"The person who stayed the longest was Victoria Beckham. We closed the shop for her..."
An interview with the founder of Cutler & Gross, Marie Wilkinson
Even the most informed fashion experts will think twice when you ask them who Pierre-Alexis Dumas is. In fashion, like in every other business, you have those special creative minds who create from the shadows. Mr. Dumas is the artistic director of Hermès, the most luxurious fashion house of them all. What Mr. Dumas is in the world of pret-a-porter, Ms. Marie Wilkinson is in the world of eyewear.
Cutler & Gross, just like Hermès, is a silent but powerful force in design and superb quality. Ms. Wilkinson – as design director – creates bespoke, couture glasses and sunglasses with an extremely special touch: it takes four weeks to produce one pair.
Shy but charismatic Ms. Wilkinson with her signature bob haircut is a guide and advisor to the biggest creative names such as Victoria Beckham, Elton John and Rei Kawakubo. Even though these names come from completely different “backgrounds” they all seem to be connected by Ms. Wilkinson.
Just for Buro 24 / 7 Ms. Wilkinson sat down to exclusively talk about the only couture glasses in the world...
Can you tell me in two sentences what Cutler & Gross truly is?
Maybe one word is enough: luxury. Meaning the time that we take to make one pair of glasses. Luxury is not necessarily glamour. Luxury is in the details, a bespoke approach and those final polishing touches. We don't necessarily treat sunglasses as something "permanent" – let's say – in our closet. It's more about this season's model or next season's model.
I think people should buy them with their heart. Following the trend is often wrong because trend and style don’t speak the same language. You need to choose the glasses that suit you and your whole personality. They have to become a part of your look. Never think about them as an “add on”. Sunglasses can tell the world so much about you.
What is the average time frame it takes to make a pair of Cutler & Gross sunglasses?
Believe it or not each pair takes four weeks to make. There are a minimum of 42 different processes for each pair and they are all made in our own factory in Italy.
Basically Cutler & Gross sunnies are what the 'Birkin bag' is to handbags?
Absolutely. That is why we are unique in the field of eyewear.
You have an amazing archive and an army of celebrities and fashion designers on your tail. Who are the names that are often coming and going through archives? I know John Galliano was a regular one.
Well, the list is quite long. From Stella McCartney to Tom Ford. When we do a specific collaboration like we did with Erdem for example that's the first thing they ask – if they can visit the archive because it gives them inspiration. It's amazing how closely we work with them.
Out of all of the iconic fashion names going through your archive, do you have one experience that was the most interesting to you?
Each of them are such a specific individuals so I don't think it is possible to name one. I believe the person who stayed the longest was Victoria Beckham. We closed the shop for her because she went through every single frame, the whole afternoon.
''I believe the person who stayed the longest was Victoria Beckham. We closed the shop for her because she went through every single frame, the whole afternoon. ''
Is Victoria a good connoisseur of the sunglasses world? Does she know exactly what she wants?
She is so driven, curious and so self-educated that she is absolutely confident in what she wants to do. She almost became a real expert in this field and she works very closely with us.
You did a collaboration with two of the edgiest fashion houses in the world: Comme des Garcons and Maison Martin Margiela. Of course all of us in fashion are fascinated and almost obsessed with Rei Kawakubo – we know she is an enigma, and a press shy person who doesn't talk at all. What was your experience with working with Rei?
The way of communicating with Rei is quite simple – all you have to do to please her is to show her all the frames and especially the materials. That's how she works, she has to touch and feel everything. That evokes interest for her. She is very passionate. She doesn't talk a lot but she is very expressive in a subtle way and she has charming personality, she smiles and does get excited.
Were you ever in a situation where something was simply impossible to create or are you able to adapt to the idea no matter how radical it is?
Like you said more or less we are always able to adapt if both sides have the same vision. So I don't think the word 'impossible' exists in our atelier.
Even though Cutler & Gross is getting more attention from the general public and media it is still an extremely niche brand and I feel that's the thing you don't want to compromise. Its not like your are sending free pairs of sunglasses to celebrities or anything like that...
We have a very clear philosophy and the manufacturing is under our own control and it's literally like having your own laboratory that is so unique in the optical world. We approach every single pair of sunglasses we create with the same amount of attention.
"I don't think the word 'impossible' exists in our atelier."
How do you design the sunglasses? Talk to me through process. Do you start with the material or do you do sketches?
Materials can often be the starting point of inspiration. But ultimately you have to put it on the paper. So I do start with the sketch and then my team goes to a computer to do the technical drawings. We get inspired by people, never by a certain trend. For our next collections we are in a psychedelic mood – think the early stage of the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper and all of those characters from Einstein to Marilyn Monroe on the legendary cover of that album.
Which nation from your experience is truly obsessed with Cutler & Gross and glasses in general?
Definitely the Japanese. They are crazy about eyewear and they will even wear frames without glasses at all. For them it's about this bespoke object. We also opened a store in New York and we are always quietly building our little community of customers.
Do you have your favourite pair of sunglasses or you like to change them a lot?
I change them all the time. I revisit them and I also wear the new ones. I love wearing specific models with specific outfits – that at the end, truly speaks about your personality. I love to feel what we create.
Do you believe one should have two or three pairs of sunglasses?
I can't imagine having any less then two or three pairs. It's more than the shoe phenomena. You need them for different activities. According to your hair cut and also according to your mood. They truly have to speak to you and about you. For instance when you are choosing your glasses you should never look at the small mirror – always look at the big one where you can see your body, your proportion and your entire look. Then you can really feel them.
Do you remember the most expensive piece you ever produced in history of the brand?
I know it was for one client in Beijing who wanted glasses from buffalo horn, which is one of the most precious materials you can imagine. But, I must say material wise we never, ever use endangered species. That is against our principles.