L’Ingénieur Chevallier MTO eyewear – and good opticians in general

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While in Paris at the beginning of the year, I was told about an eyewear brand that was offering something that sits between ready-to-wear and bespoke. That’s a theme, by the way, that I think we'll be returning to  in the second half of this year. 

The brand was L’Ingénieur Chevallier, an old name that had been bought by bespoke opticians Maison Bonnet, with the idea of turning it into something different. Their concept was to create an optician that was more accessible (and cheaper, and quicker) than their bespoke, but which pushed the craftsmanship of ready-made as far as it could go. 

So, the frames come in multiple sizes rather than just one, making it easier to fit one to someone’s face. The staff that fit the glasses are trained by Maison Bonnet (by general reputation, and in my experience, one of the best bespoke houses in the world). And the frames can all be extensively adjusted on site - not just heating and bending the arms, but shaving down and reshaping the nose pad, for example. 

Most of this doesn’t happen anywhere else. Ready-made frames don’t usually come in several different sizes, and adjustments are usually limited to that arm-bending. It pushes the service into a space above normal RTW. 

It’s also I think a good excuse to talk about the reduced quality of eyewear service generally, which often gets ignored. 

A lot of people wear glasses that don’t fit them. The bend in the arm - that should fit snugly around the ear - is too far forward and they’re constantly pushing them up their nose. Or the nose fit is poor, and so they have welts underneath. 

How the frame suits someone's face is more subtle, but still basics are frequently wrong - like being able to see their eyes without the frame getting in the way. It’s an interesting area and one we should cover more at some stage; the kind of thing I feel a PS reader values understanding. 

A reason behind some of these issues, I think, is the growth of cheaper eyewear companies. Some of these are online, others have stores, but even in stores the staff often aren’t that well trained. I’ve been into a few with friends where the staff offered no advice at all, except how to spread the payments.

There are still some very good opticians around, and in fact that’s another area we should cover, because these tend to be single, local shops rather than brands, and so get less attention. A list of good ones in major cities (perhaps with the assistance of readers) could be useful. 

My visit to the Pyramides branch of L’Ingénieur Chevallier brought a lot of these thoughts bubbling up, because the service was good. 

The manager was happy to not just give advice, but explain how and why it made sense, which I know PS geeks would love. For example, the point that every face has a natural frame that eyewear plays around, formed by the eyebrows, the side of the nose, the top of the cheekbone and the outer edge of the eye socket. 

And there’s a discussion we're all familiar with of what compliments the shape of one's face - familiar because of how we talk about it in relation to shirt collars, hats or other menswear that sits around the face. 

I have a long and oval face, for example, with precious few sharp angles. It's why a more angled beard suits me, and it’s why I should avoid ‘smiling’ frames - those with a very rounded outside-bottom corner. 

I tried out the service at L’Ingénieur Chevallier, and after much to-and-fro, ended up getting the 'Louis' sunglasses pictured above. 

There is, of course, much more leeway with sunglasses than optical frames, because the eyes are hidden. But some frames still suit people more or less - most frames are too wide for my relatively narrow face, for example. 

This is particularly relevant because the trend in sunglasses is for what the manager called ‘main player’ frames - large, bold shapes intended to make an impact. This trend can lead to people getting oversized frames that overpower their face. 

The glasses cost €790, which is a lot, but a lot less than Bonnet’s bespoke. Given these came from a range designed by Bonnet, were made in the same workshop, and were fitted and adjusted by someone trained by them, you can see it as good value. 

Or at least I did, given that the whole conversation started because I went into Bonnet ready to splurge on a pair of bespoke sunglasses to follow my bespoke opticals from a few years ago. 

A few other things that will likely appeal to PS readers are that L’Ingénieur Chevallier only carries frames they can adjust in-house and repair in-house. So they can also adjust the wire-framed designs from Gernot Lindner, and they don’t use materials like wood that can’t be adjusted. 

They also don’t carry frames with logos on them, and they emphasise that repairs and maintenance are part of the value of the frames - so they should be brought back into the store regularly. 

Unfortunately, at the moment L’Ingénieur Chevallier only has stores in Paris (two of them). But if anyone is in the city I recommend visiting, and perhaps there will be another somewhere soon. 

I haven’t covered anything of the history of L’Ingénieur Chevallier, by the way, which is a weird one. Making frames for Louis XV, and installing a giant thermometre outside the shop to showcase the value of scientific progress, for example. More on that here

For other pieces on eyewear over the years, including my various forays into bespoke, see the ‘Glasses and Jewellery’ section of PS 

You can also read a little about my journey with eyewear, and what Frank Bonnet thought of my slightly eclectic collection. That was a fun piece. 

The shirt pictured is a PS Oxford in pink/white stripe

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Dimitriy

It would be helpful to cover how to choose beards and glasses (shape, dimension, and color). Many people drift into path dependence from suboptimal initial choices.

Matthew

My first ever bespoke commission was for a pair of glasses with Cubitts. I’ve worn glasses my whole life and Cubitts was the first optician I’d ever seen to offer frames in different sizes. Once I realised that all other glasses I’d ever worn were only available in one size and that I wouldn’t have to push them back up my nose every few minutes for 16 hours a day (about 70,000 times a year!) if they fitted correctly I was sold on the idea.

Most customers who used the bespoke service at Cubitts wanted a wacky shape or colour whereas I just wanted a better fit. I suspect I was a tricky client because I had no strong views as to the design or colour but the designer was very helpful and I could be wearing this pair for the next 20 years if the shape or width of the top bit of my nose doesn’t change. I paid about £750 in April 2018.

Tom

Thanks Simon. I’d certainly appreciate more articles on eyewear in general, and a guide to good stores in particular.

Is there anywhere you’d currently recommend (for RTW in particular) in London? Meyrowitz maybe?

Boris

Hi Simon, looks great! But was wondering if you have any vintage eyewear recommendations anywhere in Europe? As I don’t exactly know what I want and feel like browsing through vintage frames always inspires me. (Apologies if you already have an article on that, but my search function couldn’t find anything immediately) thanks!

Boris

No worries! I think I do like it because it gives a wider variety of styles… but also just a certain look which is sometimes a bit bolder or at the same time more refined / more sensitive frames.
As well as the uniqueness you can acquire after the hunt of something you didn’t know you were looking for and is unfindable after the acquisition (to a certain degree). I think that’s something I find quite satisfying with vintage in general.

Charles.

In London I’d suggest General Eyewear in the Stables Market in Camden. They have frames covering two centuries and also make frames, I’ve never purchased anything from them but would always look in when I was visiting the market.

Paul

I buy my glasses from them. They’re the best value for money in London tbh – frames and quality of lens.

I think they’re doing just fine, but not been in for a bit. So much easier to run one store well (hard to scale the depth of their knowledge) so sensible choice imo.

Philip

These sunglasses look great on you.
I’ve tried a few makers over the years. One that I would highly recommend people avoid is Tom Davies. Terrible, terrible service. They completely buggered up my order and then refused to refund me, offering me a second pair instead, which wasn’t much better.

William

Ever considered laser eye surgery, Simon?

Phillip

Even laser eye surgery won’t remove the need for readers when one starts to develop presbyopia, a nasty surprise to people after laying out all the cash for surgery to “free” them of specs.

As someone in the industry, despite the mountains of mundane options in the market, I do enjoy meeting customers and suppliers who use eyewear as an extension of their wardrobe. Sadly all too rare.

Tom in New Hampshire USA

I can’t emphasize enough how important the service aspect is. In Newburyport, Massachusetts, a small coastal town north of Boston, is a single location optical shop, Market Square Optical. There is no parking, the town is crowded in tourist season, it’s not even very big. It was run for decades by a single proprietor, who has recently retired and sold the business to his staff. But his clientele was and is varied and loyal, and the service beyond compare. Tradesmen would come in for glasses they wore and needed to replace every 90 days from hard use, as well as concert pianists needing a particular focal point, and everyone else in between. No bespoke, but very particular care. Wide selection, including sizes, and highly individualized recommendations on shape, color, size, finish on lenses, and, of course, fit. This type of outlet is a treasure. I’ve been a customer for nearly thirty years.

Kristian

I noticed that you had mentioned them in the Paris shopping guide, and as I am going there this Autumn it peaked my interest. I appreciate that you have now followed up with a more in depth article on them. Since I read your article on Maison Bonnet I’ve been thinking about getting something like this. My nose ridge is high and wide so always a bit difficult to find something that fits well.

The lenses thought I would prefer to get from my optician. Do you know if they provide only frames, or are you expected to get lenses from them as well? And what is the price for a frame?

JR

Hi Simon, are your lenses plastic or glass ?
I have tried to contact Chevallier, no joy, been days now, are they OK with English or are they very heavily French-only comms ? Thanks.

AK

Any suggestions (from our host or other folks) as to quality brands that can accommodate my unusually large head? I recently went to a good optician but found myself in the awkward position of only being able to physically fit one style in the store.

Tom in New Hampshire USA

LaFont offers 54mm frames. I purchase mine from a menswear store in Charleston, South Carolina.

Antoine

very interesting, thank you Simon. I’ll be in Paris next month so I’ll definitely stop by. If you want another option in Paris, I have been a loyal customer from “Les Lunettes du Pont Neuf” for years. Excellent service and selection of frames (Jacques Marie Mage, etc.)

JR

Hi Simon,
These are nice frames, are the lenses glass or plastic please ? Thanks,.

AA

The most comfortable and best looking glasses on me have been the soupcans from the Italian brand called Tavat ( have 3 pais). I have also liked Theo and Rigards

Michael

Hi Simon, thank you once again for this highly detailed article !
An address I would recommend if you look forward to deep-diving into the Parisian-spectacle scene is Coffignon, located rue Malesherbes.
To my rememberance, they used to tailor former French Presidents’ glasses, including François Mitterrand and Charles de Gaulle, and offer MTM as well as bespoke frames.
Customer care is top-notch (you can ask for Sidney, whose expertise is outstanding!)

JR

Hi Michael, Coffignon, lovely frames, do they provide comms in English , their site appears to be strictly French unless I have missed something . Thanks

Alex

The space between made to measure and bespoke is an interesting one to explore. I was first introduced to the notion in reference to JMM in Paris. Hope to leaen more about it! Alex.

Otto

I just visited the store and bought an acetate frame. The service is very good, also in English. I loved the variety of styles which also fit my face shape.