Visionary designer Tom Davies knows exactly what style of glasses will suit each customer – even an editor with asymmetric ears, writes Alec Marsh
‘Now we can go towards your cornea,’ explains the soft voice from beyond the Zeiss machine. ‘Just keep looking straight ahead. Excellent.’ I see a wavy red line. ‘Then we go into the anterior chamber,’ she adds. ‘Eyes wide open.’ I see a green cross. ‘Good.’ There’s a flash. Click.
I’m midway through a fascinating eye test – comprising five scans – in which my retina, corneas and the mushy goo between are pored over in detail. ‘You have a little freckle over there,’ says the optician, showing an enlargement of my eyeball that looks like Mars.
‘A little birth mark.’ Next we review the back of my eye: ‘Did you know that the optic nerve is the only place in the body where we can see straight into the blood vessels? That’s why we can spot hyper-tension, diabetes… things like that.’ Fortunately, apart from their inability to see things in focus, my eyes are tip-top. I’m at glasses designer Tom Davies’ Knightsbridge outlet, an opulent Art Deco temple to specs, to meet the man himself and get a pair of glasses.
Tom, I discover, is a bit of a dynamo – he talks faster than a Lamborghini – and it’s clear from the start that he’s a perfectionist. His clients include Heston Blumenthal (Tom wears the same salmon skin frames), Ed Sheeran and Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent. Since coming up with his approach to bespoke specs when he was living in Hong Kong 20 years ago, he hasn’t looked back.
Back then Tom was designing glasses for other brands. ‘It annoyed me that the glasses didn’t fit people,’ he recalls. ‘I realised that actually glasses don’t fit people because it’s statistically impossible because everyone’s face is so unique – skin tone, eye colour, eyelash length, nose shape, head shape, ear shape. Glasses don’t fit people.’
So Davies came up with a system – one he has finessed ever since, and by which he now makes around 5,000 pairs of glasses in his Brentford factory each month, for clients in 27 countries. Typically these are customised – adjusted to better fit the face – or fully bespoke.
I’m getting the bespoke treatment – from Tom himself. He begins by taking me around the collection and politely throwing about half a dozen frames on my face – all the while scrutinising me.
He snatches frames from the left and right as we talk, and we end up with several dozen pairs of glasses on the table – ‘a library of frames’, which he moves around with a conjurer’s ease. ‘Everyone challenges me,’ he adds. ‘Even with yourself: I’m thinking, “You’ve got a small nose; you’ve got long eyelashes, you’ve got a high prescription: what am I going to do?”’
I start trying the specs on: ‘You see, I really, really like that,’ he says one moment. We keep going. ‘Really like that. No, I’ll get rid of that. No – it makes you look old.’
He shakes his head. ‘We don’t need that – I thought you could wear green but it’s too much. It looks like a comedian’s glasses.’ What’s the secret to great specs? ‘For me it’s all to do with the brow-line,’ he says. ‘It defines what works.’
But what about his glasses? The top of the frame breaks above his eyebrow. ‘The inside line is different from the outside line,’ he points out. ‘If this was all going up, I’d look crazy. I know because I’ve tried it.’ And he would. We’re down to three frames – two are my ‘natural’ shape – each of which has a keyhole bridge for that nose of mine, and a dip in the middle which, Tom explains, stops my eyes looking too close together. Who wears glasses well? ‘Robert Downey Jr,’ he fires back. ‘I’d like to make his glasses.’ He adds: ‘My number one target for spectacles is the Duke of Cambridge.’
Around the horn
We settle on a frame: ‘I’m going to make it a little thicker on the top because I just want to give it a little more oomph,’ he tells me. Now it’s a question of colour. He offers a choice of two, both in horn: I choose one, and Tom suggests we head to the window for some daylight. I choose the other. ‘That suits you better,’ he says. It’s a sumptuous brown, white and yellow frame in buffalo, cow and goat horn.
We head to the ‘nose-bar’, a lectern with drawers filled with 80 pairs of glasses, each with slightly different bridges. We work through these until I find the best one for my nose. Now he takes my measurements.
‘Your left ear is 10mm further forward than your right ear,’ he remarks, ‘which makes a massive difference in how glasses fit you.’ That’s an understatement – wonky specs that fall down my nose have been a feature for 40 years. But now I know why. I watch Tom complete a drawing of my new glasses, detailing thicknesses and lengths in exquisite detail.
‘People ask me what makes a pair of glasses great,’ he says. ‘The answer is your frame will be lots of things that look brilliant all adding up.’ He finishes with a photo of my face – with and without the specs – on an iPad. ‘This frame I’ve made you will look this good forever,’ he adds, ‘unless you get really fat.’
Which is a thought. Two weeks later I return to collect them and I’m advised how to oil the frames to keep them in good health. Now it’s just my waistline that I need to worry about. But then, glasses this good are worth going to the gym for.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear’s
Photography by David Harrison
This article first appeared in issue 68 of Spear’s magazine, available on newsstands now. Click here to buy and subscribe.