LONDON — To say that the British eyewear-maker Cutler and Gross, whose customers range from Victoria Beckham and Lady Gaga to Lapo Elkann, Elton John and the South Korean singer du jour, Psy, approaches luxury the old-fashioned way is putting it mildly.
This story first appeared in the May 8, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The brand, which will cut the ribbon on its first U.S. store on Thursday at 110 Mercer Street in Manhattan, is entirely self-funded; it does not advertise; its handmade and bespoke products are not branded, and everything from sampling, and production to marketing and its magazine is done in-house. There are no discounts and no sales.
Majid Mohammadi, the company’s chief executive officer and co-owner, is not interested in expanding his customer base too much, because it would take the shine off the brand’s exclusivity and overwhelm the company’s production facilities in Italy’s Veneto region, also home of the eyewear giants Luxottica and Safilo.
“We’re control freaks, and that is the main element in our success,” said Mohammadi. “We are a small, exclusive business and our product will never be mass. I don’t want to sell to everybody. We’re like a private club whose members enjoy recognizing each other, and we spend a lot of time with our customers, holding their hands and considering what they want.”
That’s just one reason why Mohammadi’s not interested in building up more than 3,000 to 4,000 customers in each of the brand’s major markets. It’s also why he has been taking his time to roll out stores, which are all directly operated and funded by the company’s cash reserves.
Cutler and Gross is currently stocked at 600 points of sale worldwide, including J. Crew, Net-a-porter.com and Selfridges, and has stand-alone stores in Toronto, Hong Kong, London and Tehran, Iran. The next store openings will most likely be Bath, England, and Seoul. Each store offers about 1,000 styles in a variety of colors and variations, and customers can also have bespoke frames made.
The frames, which have jaunty monikers such as Cubist, Ink, Humble Potato, Green Apple and Orange Juice, are all hand-polished, which gives them a shiny finish different to that of mass-produced frames, which are dipped in varnish.
Prices start at about 300 pounds, or $467, for a pair of black acetate D-frames to 600 pounds, or $934, for frames with gold or horn details. Prices for bespoke frames vary, but Mohammadi said they usually cost double that of the off-the-shelf models.
About 50 percent of the business comes from optical lenses, with the balance coming from sunglasses. Mohammadi said the overall business has been growing 50 percent year-on-year for the past three years, although he declined to give an annual sales volume.
In September, the brand will move to a new, 21,000-square-foot factory near its current one in Cadore, not far from the ski resort Cortina d’Ampezzo. The new facility is three times the size of the old one, and vast compared with the Knightsbridge Green shop in London where the optometrists Graham Cutler and Tony Gross first began creating their handmade glasses in 1969.
The two met in optometry school at Northampton College, and showed their first collection during Paris Fashion Week in 1982. Today, the business is co-owned by Cutler and Mohammadi.
The company’s largest market is France, which it supplies with about 10,000 frames a year, and Mohammadi added that he will cap production at 10,000 for other markets.
Cutler and Gross also makes collections under license for brands including Victoria Beckham, Alberta Ferretti and Martin Margiela, and has collaborated with labels including Erdem, Giles and Thomas Tait.
“I’ve worn their glasses for the last 12 years — I have about 20-odd variations of the frames you always see me wearing,” said Giles Deacon, referring to his signature, nonmetallic aviators. “They make exquisite handmade glasses, and I like the fact that we can work with an independent British company.”
Marie Wilkinson, the brand’s longtime design director, oversees a team of creatives who work from a north London atelier where all the sampling is done. On June 26, Cutler and Gross will fete Wilkinson, who has been with the company for 30 years, with a party at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The New York store will showcase more than 4,000 frames dating from 1969 to the present, and offer full optometric and prescription services, as well as the latest technologies. Bespoke clients will be able to meet with an expert stylist in a private showroom.
The minimal interior was created by the designer Mani Mani of Fishtnk Design Factory and inspired by the Cast Iron District and the New York Arts Movement of the Sixties. Floors are made from black slate, the units have all been handmade, while the columns inside the store are all original and unvarnished.
And while Mohammadi may be taking pains to control the growth of the business and keep his club exclusive, he already has plans to push into other product categories with a series of limited-edition products such as silk scarves, leather accessories, chains for glasses and fragrances.
The collections will be sold at the Cutler and Gross stand-alone stores exclusively, and — in typical style —- Mohammadi said he won’t publicize the new merchandise. “We just want to add a little spice, and let the customers come and discover,” he said.
“In the long term, I think we’ll be a lifestyle brand,” he said. “We already have a fan club, and the product extensions will be small and from the best manufacturers and suppliers. We’d never try to do anything we weren’t good at.”