A conversation with: Claire Goldsmith (Oliver Goldsmith Eyewear)

January 01, 2017

A conversation with: Claire Goldsmith (Oliver Goldsmith Eyewear)

So Claire, I know this has been in the pipeline for some time so thank you so much for meeting with us. We know you have an incredibly busy schedule but for our first interview we could think of no one else we wanted to feature and talk to.

Wow! we're sitting here with the great granddaughter of who, in our opinion and of many others, is the most influential and visionary eyewear designer of all time. How does it feel to have that association? 

I am extremely proud to be a 4thgeneration Goldsmith running this family business, and I’m also proud to be related to someone who helped create the accessory that is ‘eyewear’. This is fast becoming a saturated market with hundreds of new brands pouring in each year. I am happy to be heading up the oldest of them all. A true British heritage brand and purist eyewear company.

What does the Oliver Goldsmith name mean to you?

To me it’s a name that represents British innovation and creativity set alongside heritage. Oliver Goldsmith is a brand with a story, a narrative and a reason for being. It’s a brand that help change the way people thought about glasses – from medical necessity to fashion accessory. It’s a name that people associate with quality and craftsmanship. It’s a company that people trust and it means everything to me to ensure that whilst its under my steer we stay close to those core values.

The company stopped manufacturing for some time. Why was that? 

The 1970’s saw a real surge in licensing business models and brands like Gucci and Prada became available on more affordable accessories such as sunglasses. Consumers rushed to get their hands on all the branded designer goods they had been aspiring to buy but could never afford. This demand for brands for a time, killed the demand for a quirky independent British company like OG. In 1986 manufacturing stopped and remained stopped until 2006 when I relaunched the brand and the production of Oliver Goldsmith Sunglasses! A 20 year hiatus had been just the medicine! Consumers had tired of obnoxious overbearing logos on their person and had started to look for individuality once again. Que Oliver Goldsmith! With a small PR budget and an archive of over 2000 OG designs – the British eyewear brand from London re-emerged and we haven’t looked back since!

We are always asked what is our favourite brand. We always answer Oliver Goldsmith for various reasons. One because of how he revolutionised the eyewear industry as we know it today and two, because we love the use of different materials and avant-garde designs. How does this fit in with your vision of Oliver Goldsmith in the 21st Century? 

I plan to stay true to that heritage, but it’s important that we also bring a fresh aesthetic to the brand that is in keeping with a classic timeless look but unmistakably created today. A fine balance between old and new.

We will continue to work with all manner of materials from wood to horn to acetate to even 3D printing – I imagine my Grandfather would have delighted in the world of 3D printing!!!

You decided to relaunch the company in 2006 
a) what were you doing before that?  
b) what made you decide to relaunch it?

I studied marketing at Manchester University, and in my final year I specialized in heritage brands and why a heritage brand was so captivating. It occurred to me that I had a heritage brand in my family that was dormant and I decided there and then that I wanted to re-launch it. I graduated in 1999 and went into the workplace on the advice of my uncle. He pointed out that I couldn't possibly run a company having never had a real job. I worked in two different big blue-chip companies learned all I could learn as quickly as I could and after six years of that ‘work experience’ I re-launched Oliver Goldsmith. Good job. Running a company is way more complicated than I imagined – those early years of work were essential for the success so this venture.

 

It's incredible to think that this is the companies 90th Birthday and the heritage is still going strong. Why do you think that is? 

I think we are lucky and we are solid as a family and a solid company and I think that we also avoid trend driven designs and street towards more timeless classic designs which have enabled us to stay relevant.

Eyewear manufacturing at one point was very strong in England in the 50's and 60's with the likes of yourself, Algha and Michael Birch, who at one point employed anything up to 2000 people in Tunbridge Wells. For obvious reasons we know why the decline has happened but what would you say the future holds for British Makers? 

I think this has become a cottage industry now in the UK. That’s not a bad thing. It’s nice that there are pockets of people making frames in home workshops and small craftsman factories. But I don’t see this changing or reverting back to its former glory. Manufacturing on the continent and in Asia is just so good these days there is no need or real demand for factories in the UK since they will always be seen as overpriced compared to Europe and further afield with no true added value other than the prestige of ‘made in England’ label. Therefore I see eyewear made in England to remain a rare and lovely thing made by a few passionate craftsmen.

 

What made you start up the Claire Goldsmith range of eyewear? 

I had ideas I wanted to try out design-wise and they were not necessarily the kind of things that would fit under the OG aesthetic. So I decided to do them under my own name to give them their own identity. I was also a little worried that if I was not a good designer, I would taint the good OG name ;-) 

Eight seasons in and I am pleased to say that it’s all worked out fine and CG sits alongside OG quite happily – the granddaughter and the grandfather brand, him doing his thing her doing hers. One happy family.

 

Where does your inspiration for new designs come from? 

A lot comes from the archive mixed with things I see in everyday life for color and texture.

Why and what is the significance of the names used to name the models?

The names were names of friends and colleagues, names of women he liked, names of celebrities he admired, and in some cases just plain and simple LSD! ;-) 

 

In our showroom we have pictures around of the likes of Peter Sellers, Michael Caine and off course Audrey Hepburn, all wearing Oliver Goldsmith frames. These are off course iconic celebrities of that period. Which celebrities today are your biggest fans? 

I know that Kate Moss has a couple of pairs. I saw Kate Spade wearing her OG’s and she has her own eyewear collection so that’s always quite a compliment. Gigi Hadid was snapped in hers not so long ago.

 

What does the future hold for Oliver Goldsmith? 

If I knew that I’d be a rich woman ;-) Let’s just hope its bright!



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