TROMPE L’OEIL

In time-honoured fashion, when Laura Nicholson couldn’t find the perfect pair of specs, she made them herself.

First featured in Issue 02
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Nicholson’s first pair of spectacles were ‘a dismal brown pair of round frames, which at the time were the antithesis of stylish and the source of much self-consciousness’. Myopic since her early teens, she can’t think of a time when she felt completely satisfied with the glasses that she’d buy. ‘I do spend money on a great pair of shoes or a handbag. But I was never purchasing my specs with that falling in love feeling.’ So after years working in the fashion industry, mostly in communications and marketing, in 2011 she began developing what was to become Larke Optics. The plan was to make stylish, timeless hand-made glasses at a reasonable price. ‘I knew what I wanted to achieve and the urge was big enough. I was convinced there was a gap in the market for this.’

Essential to the whole business was locating the right workshop to hand-make the frames. It took over a year but she eventually found a small family-run business with over 50 years’ experience and a vast archive of shapes and acetates, which could provide the skills, inspiration and the highest quality raw materials. ‘That’s the amazing thing about being there, just delving into their acetates archive. There’s no colour, print, pattern, mottle that’s not possible.’

Nicholson talks fluently through the process of making a pair
of glasses: first, each of the frame parts are cut from a sheet of acetate, then milled by hand to a designed shape. The front of the frame is then mounted on a jig and the groove for the lens to sit in is routed. The front panel is shaped further, nose pads are added and the bridge is bumped, before each arm is branded with a hot, gold, foil stamp logo. The temples are injected
with hot metal to add more strength to the frame. The arms are then hinged to the front of the glasses and finally the whole frame is polished.

‘I design the glasses and choose the acetates but it’s their craftsmanship that achieves the finished product,’ says Nicholson. ‘It’s been great to learn about how they are made. And to witness the workshop; the energy from people who have honed their trade, seeing them enjoying what they do and being really passionate about it. I’m using their knowledge and skill and learning so much.’ As we talk, it’s easy to note the obvious pride Nicholson feels in bringing to market a product that differentiates itself from its mass-produced counterparts by its subtle details.

In her Bloomsbury studio, the first collection is laid out across simple glass shelves and the desk below it. Nicholson picks up a pair and studies them intently. ‘I wanted to keep the handmade aesthetic quite raw so we haven’t over-polished the glasses. Not so moulded, almost crude, especially with the arms, which we decided to not even shape.’

The frames that Nicholson herself is wearing today are called Radus, and there’s another six shapes in 12 different colours from black and tortoiseshell to the more unusual midnight blue, smoke grey and pastel pink. ‘I really enjoy seeing people put them on; it’s interesting to see how they react. They try them on and go, “Oh no! I couldn’t wear them!” or, “Ooh! They look lovely!” And to see what suits different skin colours, hair colour and eyes,’ she says.

‘There are a couple of shapes that are leaning towards the more feminine and a couple more masculine. However, I’d like to think that they’re pretty genderless. And actually great girls have bought the more heavy masculine styles and guys, well, one guy went for this one [she points to the pastel pink frames] in the larger frame and he looked fabulous!’

larkeoptics.com

Words Julia Jarvis, Photography Jon Cardwell