‘Bright was the summer’s noon,’ wrote Wordsworth at the beginning of ‘Summer Vacation’, the fourth book of the Prelude, but instead of yomping around the Lake District like the Romantic poet, the first indication of a daffodil poking through the soil sees me heading straight for Meyrowitz in the Royal Arcade just off Bond Street.
There, like Wordsworth overlooking Windermere, I survey the scene and see ‘with exultation’ not the ‘Lake, islands, promontories, gleaming bays’ that met the eye of the poet, but instead a sea of warm, honeyed tones, of variegated acetate, mottled tortoiseshell, the glint of golden wire and the matte and milky creaminess of horn. Yes, if summer means anything to me, it means sunglasses.
The impending aestival arrival directed my steps to Meyrowitz to see what new optical amusement the season would afford. Meyrowitz is a place that makes getting older seem like an aspirational experience; the harbinger of mortality that is deteriorating eyesight is offset by the childlike delight in getting a new toy.
This is the sort of place where you stop in for an eye test and step out with a new look. I have been hooked ever since I first came in about ten years ago with a pair of old Persol 0009s (the kind with the glass section at the side) that were in need of repair, and I have been coming back ever since, even though the 0009s, perfectly repaired, haven’t been worn for a while.
Over the years I have accumulated a staggering number of pairs — vintage, new and new at the time but now vintage — and given the climate on our damp island, I will be hard-pushed to get round to wearing them all. Among some of the more extreme are blue-lensed official Elvis glasses with the TCB lightning bolt logo; very esoteric Ferrari glasses that look as if I have taken them from the property master on Scarface; and old Cutler & Gross wraparounds that clearly belonged to my ‘Aristotle Onassis goes on holiday with Roy Orbison’ phase.
This last pair is among the relics of the days when Tony Gross presided over the Knightsbridge Green optician like an English Jean Gabin, and I well recall once trying to persuade him to make for me the pair of glasses worn at the beginning of The Italian Job, wraparounds with tinted glass at the sides as well. All this came flooding back when I got a shock strolling around Dover Street Market and came across a tray of ‘vintage’ Cutler & Gross sunglasses that I had bought when they were brand new.
This made me feel my age and also made me realise how little, in one sense, I have changed: I am still buying sunglasses, even ones that I know I am unlikely ever to wear. It happened recently at a vintage clothing fair: I came across a pair of old Ray Bans that made me think I was Halston going to Studio 54 with Liza Minnelli. The small details that I am not Halston, that Studio 54 closed a while ago and the last time I saw Liza she did not look like a late night would do her much good were, for the moment, forgotten.
Even if I travel for just a day or two, I will bring at least two if not three changes of sunglasses, depending on whether I want to be Cary Grant in North by Northwest, Marcello Mastroianni in Divorce Italian Style or Robert Redford snapped by a paparazzo in the early 1970s in mirrored aviators (he also looked great in aviators in the 1975 espionage flick Three Days of the Condor). I know, of course, that only I am likely to mistake myself for any of the above.
Nevertheless, I continue to credit sunglasses with quite remarkable transformative power: I recently took a shine to a pair of amazing tortoiseshell wraparound aviators at Loro Piana solely because I could imagine the late Sergio Loro Piana wearing them on his yacht — although you would be equally unlikely ever to mistake me for an Italian fashion billionaire and I don’t even possess a rubber dinghy.
Sunglasses are like a suit, in that they need to fit properly but they also afford that anticipatory pleasure of novelty. Like a good suit, a great pair of sunglasses will have the power to transport you imaginatively to some other and, it is to be hoped, sunnier place — which is probably why Sheel at Meyrowitz has named her frames things like Rimini, Panicale, Viareggio, Rabat…
A visit to Meyrowitz is not an inexpensive business but it is cheaper than most holidays, and even if the English summer evades detection behind clouds, time spent in the bright lettuce green interior of this optician, with its neatly serried racks of sunglasses inviting you to try them on, is like a holiday in itself.