down the street in a pair of our frames. The quality also provides us with a loyal customer base.
Can you tell us about the handmade ‘couture’ aspect of the brand?
The Bespoke service at OG has developed with the brand. When I re-launched the brand, I needed a manufacturer and I wanted to keep everything British, so I worked with one of the last remaining factories in the UK to make me my first collection. As you can imagine they were beautiful and as demand grew unfortunately the factory couldn’t keep up. They were just too small. So I found bigger factories in the Processco regions of Italy. Traditional factories, family run with high levels of craftsmanship being a must! But I also wanted to continue to put work into the little UK factory we had started with – one of the last of its kind. I wanted to maintain the craftsmanship of true handmade one by one frames and knew it needed to be a part of the future of the company as well as part of its past. It was just too special to forget about, so I ring-fenced it and made it services about a bespoke offering – the bespoke service was born. Our ready to wear collection is made up of an edited selection of classic styles taken from our archive, which is vast. So if you don’t want anything in the main collection, but instead want a complete one-off or perhaps you have a very small or large face, then bespoke it the way to go. They are custom made to fit and are completely unique to you - no two are the same.
What does it mean to you to preserve the bespoke heritage of Oliver Goldsmith?
It means everything – my first visit to the factory blew me away and has inspired and taught me enormous amounts about the industry. Places like that are so incredibly special and represent an industry that used to thrive in the UK, but unfortunately as we all know are a dying species. British manufacturing is something I truly believe in, whether in business or my personal life and I try to support UK brands as much as possible, and feel proud that I can help to support these wonderful craftsman.
What goes in to the production of each pair of bespoke glasses?
A lot of work goes into the production of a handmade pair, so I will summarise. The work starts early, with the custom fitting; a specialised 2D drawing is then created by our in-house designer, which is then sent to the factory. Then the grafting works; the frame is cut out, shaped, polished, put in two separate polishing tanks for several days, re-shaped, re-polished by hand, the beautiful vintage hinges are then set in the temples and lastly it is embossed with gold foil with the OG name as well as custom message for the client such as ‘handmade for Claire’ although someone recently had ‘Live fast, die old’ written on theirs!
What makes them unique?
That they are made by hand for you. They are one-offs, the shaping, the acetate (which are taken from a special vintage collection that we reserve only for the bespoke service), even the hot-foil embossing, there are imperfections, but in the nicest sense of the word – you can value it in the same way you value art knowing skill, talent, blood, sweat and tears has gone into creating that just for you - you can’t say that about a frame that’s been whizzed out of a machine like two thousand before it.
Who is the most interesting person to have been a client for your bespoke service?
We made frames last year for Craig Armstrong (the incredible composer) for when he collected his OBE, which was pretty cool, and obviously it’s always great when Lady Gaga is rocking your frames, but quite honestly it’s the most unassuming people I like making frames for – it means so much to them to have a frame that finally fits.
What inspires your own Claire Goldsmith collection?
Working with the Oliver Goldsmith designs and collection for 4 years I suppose it was inevitable that I would start to develop ideas of my own about things. I wanted to try new things, to push design binderies a little more, I wanted to play around with materials and shapes and the whole aesthetic of glasses. I wanted to produce my own line with the same DNA to OG but with a new generation of style. I also didn’t want to muddy the waters about what OG stood for and was about. If I started to pump out new contemporary designs under the Oliver Goldsmith brand I think it would have been confusion. For me OG is a retrospective brand, set in a certain time. Its very pure and stylistically is it what it is - vintage. People come to OG for a specific look. So taking those two things into mind, I decided that to launch my deigns under my own name would allow people to make the connection as to who I was, which in turn would hopefully give them a sense of trust that I was not some random person but someone with a true interest and passion in eyewear. I was a Goldsmith. Just a new generation!