In focus: Marie Wilkinson of Cutler & Gross

In focus: Marie Wilkinson of Cutler & Gross

Design director of haute couture glasses brand

Text: Yeong Sassall

With fans spanning avant-garde fashion houses, introverted designers and (not surprisingly) Sir Elton John, glasses brand Cutler & Gross have some secrets to share.

We met with the mysterious design director, Marie Wilkinson and discovered which celebrities have an encyclopaediac knowledge of sunglasses, how to pick your perfect pair of frames and the most expensive pair that has ever been sold.

Even the most fashion-forward experts may take a minute before answering the question of who Pierre-Alexis Dumas is. In the world of fashion, just like in any other business, there are creators who would like to stay unknown. Mister Dumas, creative director of Hermès, one of the oldest and most important fashion houses in the world, is one such person. Marie Wilkinson is another, but in the world of prêt-à-porter. Her brand Cutler & Gross is known only by a very small community of people – most likely those who can afford it. Wilkinson doe not aimfor the global expansion either: each pair of her glasses could eaily be deemed a piece of art, taking up to four weeks to create just one pair of them. So who is she?

How would you describe what Cutler & Gross is about?
One word would probably be enough: luxe. It's not just about glamour in its general definition. It is luxe in details, in attitude, and in every alteration that each pair goes through before being sold. You have to choose glasses with your heart and try not to follow trends. Glasses have to be part of your identity, become part of your look, but not overwhelm it. Glasses can say so much about their owner!

On average, how much time does it take to create a pair of Cutler & Gross glasses?
Believe it or not, it takes up to four weeks to create one pair of glasses. To finish one pair you need to go through 42 procedures. All the details are produced in our own plant in Italy.

In focus: Marie Wilkinson of Cutler & Gross

In focus: Marie Wilkinson of Cutler & Gross

So basically, you could say that glasses by Cutler & Gross are the equivalent of a Birkin in the world of bags?
Absolutely. This is why we are so unique in the glasses world.

You have a great archive, and a tons of celebrities and designers show up to your store every season. I heard that John Galliano used to be one of your regular clients.
Well, the list odf our clientele is pretty long - from Stella McCartney to Tom Ford. When we were collaborating with Erdem, the first thing that the team asked was permission to see our archives and use them as a source of inspiration. It is amazing how closely we work with some designers. Victoria Beckham set a record in the amount of time that was spent in our store. We closed our store specially for her because she was walking between the shelves all day long trying each pair of glasses. She is a very intelligent person and curious about everything. She almost became an expert in sunglasses.

I know that for a really long time Sir Elton John was a fan of Cutler & Gross.
Yes, he is a big fan of ours. But he doesn't know what he wants and always gets lost - just like a kid in a candy store. It feels like every time he shows up in our store it's like it is his first time here and he is so happy to meet and work with us. Elton holds the biggest collection of our glasses – he is a walking encyclopaedia of sunglasses.

Victoria Beckham set a record
in the amount of time that was spent in our store

You had two collaborations with major avant-garde fashion houses: Comme des Garçons and Maison Martin Margiela. Rei Kawakubo is such a mystery person that never talks to the press. Tell us about working with her.
It is very easy to talk to Rei: all you need to do is just to show her all the frames andespecially the materials. This is how she works – she needs to touch it, to feel it. Rei is a very passionate person when it comes to work. She doesn't talk a lot but her gestures and facial expressions talk for her. Rei is adorable – she smiles a lot and is very open to new ideas.

In focus: Marie Wilkinson of Cutler & Gross

Have you ever been in a situation when it was impossible to fulfil client's order? 
I think that nothing is impossible in our atelier. Our ideas always match our clients.

What's the design process of each pair of glasses?

Most of the time we start from the materials and they become the starting point for the whole work. But we still need to transfer ideas to paper. This is why I start from the sketch, then my team creates the model on the computer. We are inspired by people, not fashion trends. For our Future Collection, for example, we looked at the sixties, psychedelic vibes, the Beatles records. I was thinking about their cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band – about Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and other people who are on the cover. 

In focus: Marie Wilkinson of Cutler & Gross

Do you have a favourite pair of glasses?
I always change the glasses and am constantly wearing the newest collections. I can't imagine how people can live with only two or three pairs of glasses. For me it is a bigger obsession than heels. Different glasses have to serve different purposes, for various haircuts and moods.

How would you suggest picking up your own pair of glasses?
First of all, never choose glasses by looking in a small mirror. You need a big mirror so you can see yourself, your shape, to estimate your proportions. Winter glasses have to be more massive because outerwear visually makes you look bigger. Summer glasses could be big but in a thick frame – these look good accompanied by a more relaxed look. It is vital to choose the glasses that suit your face. Here the main rule is to see if the frame suits the shape of your eyebrows. They have to fit.

Do you remember the most expensive pair of glasses that has ever been sold?
We once had a client from Beijing who was obsessed with having a pair of glasses made out of buffalo horns. It is one of the rarest materials on the Earth. It was hard, since we had to carry the material all way from Africa. But I have to admit that we never ever work with the materials that could be produced from the endangered species. It is against our rules and principles.