French lunetier Maison Bonnet takes its craft very seriously. You tell this from the store window at the eyewear maker’s new Mayfair boutique. Placed in front of a large bouquet of flowers is a pair of glasses, the tortoise shell frames gleaming in the light, the distinct green lenses giving the piece a hip 1970s vibe. The presentation style is eyewear as objets d’art.
“These are acetate replicas of a pair Aristotle Onassis wore. He only ever used tortoise shell frames,” remarks Arnaud Falce, the director of Maison Bonnet in London. The shipping tycoon among the many elite who looked to the family-owned Maison Bonnet for a highly personalised experience in eyewear.
No logos needed
Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Louboutin, Francois Mitterrand are just a few other illustrious clients Maison Bonnet has serviced in the past. Falce points out that his individual clients come from all walks of life. “They are all in search of unique pieces that have been thought of, designed and handcrafted specially for them, taking into consideration their personal natures, features, styles, and habits”, says Falce.
Maison Bonnet is not for those who want fashion-centric, branded eyewear. The brand takes pride in crafting timeless pieces that have no need for a showy logo.
The brand’s creative director, Steven Bonnet, has a philosophy about spectacles. “The perfect frame is the ally for life, or for a moment. It highlights one’s beauty and guards one’s secrets,” he says.
For such a pair, there is a price – the waiting time.
The time investment
The iconic bespoke eyewear maker still crafts its goods by hand. The Onassis replicas, for instance, take 30 hours to make. There’s a nine-month wait for delivery for those babies. Maison Bonnet also offers its designs in materials like acetate or buffalo horn frames. These take around six hours, as opposed to 30, to make. Still, it takes two months to deliver a pair to the customer, since demand is outstripping how fast Maison Bonnet can work to produce its pieces.
One also needs to invest time for a fitting with the atelier. The initial session takes from 1½ to two hours. The focus: Finding the right shape, colours and textures for the frames and lenses.
“In the old days, we used to go the client’s home, so we had an opportunity to see how they lived and understand their tastes,” says Franck Bonnet, Steven’s elder brother and chief executive of the company.
But when it launched its first boutique in Paris in 2009, clients began knocking on the maison’s doors instead. Maison Bonnet still takes into consideration every possible scenario for the client, asking countless questions in the consultation. “For example, a young mother might want a sturdier frame because children just love to touch spectacles,” says Franck.
Physiognomy comes into play. Does the client want to accentuate eyebrows, or hide them? Do they want to look more severe, or soften their appearance? “We have a lawyer client who has different frames and selects them depending on the trial and what they need to convey,” notes Franck.
Even Your Eyelashes Will Be Measured
A total of 12 detailed measurements are taken – from the circumference of the head, to the angle of the nose and even the length of the lashes to make sure they never touch the lenses (women who wear mascara are encouraged to do so).
A sketch of the spectacles will be rendered, digitised and used cutting the frame. The client then sees a craftsman who will hand-file the frames, millimetre by millimetre, so that optimal fit is achieved.
Back to those tortoise shells, though. The heart and soul of the business, founded in 1950, is Christian Bonnet, the patriarch. He is one of only 104 people conferred with the title of Maitre d’Art in France. He is also the only person in France who holds the right to craft hawksbill turtle shell. Its use was banned by the 1973 Washington Convention, which protects endangered plants and animals.
All the material now used by Maison Bonnet was acquired before the ban came into effect. Only about 50 pairs of spectacles per year are crafted with the material, and the stock is slowly diminishing.