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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

FJ Geddes - A Treasure Trove Of Eyewear In Sydney

Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair that the big corporates take over all the high street outlets and the real treasures are forced to be tucked away somewhere. The huge retail outlets offering so little but with so much bravado announce their presence long before you get close to the door but with the great finds you often find nothing more than a plaque. In 1926 the original FJ Geddes set up shop at 80 Elizabeth Street with the aim to provide Sydney’s Ophthalmologists with a reliable and accurate dispensing service for their patients. And they still do – it’s just that the world has changed substantially along with the relaxation of many laws that protected such stores. Nowadays their treasure trove of eyewear is located quietly on level 6 of Park House on Macquarie Street. I was introduced to them by one of the best dressed men in Sydney, a chap called Ryan Cigana. The only problem with Ryan is that he likes to dress like a grandpa when he’s only in his twenties. However, it is precisely this fascination with the old and the no longer celebrated that lead him to FJ Geddes to begin with. When I finally had a moment to spare I stopped past recently. It didn’t take long for me to understand what Ryan was talking about – it had a charm you can’t quite put your finger on. In the end, after an hour of rummaging through old Cazal frames from the 1980’s I asked Frank Geddes if he’d be interested in enlightening our readers on eyewear.

Elizabeth Street in Sydney, 1933

Can you tell us a little about spectacles and some of the considerations you might take into account when showing your customers through your range?

When seeing a customer for the first time we would initially take into account the prescription and the type of lens that is required. eg Higher prescriptions will not work in big or wrap around frames. Also multifocal lenses require a minimum depth of 30mm to be effective.  We would then ask what 'look' they are trying to achieve. Some prefer to have spectacles that blend into their facial features (rimless or semi rimless) or to truly make a statement (bold colours and shapes etc). Then the final thing we do is make sure the right nose bridge and temple length fit is achieved.

Throughout the 20th Century a number of famous men and women created identities which were unmistakably attached to the kinds of frames they wore either as spectacles or else as sunglasses. Can you name some of your favourite icons of eye wear and tell us a little bit about the glasses they chose?

Firstly, I would pick Woody Allen. He always  wore the same Moscot heavy acetate (plastic) frames. Then Buddy Holly who was synonymous with the thick black rectangular frames style. Gregory Peck wore acetate 'panto' shape specs in 'To Kill a Mocking Bird' which left a lasting impression. You have the unique look of John Lennon's round Algha wire frames which he really trademarked. Jackie O was not often seen without her oversized Nina Ricci sunglasses. And who can forget the Ray Ban Wayfarers are now often referred to as 'Blues Brothers' sunglasses after they were Jake and Elroy's eyewear of choice. And if I have to think of cultural ant-heroes of eye wear of the 20th Century then two names crop up: Dame Edna and Elton John.

20th Century eyewear icons - The Blues Brothers in Ray Ban Wayfarers

Buddy Holly - rectangular frames - icon of 20th Century eyewear according to FJ Geddes

Since the WWII there has been a great deal of innovation in the field of plastics which I gather is the basic product behind acetate sunglasses. Can you tell our readers about some of the pivotal sunglasses that you think have defined those changes?

Cellulose Nitrate was used in the early 20th Century to manufacture frames and sunglasses. This material is highly flammable and was replaced with Cellulose Acetate. Lenses were tinted glass with little or no UV protection. Then Ray Ban then brought out the higher quality G15 glass lens and also a photochomic lens that adapted to available light. Later on Polaroid mass produced cheap polarised sunglasses using acetate and nickel silver for the frames and thin film type lenses. These lenses had a lot of distortion but protected the eyes from UV light.
The advent of the laminated car windscreen coincided with an influx of higher quality polarised sunglasses. The older windscreens made from toughened glass would show stress points when viewed through polarised lenses whereas the laminated screens would not.
Nowadays brands like Maui Jim and Revo,  Bolle and Vuarnet utilise light weight nylon for the frames and unbreakable polycarbonate for the lenses.

I notice that there is one pair of black frames that you seem hold a great deal of stock in – can you tell us about why you have so much of that stock and some of the famous faces we might have them on over the years?

The 'Envoy'

Australian company Martin Wells is responsible for the simple library frame known as the Envoy. This model was the 'go to' frame for many of our customers. Colours included black, tortoise and 'two tone' (dark at top and crystal bottom). It was available in at least 3 eyes and 2 bridge sizes.  Sir Frank Packer often wore a 'two tone' version.



The late Kerry Packer once looked over his glasses when questioned by the 1991 House of Reps Select Committee on Print Media Appearance in an historic moment of the jostling of great power between the Australian Government and the Australian Media. I understand your family made spectacles for Kerry Packer – are you able to confirm this and can you tell us the style of spectacles he wore?

Kerry Packer wore mostly 1/2 glass lookovers. He had countless pairs that included the classic Christian Dior Monsieur 2075.



The brand Cazal is featured heavily in your store and over the years they have developed a cult-like following – can you tell us a little about the brand and it’s authentic DNA and perhaps single out some of the more popular models which people sought after?

Cazal is an eyewear brand created by Cari Zalloni in 1975. Based in West Germany he designed 'jewellery for the face' and his aggressive styles were very different to anything on the market at that time. In it's heyday of the 1980's colour and angular shapes featured heavily. The designs from this period have been resurrected and favoured by many US hip hop artists.


Cazal 607


Growing up I always loved the late 70’s for sunglasses – is there a particular period of sunglass design that the team of F.J Geddes admires greatly?

Our Favourite sunglasses

The designs of the late 1980s and early 1990s were some of our favourites.

Brands such as Christian Dior when it was made by Optyl had some of the most recognisable Women's sunglasses of the day. Models 2056, 2250 in metal and 2320 in plastic were unique in design and fitted just about every face. The quality and workmanship was also very high which unfortunately is not always the case today. Carrera also made by Optyl of Germany had large aviator style mens sunglasses in metal and plastic some with a 'vario' temple that could be used to adjust the length of the side to ensure a perfect fit.

Dior 2250


In Australia,  Jonathan Sceats  added a lot of colour to his sunglass designs. Some frames had ornate fabric laminated into the plastic.  They were also of optical quality meaning prescription lenses could be fitted if needed.

Australian designer Johnathan Sceats retrospective frames from the 1980's

Can you tell us a little about your customised programme for spectacles?

Greg Geddes has handmade frames for years out of wood, tortoise shell, horn and acetate (plastic). He can also modify existing frames including changing the shape, adjusting the nose bridge size and altering the surface finish ie making a shiny frame flat or vice versa. Rimless and semi rimless frames can also be made more suitable shape to accommodate progressive or bifocal lenses. In other words just about any frame can be altered to fit a particular face.

Read more on FJ Geddes


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