Individuality and Style at Celebrated London Eyewear Shop

"In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1835. Now that I am a middle-aged man, however, I find that when the bluebells hover like a cobalt mist inches above the woodland floor and the daffodils inspire one's inner Lake poet, my fancy wanders in the direction of a new pair of sunglasses rather than fresh romantic complications.

Sunglasses are a superb medium for self-expression. Whoever came up with the idea that sunglasses promote anonymity plainly needed, well, glasses. In the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, Cary Grant's attempt to disguise himself behind a pair of dark glasses provides one of the film's most memorably stylish vignettes. And just think of American Vogue editor Anna Wintour: Without her dark glasses, she is so much harder to recognize.

A great pair of sunglasses is like a proper Swiss mechanical watch: Even though you expect it to tell the time, that's not why you buy it. It is taken for granted that a good pair of sunglasses will have coated and tinted lenses that stop you from being dazzled, block some reassuringly high percentage of harmful rays and minimize glare. Once all that is taken care of, the really important question can be addressed: How do they make you feel?

Rather like a charmed object that has strayed from a "Harry Potter" novel, sunglasses are often imbued with magical, transformative power. For instance, I think many men would be lying if they said they had not been influenced by Steve McQueen when buying a pair of Persol 649 sunglasses—eyewear originally devised for tram drivers in Turin. I love Persols and over the years have built up a small collection of vintage and modern ones. Unfortunately, these days they've become rather commonplace.

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And that is part of the reason I love E.B. Meyrowitz on Royal Arcade just off Bond Street, in central London. The shop is run by its fabulous manager, Sheel Davison-Lungley, and for those who just have to have something reminiscent of the star of The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape, she does have a McQueen-inspired model. Her other eyewear is rather less well known, such as her recent launch of a range of stylish buffalo horn Hardy frames, named in honor of Thomas Hardy.

Hardy was many things—novelist, poet, subject of Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale —but the famous McQueen sobriquet "the King of Cool" would not be one of them. Regardless, his eponymous sunglasses are cool. There are only 12 pairs of handcrafted Hardys in existence, so you are unlikely to bump into anyone else wearing a similar pair. (There are six different colors but only two pairs available in each.) Individuality and style come at a price—starting at £2,500 (about $3,652)—but they are selling fast, at the rate of two a week. By the time you read this, they might well have all gone. But I dare say that Davison-Lungley is already working on designs for a new series, named after John Galsworthy, Edmund Gosse or some other neglected giant of Edwardian letters. There is already a Forster—presumably best worn when visiting India or Florence.

Long history, reputation

Meyrowitz, a small shop that has dared to remain small, has occupied the same spot on Royal Arcade since 1999, when it moved all the way from 1A Old Bond Street, some 400 feet up the road. The company was established in 1875, when Emil Bruno Meyrowitz went into the spectacle business, eventually opening stores in London, Paris and New York that sold glasses, goggles and other optical products for aviation and motor racing. Over time, the shops acquired separate owners; Davison-Lungley bought Meyrowitz London at the start of the 1990s. "When I was studying optics, we all wanted to work at Meyrowitz because it had a reputation of being the very best and for working with people who wanted the best," she says. "But over the years, so many people had owned it that by the time I came in it had rather lost its way."

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She believes replacing the bought-in branded frames with designs of her own and offering services such as the making of bespoke alligator-skin spectacle cases have helped restore the luster of the Meyrowitz name. But in London, the name might as well be hers—it is Davison-Lungley's personality and style that run through the shop and its collections. Her taste is as sophisticated as it is wide-ranging. Over the years, I have bought sunglasses with a huge tortoiseshell frame and punched brass arms, the kind that would have suited Aristotle Onassis—were he channeling the spirit of Elvis Presley—made in a series of just three. There's also a rather more popular frame called Rimini that I now possess in a variety of differently colored and mottled acetates.

My current favorites are a heavy frame called Le Corbusier and a panto shape inspired by Harper Lee called the Atticus—which Davison-Lungley describes as a design so balanced that "I try them on anybody, and they look great." She's made only 12 pairs, so we will have to take her word for their versatility.

That is what keeps customers coming back. What Davison-Lungley does so well with her constantly changing selection of designs is stimulate the desire for novelty. And talking of desire, given his views on spring, I would love to see Meyrowitz's ocular interpretation of Tennyson.

Individuality and Style at Celebrated London Eyewear Shop | Culture