General Eyewear: bespoke and ready-made glasses, Camden

Tuesday, March 7th 2017
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Note: General Eyewear now has a store in Soho as well as the Camden HQ - details here.

General Eyewear has historically been a source of vintage inspiration for glasses, supplying designer brands and costume designers.

But as it has starting selling its own products, the Camden house has become a strong source for English-made glasses - both ready-to-wear (from £350) and bespoke (from £450).

[Note: since the writing of this post, General Eyewear have introduced a much more involved, original-design bespoke service that starts at £650, while handmade ready-to-wear based on existing frames, with the option of a custom colour or finish, is £450]

You would be forgiven for being put off by General Eyewear’s public face.

The website is deliberately basic, and both site and social media prioritise unusual, whimsical designs - as is perhaps inevitable for a vintage house known for the scope of its collection.

The location in Camden’s Stables Market is also rather off the beaten path.

But it’s worth the trip.

For as soon as one of the staff starts taking you through the collection, you realise there is the potential there to create anything - from the most conservative tortoiseshell panto to the most esoteric horn rims.

And in my experience of commissioning bespoke glasses, that guidance is crucial.  

For I would argue there is a smaller margin for error with glasses than with any other item of menswear. Literally a millimetre too wide, or the lugs a millimetre too low, and the effect can be significantly changed.

There is also the greatest danger of being too adventurous, or dandyish.

For while there is room in the wardrobe for rarely worn tailoring - an ivory-silk dinner jacket, or a super-heavy winter overcoat - few of us swap our glasses around to achieve particular ‘looks’. They have to be versatile.

So you need a knowledgeable guide, and it helps a lot if you can work from existing models. Just as with bespoke tailoring, this is the easiest way to control the risk.

General Eyewear started out as a vintage clothing company in 1997, under the name of Arckiv.

The owner, Fraser Laing, was passionate about both but quickly found there was more of a gap in the market for glasses (plus they were lighter to carry around).

At the turn of the millennium, there was a lot of focus on designer ranges of frames - and the likes of John Galliano or Alexander McQueen would come by looking for inspiration.

In 2008, the company moved into a bigger, more permanent space in Stables Market, and renamed itself General Eyewear (retaining ‘Arckiv’ for clothing).

(They made the frames for the two films below - 'Charlie & The Chocolate Factory' and 'The Theory of Everything')

As demand for vintage glasses grew, Fraser and the team started making their own versions of old frames, as well as bespoke.

Go into the shop today, and the new General Eyewear lines are almost indistinguishable from the old pieces stored away in drawers.

Because there is so much focus on design, the team rarely work in buffalo horn or other unusual materials. Acetate just has so much greater potential to be shaped and re-shaped.

(As I’ve found with my buffalo glasses from Bourgeat, which really need some changes to the arms and bridge, but cannot be adjusted that far.)

General Eyewear do, however, collect vintage acetates - and browsing through those can be as much fun as looking through vintage cloths.

Indeed in our pop-up store, Elliot from General Eyewear found it interesting how many parallels there were between their use of vintage acetates and Fox’s vintage cloths.

“And there were a lot of parallels with the artisans used by Codis Maya,” commented Elliot. “We both use small workshops or single, semi-retired makers around the UK, and none of them are training anyone. There’s no fresh blood coming in.”

General Eyewear are in the pop-up shop until Saturday, March 11th, with both ready-made stock and bespoke availability.

After that you can track them down in Camden.

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

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Adam Jones

Initially General Eyewear were one of the two things I was not interested in seeing despite being a glasses wearer (The other was Cordis as I never wear cufflinks)
I have seen them online and initially thought the designs I saw were a bit crazy and fashion forward, also bespoke glasses tend to be vastly expensive with expensive lens options. I was very wrong and has actually turned out to be one of the best discoveries at the store.
The quality is amazing and the cost is not that much above Tom ford, Oliver peoples etc. for vastly better quality. They are also very flexible with colour options for existing designs. Elliot also told me that if you go bespoke for £450 that design is held forever so I can have a pair remade in a different colour for the standard price of £350. It’s like paying for a bespoke last with your first pair of shoes, and subsequent pairs being cheaper.
The other big selling point for me is the cost of lenses which most people do not account for. I have terrible eye sight and have extreme thinning to my lenses. This can be done for only £100 (1.74 or only £50 for 1.67) this actually make a pair from GE very good value for such good quality.

ChrisH

450 pounds for bespoke eyewear of quality is fantastic value. Thanks for sharing.

Jeldrik

Dear Mr. Crompton,

in a comment (on a different subject) you said that one should avoid designer glasses (for example, from Luxottica) “at all costs” – Especially because of their big profit margins.
Because it fits the topic, I wanted to ask you if you can recommend a small selection of brands which make good sunglasses?

Best regards
Jeldrik

PS: Thank you for your time and energy making this blog possible. As a young reader I really enjoy learning more about classical menswear!

Phil

On balance then Simon, given the problems with adjustment you mentioned, would you still recommend buffalo from Bourgeat? BTW, I have been impressed with The Eye Company in Wardour Street – who I believe have their own range in natural materials.

john

Interesting article as ever Simon. Isn’t it sad that “young blood” isn’t moving into the bespoke area. I know governments have been pressing home the advantages of young people going on a apprenticeship and you would think bespoke would be an area where they could flourish. However with recent figures showing up to 50% never complete the training in all apprenticeships I guess smaller (which is a lot of bespoke) companies must be very wary of investing time and money in people who then drop out. Is this just a UK problem or do the French and Italians have the same sort of problems?

Brian Mc Ginn

I’ve been designing and hand-making eyewear in London for just over ten years. How much bespoke work I take on has always depended on how busy I am with projects designing for other brands, but I think the slow take up by young people to get involved in handmaking eyewear has turned a corner.

As with a lot of industries, not least brewing and errrr wooden spoon making (really… Didn’t see that one coming…) attention is being turned towards provenance of product. The internet has blown the lid off retail structures and provided a transparency that has always been lacking in the eyewear industry. This lack of transparency has always hidden massive margins enjoyed by the retailer. So now, discerning, customers want to know what they’re really getting for their 450 – 650 quid. They could get an acetate Tom Ford frame made in China for a total of $24 (at the higher end) cost price to Marcolin (licensed to produce Tom Ford eyewear) or they could spend their £450 and have their face measured, choose their acetate colours, sit for prototype fittings and eventually take reciept of a fully custom frame made to their specification by someone who’s not exploiting a cheap labour force and who’s charging a reasonable and sustainable price for their craft, expertise and service.

Recently I’ve bought a small manufacturing facility with a view to setting up and provide apprenticeships in eyewear manufacturing here in London. If anyone here is interested in supporting or getting involved in such a venture please get in touch.

Brian Mc Ginn
https://www.linkedin.com/in/brian-mc-ginn-115a329/
Instagram: BONAFIDEMCGINN

CJ

I would say my biggest problem is still getting decent independent advice about what is the best pair that suits my face and can transition from the office to the street. Find me a shop that can provide that and I will be their customer for years!

Are you still a fan of Cutler and Gross Simon?

Jay

Hi Simon,

Have you tried either Algha Works/Savile Row or Lindgerg’s MTM eyewear? I usually wear metal glasses and was wondering about your take on them.

Anonymous

Hi Simon

With your General Eyewear glasses, was your face measured as part of the process? Does bespoke always involve this? Or is it a case of picking up an existing pair and making adjustments? Also, did you have an interim fitting?

Thanks.

Anonymous

How did they measure your face? With callipers? I assume width of your face and distance between pupils?

Paul

General Eyewear claim to offer a bespoke service. Unfortunately, my experience demonstrated they clearly do not. Back in 2016 I purchased a pair of their Ostrander tortoiseshell frames complete with essilor varifocal lenses.
In April 2022 having been pleased with my original pair, I decided I wanted to purchase a second pair, this time with the Ostrander frame in a high gloss black finish. I travelled from Leicestershire to General Eyewear’s store in Camden. They explained that they didn’t have the frame in stock as it was now discontinued, but could get it bespoke made for me. They had the specification from the original pair I had purchased (exactly the same frame) but said they would like to take measurements of my existing frame while I was in store. I waited patiently while they took my glasses out back to take the important measurements. I paid £825 up front and left looking forward to returning to collect them.
On 28th May I once again travelled from Leicestershire to Camden to collect my new frames. Unfortunately, the frames didn’t fit, not even close. They were far too wide across the bridge, the width of the frame was too wide and the arms were the wrong width for my head. Hence the frames would not stay in place and just slipped down and forward on my face.
Fabio, the store manager assured me this was not a problem and took them from me and proceeded to heat and bend the frames in an attempt to get them to fit.
This was not successful and certainly not acceptable on what was supposed to be a bespoke order and service paid for in full in advance.
Whilst I understood there may be a need to make some minor adjustments when I arrived to collect them, I was staggered just how far away they were from fitting.
On closer inspection it was clear that whilst at first glance they appeared to be the same frame they were far from it. They had different hinges and the quality was inferior.
Whilst Fabio offered to get another frame, the fact that :
1 .. they got the specification/fit so wrong the first time.
2 .. it involved another trip from Leicestershire to London (a third trip) at my expense.
3 .. at no point did they apologise for the obvious poor fitting of the frame or take responsibility for it.
4 .. they were not prepared to compensate me for my incurred costs and inconvenience.
5 .. they asked me to leave my existing glasses with them to assist them in replicating the specification on redoing the frames. I couldn’t do this as I need them daily, including for driving, but that aside, why would they need this when they already supposedly had the specification of my original pair, and had again taken measurements of them on my previous visit to the store?
I decided to ask for a full refund as I had no confidence that they were going to supply the bespoke service and quality product they had said they would and that I had paid for. Fabio reluctantly processed a full refund and I left the store to travel back to Leicestershire very disappointed.
General Eyewear is a cool store, with a great selection of vintage eyewear, and also offers some great new designs in frames. If you want standard fit frames they are great, but if you want the bespoke fitting frame that they claim to offer you will be bitterly disappointed.
I would of loved to leave a positive review but they made it impossible for me to do so.

ML Santorsola

Paul.
I am in the market for new glasses and was considering bespoke glasses. I was going to check and see if General Eyewear has a store here in NYC. Never heard of them prior to reading comments in this site.
Thanks for your insight of the poor service that you received buying bespoke glasses at GE. Happy to read that at least you got your refund back.

James

Hi Simon, all
Have you heard anything about general eyewear recently – I think the Soho store has closed and, whilst I fully appreciate you should take this with a pinch of salt, there are some awful reviews on google for customers in 2024 who have purported to have paid upfront without receiving anything.
thanks in advance.