Four Eyes

Crushing on Lauren Archer, Toronto eyewear designer

A pop-punk song once taught me, “If you’re bored, then you’re boring.” If that’s the case, Lauren Archer is the most interesting woman in the room. She is a history buff, working in historical preservation for the City of Toronto by day and maintaining many hobbies by night. When she isn’t making robots, casting metal, or creating dry ice milkshakes, Lauren designs custom eyewear. She talks to WORN about her prototyping process and her love of glasses and mixing old techniques with new technologies.

What inspired you to make glasses?
It all started with a laser cutter class at Site3, a collaborative makerspace at Bloor and Ossington full of strange, creative people making awesome things. They offer a series of classes that give you access to a bunch of really neat tools, including a laser cutter. I made my first pair of glasses on a whim shortly after that. I knew fairly early that I wanted to make a functional pair of frames, something I could get optical lenses made for. Eyewear straddles this really neat intersection of creativity, engineering, design, tradition, skill, and practicality that I am really attracted to.

You use some unconventional methods to construct your frames. What steps are involved in the process
I have a pretty extensive prototyping process. I steal guitar boxes from behind Long & McQuade so I can cut test frames out of the cardboard until I get all of the sizing and styling right.

Then I do the design on a computer-aided design (CAD) program called Rhino, which I then export directly to the laser cutter. This ensures my final frames stay true to the original design. Then I cut the shape of the frames with the laser. That part’s pretty cool.

When it comes to the hinges, I use a type of traditional rivet hinges that you only really find in vintage frames and traditional glasses. Hinges are typically heat sunk or ultrasonically inserted, and I don’t have the equipment to do that so I’m basically using the Victorian method of smashing metal on metal.

How did you learn to do all of this?
Pretty much through experimentation and observation. I have found a handful of promo videos online that give the briefest of glimpses into the mysterious innards of eyewear factories. Other than that, it comes from a billion eclectic Google searches, guesswork, and many, many failed attempts.

I wasn’t able to find any books or classes on designing eyewear. People who make glasses professionally are quite close-lipped about their methods. I guess this sort of secrecy makes sense in the high-tech industry where every new innovation means a patent and a fortune, but framemaking has been around for hundreds of years. You’d think there would be at least one good book on the subject.

What kind of responses have you received for your handmade glasses?
After I finished my first pair, I took them to optical shops for lenses. Some opticians thought they were vintage frames. This was a huge compliment. I had a few opticians suggest I sell my frames. One even offered to sell them for me. This was super encouraging, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet, skill-wise.

How do you feel about people wearing non-prescription lenses as an affectation?
I don’t really see any problem with it. Glasses are cool. There was a significant and intentional shift in the eyewear industry in the ’40s and ’50s that took glasses from medical device to fashion accessory. There’s really no going back from that.

What’s the next step with your venture?
Eventually, I would like to sell my frames. One of the hazards of having a strange, uncommon hobby is that the tools and materials I need are expensive, so selling the finished frames will help. When I tell people that I make my own glasses, they usually ask me how much I sell them for or if I do this for a living. I really like the idea that people find enough value in what I do that they want to pay money for it. Also, the finished frames are kind of sad without a purpose. They’re made to be worn!

In the new year, I plan to run a class on glasses making at Site3. It’s open to anyone. Everyone who participates will leave with a pair of frames they’ve handmade themselves, as well as the knowledge to design more. There are so many talented and creative people out there but there are so many boring glasses. I blame this entirely on the inaccessibility of the eyewear industry.

Who are your favourite eyewear designers?
Xavier Derome of Derome Brenner, an independent French eyewear brand that does really brilliant original things with cellulose acetate.

Jesse Stevens, an independent eyewear designer who has worked with Cutler and Gross, Oliver Goldsmith and Claire Goldsmith, Prada, and with Victoria Beckham.

Elena Doukas, who does Design and Development at Garrett Leight California Optical. I really like the branding and dedication to quality she has, but GLCO is also known for their experimental approach to design in general (they post pictures from inside their labs, and it makes me happy.)

Mel and Shilo Rapp of Rapp Eyewear, a Toronto-centric brand that is designed and made in small batches in Toronto, and sold at optical shops all around the world.

photography // Claire Ward-Beveridge