by Ivan Yaskey
Who doesn’t love vintage eyewear? Right now, everything deemed “classic” – think wayfarers, clubmasters, and aviators for men and cat-eye shades for women – had at least one multi-year run during the 20th century. But, as many discover when they find a coveted pair of original Ray-Ban Clubmasters, there’s always a little wear, and you’ve got to put in some maintenance.
For reasons like this, Vint & York is somewhat novel. Officially founded in 2012 after a few years of planning by Larisa Ginzburg, the New York-based company creates completely new frames influenced by retro shapes, trends, and colors. The result, designed in New York and made with high-quality acetate and polycarbonate, looks very much like a vintage find, but is supported by modern construction. Better yet, you get a slew of present-day standard features, including impact resistance and UV protection.
We had been asked to review their “The Time Capsule” collection, a collaboration with the Smithsonian featuring four vintage unisex silhouettes. Yet, these aren’t your typical vintage-inspired pieces. Rather, each – a feminine cat-eye, a ‘50s-esque browline, a ‘60s counterculture round frame, and a square style inspired by midcentury menswear advertisements – tells a specific story and references art, culture, and history between the ‘20s and ‘60s.
Although designs span distinctively masculine to feminine aesthetics, all were designed with androgynous proportions, giving men and women a choice of multiple classic styles. As well, each acetate frame features subtle metal gold-tone detailing along the interior.
Visually, the collection keeps it simple – the way it likely was back in the day. You won’t find any crazy neon or metallic shades here or patterned frames. Instead, like a traditional menswear wardrobe, the focus is on high-quality basics: shiny and bold black, vibrant and detailed tortoise shell, green, and crystal, with transparent textures for a modern hint.
Out of the four, we requested two to review: the square Big Wig, with a tortoise shell frame and solid-charcoal lenses, and the Flight of Fancy, the browline style with solid-black frames and clear lenses.
The Big Wig Sunglasses
For some context, Vint & York envisioned the Big Wig as a wider, more angular masculine style meant to reference the slang term for someone influential. Design wise, its more hybrid frame – curved edges toward the bottom and a slightly elevated and rounded top – stands out with a lower keyhole bridge. Visually, however, it looks and feels much like a reworked wayfarer, perhaps fused with a Clubmaster.
Conceptually, it’s based on a Henry Booth-produced advertisement featuring a textile worker who devised the custom tailoring system, while its actual look is meant to evoke the style-forward ad men circa the 1940s. In short, it embodies aspiration, both the striver and the man who’s reached but isn’t fully content with his goals.
Wearing it also brought out such disparate elements. On one hand, its brilliant, almost shimmering yet slightly transparent frame, flecked with metallic accents, came off as mundane but luxurious: Essentially, the type of leisurely-upscale accessory someone like Dickie Greenleaf of The Talented Mr. Ripley might pair with a Cuban collar shirt. But, the context of the mid-century working man gives it a secondary character: You could easily see some high-status worker, a la Mad Men, sporting these for on-point yet not ostentatious sun protection, all while wearing a crisp suit.
That fluidity is present for the modern man, whether he’s on his commute or on vacation. But, in wearing them for a couple of days, we noticed a few things. While the squareness was scaled down, it’s really a style meant for medium and larger face shapes; on smaller ones, it seems more like an oversized frame. As well, the curved edges give it a smoother shape compared to traditional wayfarers; as such, it flatters angular face shapes more than round ones.
Flight of Fancy Sunglasses
A unisex style, the Flight of Fancy, a browline frame, borrows from the contours of the Bell X-1 aircraft and reflects more of a ‘50s aesthetic. Visually, a low nose bridge and a frame juxtaposing both sharp angles and perfectly rounded edges are meant to seem fantastical – essentially, as if you’re reaching for something you know you can’t quite achieve, but you’ll keep on trying, anyway.
The style we received played a thicker, glossy black frame off clear lenses, and in one sense, especially at a glance, they appear like a hybrid of those hipster glasses from 10 years ago with current John Lennon-esque frames. But, regardless of the combination, its unusualness makes a statement all on its own: It’s not just for the socially acceptably quirky, but rather for those that, to use a cliché, march to the beat of their own drum and nothing else.
Even for a fusion frame, the rounded edges predominate. As such, echoing the Big Wig, it softens square, rectangular, and otherwise angular face shapes. On the other hand, its overall smaller size seems more like a pair of old-fashioned spectacles, and gives off just as strong retro vibes once you have them on.
All frames are available for a limited time only, and can be purchased through Vint & York’s online store and their NoLita brick-and-mortar location.