Eyeglasses as fashion accessories in the 20th century
From the mid-20th century eyewear became increasingly important as a fashion accessory, a trend which Oliver Goldsmith actively pursued.
After the Second World War, Oliver Goldsmith expanded the collection from tortoiseshell frames to more experimental styles. With the aim of attaining greater publicity, the company offered more deliberately stylish and occasionally outlandish frame designs and courted celebrity clients such as actor Peter Sellers, actress Diana Dors, pianist Winifred Atwell, Princess Grace of Monaco and Diana Princess of Wales.
From the early 1970s, Oliver Goldsmith demonstrated a dynamic creativity in its attempts to identify new customers. As the optical market grew, the company continued to cultivate press coverage and promote its designs via trade shows and on television.
This was a decade during which the company experimented with new ranges, new materials and collaborative ventures. For example, in response to an evolving clientele, in 1976 Oliver Goldsmith launched ‘The Continental Selection’, a range designed with different dimensions and colours to suit black and Asian faces.
Another instance of experimentation was Oliver Goldsmith’s collaboration with the American aluminium company Hilsinger. Based outside of Boston, Hilsinger specialised in the manufacture of the aluminium components used by the optical industry Seeking to expand the types of products they made, in the early 1970s Hilsinger commissioned Oliver Goldsmith to design a collection of aluminium frames suitable for mass-production.
The frame ‘Car Headlights’ is an example of this collaboration. Aluminium's lightweight quality had obvious appeal. However, its inflexibility and inability to withstand soldering prevented the Goldsmith/Hilsigner frames from being put into production.
In 1977 A Oliver Goldsmith was seconded to a division of the Dutch company Unilever to create a new sunglasses range. Branded ‘Goggles’, the collection was promoted and sold in the UK to compete with international sunglasses brands such as Polaroid and Foster Grant. Goldsmith designed the styles, selected the factories and monitored production of Goggles frames until 1982, when, after several summers of particularly wet weather, the brand was discontinued.
During the 1980s, Oliver Goldsmith continued to actively pursue press and to advertise widely. The marketing photography the company commissioned records their designs from this period and demonstrates how closely wedded to the changes of fashions eyewear had become.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Oliver Goldsmith faced increasing competition for the British market from companies such as Anglo American, Michael Selcott Designs, Correna and Linda Farrow. These companies also sold to the higher end of the optical trade and sold mainly through department stores and opticians, while less expensive frames were sold in pharmacies. In addition, as the optical market grew alongside the increasingly rapid pace of changing fashions, fashion designers themselves began to license their names for frames. André Courreges, Christian Dior and Oleg Cassini were among the first fashion companies to create eyewear licences