Design Essay: Reimagined Originals

The bestselling 1391 Optical as seen above in Black on Blue – exemplifies how we borrow from our own extensive archives; this frame is a reimagined version of a signature Cutler and Gross design with influences from 1950s American acetates found in Graham Cutler’s personal archive.

Drawing inspiration from the Cutler and Gross design archive which spans over five decades, we continuously reimagine our original glasses and sunglasses to suit the faces and lifestyles of a modern audience.

Reimagined Originals, the latest in our Design Essay series, explores the art of reimagining and exactly what it takes to make a classic.

Words by Leanne Cloudsdale

Our post-industrial world is filled to the brim with manufactured ‘stuff’. Most of it was invented to solve some kind of problem – the rest barely graces the planet without being flung into landfill. The ‘stuff’ that sticks around tends to be built to last and on closer inspection, seems to possess a very specific quality. The magic seems to happen when there’s genuine harmony between structure, balance, order and flair. All of them falling into place with the right tempo and the right materials, all at the right time. 

We refer to this type of ‘stuff’ with great fondness and define it as a ‘classic’. We surround these ‘classics’ with a protective forcefield, afraid that one day, they’ll cease to exist – or worse still, be augmented by someone who doesn’t truly appreciate their cultural significance. Londoners were in uproar when the capital’s beloved red Routemaster buses were taken out of circulation in 2005 and replaced by ‘bendy buses’ that were unanimously hated. The powers-that-be listened (eventually) and were kind enough to introduce a reimagined, slightly safer version of the old favourite. Sometimes, we concede that by gently and sympathetically improving a ‘classic’ we can in fact, prolong its life. 

Here in the 21st century, there are inventors, artists, engineers, musicians, scientists, tech wizards and designers all vying to leave their mark before shuffling off this mortal coil. Original ideas are endlessly prototyped, perfected and produced. Some end up in the history books, some in museums, others shine brightly with the odd enhancement here and there. Redefining the classics takes serious confidence. The original DNA has to remain recognisable, but with an improved mechanism or modern sheen. 

“Cutler and Gross take a similar tactic. What makes their ‘classics’ stand out in the optical world, is how they unify past style success with present techniques. They take inspiration from their big hitters and then evolve the frame to suit the faces and lifestyles of a modern audience.”

Take hip hop music for example; it brings all the sweet treats of gentle soul music and forces us to focus on the riff, with the bonus of street-life stories laid over the top. This real-time poetry connects magically to the melody of the blues – it arrests the senses, refreshes the beat, allows us to appreciate the classics of the past with a brand-new rap component. 

The Fiat 500 is another brilliant example of a carefully updated classic. It kept the compact cartoon-car characteristics of the 1957 Cinquecento, but this time around, the engine sits under the front bonnet – as opposed to being pushed in the boot. This adaptation gives the car 4 seats instead of the previous 2, whilst not changing the vehicle’s inimitable ‘bubble’ silhouette. By being sympathetic to the original design, Fiat were able to improve on the mid-century version without deleting the soul of its predecessor. 

Cutler and Gross take a similar tactic. They’ve been doing what they do for over five decades now, so just imagine (if you will) the size of their archive! It’s filled with frames that chart all the highs (and lows) of the last half century’s fashions. What makes their ‘classics’ stand out in the optical world, is how they unify past style success with present techniques. They take inspiration from their big hitters and then evolve the frame to suit the faces and lifestyles of a modern audience.

The strength and expertise to adapt is something Alessandro Marcer, Creative Director at  Cutler and Gross is only too happy to talk about. Speaking about how Cutler and Gross frames have managed to steer clear of looking like cookie-cutter replicas of the past, he explained, “It’s all about shape, attitude, and style. We tweak – we reimagine – we review dimensions. The only thing we’ll take from the archive is the initial concept: the look, the boldness and the surface details. We study it closely and from then on, it’s all about modern techniques, the frame must represent today and tomorrow. 

“The only thing we’ll take from the archive is the initial concept: the look, the boldness and the surface details. We study it closely and from then on, it’s all about modern techniques, the frame must represent today and tomorrow.”

Alessandro Marcer – Creative Director, Cutler and gross

There has to be fit and balance, Frames need to flatter whoever is wearing them, even if the frame is more eccentric in design. Anything ‘out of balance’ must be on purpose but still be functional and wearable. Physiology is also a factor – as humans, we are getting bigger and taller and I have to take this into consideration as a designer of optical frames. For the past ten years I’ve been looking at the bridge fit on the nose. In an industry that feels quite conservative, there has always been a lot of resistance to bigger bridge fit. We need to accept that our bodies are changing.”

Many glasses wearers might not be aware that their non-Cutler and Gross frames are in fact, an ode to a C&G classic (in other words – a copy). So many of their styles have seamlessly slipped into popular culture without so much as a tag or a credit. Classic, iconic, whatever you want to call them, these shapes we take for granted are in circulation thanks to Cutler and Gross. With a nod, he concludes, “Our silhouettes have been copied a lot, so it is really important we keep certain specific details that make our frames authentically Cutler and Gross. We build on a classic, but make it better, more complex. We like to hide our uniqueness and allow our customers and the opticians to discover and understand – the level of polish we introduce to the fender temple, hidden within the frame. God really is in the details!”

There’ll be a common thread that connects the clothes we wear, to the car we drive, to the way we decorate our living spaces. Glasses, like the food we choose, the books we read and the shoes on our feet – they’re the cultural signifiers that tell the world, nonverbally, a lot about who we are (or who we’d like to be). A Cutler and Gross classic frame isn’t so much a statement piece of facial furniture, but rather a spectacular remix of all the best bits they’ve designed from the past. 

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Press Play | soundVISION 0008 | Reimagined Originals

A selection of killer covers that tweak, twist and transform the originals.