In the London headquarters of spectacle makers, Cubitts, they have an amusingly titled Wall of Frame.
It features all of their many four-eyed celebrity fans, sporting their hip glasses. Among others, there’s Jay Blades from BBC programme The Repair Shop, Prue Leith, Stanley Tucci, Madonna, Steve Coogan, Hugh Grant and Alan Carr.
They also have a Wall of Shame, which currently only features, as the business founder and CEO, Tom Broughton, 41, says: “the guy who founded Cambridge Analytica”.
They hope nobody else will end up on it. “Like Michael Gove, or Boris Johnson”. Thankfully, Bo-Jo doesn’t seem to be a glasses wearer.
Now we can experience their chic specs and sunglasses, as this company, which has 15 branches, including ones in London, Brighton, Cambridge and Leeds, has just brought its custom fitted wares and eye tests to Scotland. There’s a new shop at Edinburgh’s 1 York Place and another at 88 West Bow.
The idea of an outpost in the Scottish capital has been in the pipeline for a while. It was originally considered a location for their second store after London’s Soho.
“When we first started, nine years ago, our very first designer lived in Edinburgh. I used to go and see him a lot”, says Broughton, originally from Leicester. “I mentioned opening a store there. He said, if you did, what kind of place would you have? I said it'd be amazing to have a beautiful store that visually felt like Edinburgh. Beautiful and elegant, almost slightly regal and on a corner. Then a week later, he sent me a photo of the store that we've now opened on West Bow and was like, is this good enough? It was absolutely amazing, but at the time, we couldn't afford it. We ended up losing out, but we’ve watched it ever since”.
It seemed even more serendipitous when they later discovered that the bow-fronted property once housed an optician, over a century ago. However, it’d also had previous incarnations as a leech seller, kilt maker and a Christmas shop.
As cerebral store design is important to this brand, they’ve updated the decor in tribute to the modernist designer Bernat Klein, who was based in the Scottish Borders, and once lived in a house he’d commissioned, High Sunderland, built in the Fifties and situated between Selkirk and Peebles.
“We've tried to kind of take the design aesthetic and reproduce it on a small scale”, says Broughton. “So there are modular wall claddings and we’ve used beautiful hardwoods but then spliced them with little flashes of colour - yellow and green. He had integrated sections in his house so he could hang his own art, so we’ve included some work as a homage to Klein and Scottish artists”.
This theme suits their clientele. When they’ve surveyed customers, they’ve found that they’re interested in art and architecture, and culture in general.
Even their lens cloths – usually an afterthought – are a bit arty. They’ve released versions that have been designed by Grayson Perry and Scottish artists, David Shrigley and Robert Montgomery, among others To celebrate the launch of the new shops, both of the locations will offer a cloth by Edinburgh Weavers, with all proceeds going to their chosen charity, Alzheimer’s Society.
They’re also partnering with a number of local independent businesses - including local tailors Walker Slater, to display a curated edit of frames in their stores, and Golden Hare Books, who will showcase their suggested reads in the Cubitts New Town shopfront. That’s as well as working with Jewellery and Silversmith students at the Edinburgh College of Art on a live design brief, with the winners’ work soon to be displayed in the shops.
It’s all a bit more sophisticated than your average high street optometrist.
“We’re not Specsavers,” says Broughton, who started wearing glasses when he was about 14-years-old.
The second shop is in the New Town and part of an A-listed building dating from 1824. This corner branch’s interior takes inspiration from the Library and Print Room of the nearby Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
“That space has floor-to-ceiling bookcases, all made from beautiful mahogany with this sort of romantic diffuse lighting,” Broughton says. “We’ve used that as inspiration. We wanted to pair it back, so the very fabric of the building can breathe and show itself off”.
They’ve also added a selection of vintage Scottish ceramics, and artworks from the likes of John Bellany and Andrew Grassie. As Broughton says, “Imposing is the wrong word, but we wanted it to feel quite special”.
These spaces all provide a backdrop for the stylish glasses, which cost from a pretty reasonable £125 a pop, and have evocative or literary names like Woolf or Colonnade. There are also two exclusive new frames for each Edinburgh store. Elder and Anderson will be available at Cubitts New Town and feature bold, round silhouettes and sculptural details, while the Sixties-influenced and aviator shaped Cowgate and Bow will be available at Cubitts New Town. .
“People are definitely getting more emboldened in their choices. When we first started, some would say the only colour people will want is black. Now that’s probably our sixth most popular colour”, says Broughton. “Every year you see more people wanting vibrant or custom shades. They also want just bigger frames. The designs used to be small and shallow, whereas now there’s more of a sense of identity”.