Artist David Hockney, Credit: Frestonian Gallery
Twentieth century design culture has been shaped by the people who paint, write, invent and produce. Many of these individuals are icons in their own right. Some have faces synonymous with spectacles. Cutler and Gross have a long history of helping these trailblazers to see the world with 20:20 vision – and in turn, the individuals themselves end up becoming a source of inspiration for the creation of new optical styles. Introducing The Design Essays. A place where we explore our relationship with the muses on our moodboard.
Words by Leanne Cloudsdale
In a world where style feels increasingly homogenous, David Hockney offers welcome relief. His paintings, like his dress sense, are a source of guaranteed joy for me – and a break from the monochrome monotony of today’s aesthetic rulebook. He takes colour seriously whilst simultaneously managing to make it look effortless, easy and always inclusive. Human Prozac, he’s the ultimate mood boosting maverick. A straight-talking, chain-smoking icon who retains his edge and sense of cool, regardless of age. Nobody does it like Hockney.
Arguably Yorkshire’s finest export (he shares the podium with Alan Bennett), David Hockney grew up in Bradford. Born in 1937, it’s hard to imagine how dreary those northern skies must have seemed back then, loaded with the weight of industrial gunk. No wonder he tried to paint his way towards a brighter future. When some octogenarians are settling down with their slippers and late afternoon quiz show, Hockney’s exhibition schedule maintains momentum, with fresh work always emerging. Photography, digital drawings, iPad paintings or the traditional acrylic and canvas, his colour odyssey never stops.
This unwavering creative commitment also applies to his clothes, which have remained consistently ‘Hockney’ since his 1960s heyday. The beautifully mismatched rugby shirts (collars awry), flamingo pink sweatshirts and peroxide mop might have made way for washed-out pleat front slacks, slouchy cardigans, sluggish socks and a pipe these days, but one thing that’s remained a steady, identifiable part of his get-up is the glasses. He’s got one of those faces that you can’t quite imagine without them; we’ve all got that friend who looks like an entirely different person once they slip their specs off, and I suspect Hockney’s fizzog is pretty similar.
Folklore has it that he happened across those heavy framed, circular glasses in 1964. His pop art optical awakening took place in Iowa, when he strolled past them in the window of an opticians and felt compelled to go inside. Teamed with the unruly yellow Clairol bonce, those dense horn-rimmed spectacles encapsulated an era of Hockney that we associate with shimmering Californian swimming pools, bare sun-tanned (male) bums and peachy low-rise modernist homes. They were the exclamation mark his face needed to cement his individualist character into the minds of many.
It’s no surprise that he’s been a muse (and a customer) over at Cutler and Gross for decades. They, like him, are trailblazers in their respective fields. Always have been. Always will be. Many have mimicked, but never topped their authenticity or progressive thinking. It’s nice then, to see that Hockney is back on the moodboard again for Summer 2022, with the 1377 frame sitting comfortably alongside the vast range of tried and tested Cutler and Gross favourites.
As a glasses wearer who is averse to wearing anything other than white, navy, tan and khaki, I tried hard to unpick the link between colour and confidence. Together, they personify Hockney brilliantly, but as a classified wimp when it comes to hues, I struggle to fathom how to free myself from my tonal prison. To help me unravel the years of colour humdrum, I spoke to the artist and ceramicist John Booth, whose sophisticated spectrum of pastel paints, stylish squiggles and bold primary vitality have seen him collaborate with the likes of Fendi, Conran, Sunspel and Globetrotter (to name but a few).
I zipped over to his London studio and asked if he’d hold court on the topic. A long-time Hockney fan, he was happy to oblige and explained, “You can spot the Hockney inspired collections a mile off. There’s the colour blocking, the stripey tie, the sweatshirt over a shirt, a slightly crumpled mac and some trousers. It’s non-trend fashion, but that’s Hockney to a ‘T’. When something comes so easily to someone, you get a sense of timelessness. You register that they’re not taking cues from the era they’re in. They’re not reacting to fads, they’re just wearing exactly what they want to wear. Hockney obviously chooses his clothes pretty carefully, but it’s not contrived – it’s discerning.”
The characters we see in snaps taken in London during the so-called ‘swinging sixties’ look cartoonish and dated nowadays. Hockney though, wouldn’t look out of place mooching down Marylebone High Street today. John and I wonder if this all comes back to self-assurance.
Perhaps that’s the magic formula. Understand the rules before you break them, then pick your thing and stick to it. Certainly seems to have worked for the bottle blonde from Bradford.
Because even today, at 84 years old, nothing is off limits for David Hockney.