I got my first pair of glasses when I was four-years-old and I remember it like it was yesterday. They were a large pair, aviator-style, and from the in-house boutique at Wal-Mart. They covered half my face and my bowl-cut covered the rest. Most of my grade school photos still show me rocking those frames. They were peak 1990’s style and I remember them fondly.
Since then, I have tried a lot of styles of frames. I went with a wayfarer style when I was living in Italy. Then I tried the browline style when I wanted to appear academic. I’m sure there were a few round frames that creeped in during my Harry Potter years. With each iteration of my personality and interests, my glasses were the first thing to reflect these changes.
But, let’s be honest, most optometrists – Wal-Mart or otherwise – keep a pretty limited selection. And if it’s not limited, the styles are pretty conservative. And not just that, as with anything that’s produced on a large scale, the quality can sometimes be all over the place.
For me and my prescription, I need to get glasses every year; so I’ve had a lot of time to research glasses. And in my time buying frames, I’ve found out that while, yes, going to the mall may be the convenient option, it isn’t always going to give you the best styles. Large-scale industries don’t always have the adaptability to follow trends as they are occurring due to their production volume. Or, alternatively, some brands simply don’t want to risk stocking a new style or colorway as it may not appeal to a wide audience, so they stick with the basics: black, blue, metal, plastic. Options are limited to protect the bottom line.
But an indie eyewear brand isn’t necessarily tethered to that same philosophy. These brands are able to offer a variety of more stylized lenses in a larger array of materials, often bespoke or artisanal. They don’t just look better than more corporate, big-business lenses, but they feel better too.
Rose & Co.
A newcomer on the market, Rose & Co. was founded in Southern California by David Rose, a veteran in the eyewear industry. Rose & Co.’s glasses feature classic shapes and color pairings, with an emphasis on acrylic frames that put design-forward engineering into every pair. Currently, the brand has nine styles, each with their own personality that lies somewhere between American classic and European subtlety.
Erker’s 1879 is an all-around American brand that has maintained its credibility as a top-quality independent eyewear brand for an impressive 144 years. Founded in St. Louis, the brand is still headquartered there and has been kept in the family for five generations. Those credentials alone make it worthy of this list.
But Erker’s 1879 isn’t just a company with a good story to tell; it’s a damn good eyewear brand, too. With options that fit any face type and multiple color options for each frame, it really comes down to one simple question with this brand, “How many is too many pairs of glasses?”
Jacques Marie Mage
Jacques Marie Mage is really a fashion-man’s brand and there’s nothing wrong with that. Incorporating elements of French New Wave and a little bit of punk heritage, Jacques Marie Mage takes inspiration from art, film, and literature to create some of the most covetable frames around. Part of that success comes from its founder, Jerome Mage’s philosophy on designing frames. For Mage, glasses aren’t just an accessory to enhance your eyesight; instead, it’s a totally unique sensorial experience. Because of this, everything down to the smell of the lenses when they’re put on is considered. You’re not going to find that level of detail at your local Lenscrafters, I can tell you that.
Lohause is a Portuguese brand that looks to historical figures in politics, film, and literature to create their unique, vintage-y frames. Portugal’s reputation for high-quality manufacturing isn’t lost when it comes to frames, as the quality of Lohause hits way above its price. With its use of high-quality acetate, the vibrant colors really shine through with Lohause and bring new life to their otherwise traditional styles.
O.P.R. is an Italian brand (with a beautiful Manhattan store) that focuses on producing sustainable glasses at a transparent price. Their frames are handcrafted in small batch productions, making each one feel rare and special. O.P.R.’s frames range from traditional to bold with an emphasis on vibrant color options which create some pretty fantastic outcomes.
What Switzerland is to watches and Italy is to pens, Japan is to eyewear. I had to make sure I included a Japanese brand on this list, and right now I’m really digging Say-oH. The glasses are handmade in Sanjo, Japan and each design shows the quality and consideration taken into every aspect of the frame. Somehow, the designs reflect both a traditional sensibility and a very modern interpretation of glasses, making each pair unique in its own way without being too flashy or ostentatious.
L.G.R. is as much an eyewear brand as it is a lifestyle brand. Their frames have been worn by Prince William, Gigi Hadid, and Tom Cruise, making them a status symbol and a damn good pair of glasses all in one. The brand is inspired by Africa with touches of Italian elegance, so you get a great mixture of subtle beauty and grace, making these a timeless option for anyone. And don’t let that celebrity pedigree discourage you. L.G.R.’s frames are still pretty affordable, priced similarly to some Ray-Bans or Ralph Lauren styles.