Cubitts: Crafting Statement Frames for Spectacle Lovers

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Inspiration from style and design icons and an unwavering commitment to authenticity are the driving forces of the English spectacle maker Cubitts. Tom Broughton, the brand’s founder, looks back at his personal history and how it influenced his approach to eyewear.

Tom Broughton, founder of Cubitts.

Could you share with us a little about your background and what initially inspired you to create Cubitts?

My journey with Cubitts really began with my own experience wearing glasses back in school. Like many, the relationship I had with glasses formed a significant part of my identity, particularly when I first started wearing them at around 14 or 15. At that age, you’re also exploring who you are as a person. For me, being into music—bands like The Smiths—played a big role. Morrissey, the lead singer, wore these distinctive NHS 524 spectacles, which I found incredibly cool. From then on, glasses became an integral part of my identity, and I began delving into the vintage glasses scene in my twenties.

In my 20s I started collecting frames, scouring antique shows and car boot sales for unique pieces. However, what struck me was the disparity between the bold, interesting frames worn by icons like Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker and Michael Caine, and what was available in traditional opticians. It seemed like most places were catering to people who didn’t really want to wear glasses. This disconnect sparked an idea: what if I could create a brand that made frames for people who loved wearing glasses? Frames that were big, bold, interesting, beautiful, and well-made.

That’s when I met Lawrence Jenkin, one of Britain’s last master spectacle makers, who had been crafting frames for over 50 years. He took me under his wing, and I learned the traditional art of making spectacles from him. This was the genesis of Cubitts. We launched over a decade ago, in 2013, with a small team working out of my flat and a humble website. There was no grand plan; it was simply about turning my passion into a sustainable business. And here we are today.

So, the journey began in 2013, starting from humble beginnings, but driven by a passion for eyewear and a desire to offer something unique to glasses wearers everywhere.

What is the meaning of your brand’s name and what does it signify?

Our brand name, Cubitts, holds a deep significance rooted in history and craftsmanship. When I first moved to London, I found myself living on Cubitt Street in King’s Cross. The only reason I resided there was that, at the time, it offered affordable accommodation in central London. As I pondered what to name the company, the street name caught my attention. Upon researching its origins, I discovered that Cubitt Street was named after the Cubitt Brothers—Thomas, William, and Lewis—pioneers of the building industry in the early 1800s.

The Cubitt Brothers were visionary builders who revolutionized construction in the UK with their modern system of building. Their work, including iconic structures like King’s Cross Station and developments in Covent Garden, earned them acclaim as Queen Victoria’s favorite builders. What struck me most about their legacy was their ability to modernize the industry while preserving the artistry and craftsmanship of their job.

Tom Cubitt, the eldest brother, epitomized this ethos with his diverse portfolio. From designing opulent retreats like Osborne House for the royal family to creating social housing in Cubitt Town, Isle of Dogs, his work embodied a consistent design aesthetic that transcended social strata. It was this blend of innovation, quality, and design ethos that resonated deeply with me and mirrored our approach to revolutionizing the spectacles industry.

Thus, our brand pays homage to the Cubitt Brothers and their legacy of innovation, craftsmanship, and timeless design. Like them, we strive to blend tradition with modernity, crafting eyewear that marries classic elegance with contemporary flair. Through the name Cubitts, we honor their enduring influence and seek to embody their spirit of excellence in everything we do.

As a brand, what core values and beliefs does Cubitts embody, and how do these inform the design and production of your products?

At the core of our brand lies a profound belief that spectacles are more than just functional accessories—they are cherished artifacts of personal expression and transformation. Unlike the conventional perception within the optical industry, we see spectacles as exquisite objects that reflect individual identity and style. This fundamental philosophy guides every aspect of our design and production process.

A significant advantage of our team is that many members wear glasses themselves. This firsthand experience ensures that we intimately understand the nuances of selecting, wearing, and purchasing glasses. It enables us to empathize with our customers and tailor our offerings to meet their needs effectively.

While sunglasses may hold allure, especially on a beautiful day, it’s essential to emphasize that we are not merely a sunglasses company or an eyewear company—we are foremost a spectacles company. Our commitment to optical and medical integrity remains unwavering, influencing every decision we make.

Even after 11 years, my passion for spectacles remains as strong as ever. Despite being often misunderstood and underappreciated, spectacles possess a unique charm and significance. Positioned at the center of the face, they seamlessly blend elements of style, fashion, materiality, craft, science, and physics. It’s this multifaceted nature that inspires us to excel as modern spectacle makers, embracing the distinctiveness of this remarkable accessory with every creation.

Cubitts’ store in Broadway Market, London

What are some of your most beloved products, and what do you think makes them stand out to customers?

We pride ourselves on delivering a timeless aesthetic that transcends fleeting trends and contemporary fashion. Our frames embody a sense of enduring quality that resonates with our customers. Each frame, distinctly Cubitts, possesses a versatility that could easily span different eras. Take, for example, the frame I’m wearing today, inspired by 1920s design—it seamlessly blends into various timelines, from the 1920s to the distant future of 2080.

Rather than chasing after extravagant designs, our focus remains steadfast on precision and excellence. All our frames bear no external branding, showcasing only our structural rivet, and are meticulously crafted with consistent attention to detail. We prioritize longevity over passing trends or ephemeral styles, a philosophy that strikes a chord with our clientele.

While our approach may not cater to those seeking momentary fashion statements, we offer an appealing option for individuals who appreciate finely crafted eyewear that stands the test of time. If our customers seek something reflective of their personal style, beautifully made, and built to last, we’re confident that Cubitts is the perfect choice. It’s not just a biased opinion—it’s a commitment to providing enduring quality in every pair of glasses we offer.

We have several iconic models that have become synonymous with the Cubitts brand. One standout is our ‘Herbrand’ model, boasting a timeless panto lens design—a rounded shape with a distinctive keyhole bridge. It exudes a classic mid-century vibe that never goes out of style. Another crowd favorite is the ‘Judd’, a venerable design in our collection. With its bold, square frame and ample size, it’s no surprise it’s one of our top sellers, adorning the faces of many satisfied customers.

More recently, we’ve introduced the ‘Balmore’ and ‘Merlin’ frames, drawing inspiration from the funky aesthetics of the 70s. These frames are characterized by their oversized, boxy shapes and sporty graphic accents, capturing the essence of that era. Their popularity has been remarkable, reflecting our commitment to timeless design with a contemporary twist.

However, what truly sets us apart is our dedication to longevity. We don’t just create frames for a season; we aim to craft enduring classics that stand the test of time. Alongside our core product line, which remains available year-round, we periodically release limited-edition capsule collections. These collections, inspired by various themes, offer a fresh take on eyewear while maintaining our signature quality and style.

For instance, our recent capsule collections drew inspiration from mid-century designers like Isamu Noguchi, Donald Judd, and Eileen Gray, each offering a unique perspective on eyewear design. With small runs of 20 to 40 pieces per collection, these capsules provide an opportunity for experimentation and creativity while staying true to our brand ethos.

In essence, at Cubitts, we strive to strike a balance between timeless classics and innovative designs, ensuring that every frame tells a story and stands the test of time.

Are you still drawing inspiration from your vintage collection that you collected when you were younger?

Absolutely: our vintage collection serves as a wellspring of inspiration for us at Cubitts. With hundreds of vintage frames in our archive, each piece holds a story and a unique aesthetic that transcends time. Even if we don’t draw directly from a specific frame, we immerse ourselves in the era, soaking up its essence and channeling it into our designs.

What captivates me about eyewear is its remarkable ability to transport you to another era with a single glance. A frame from the 1960s can evoke the ambiance of a jazz bar, enveloping you in a haze of cigar smoke and nostalgia. It’s this transformative power that fuels our creativity and drives us to infuse every design with a sense of history and allure.

However, we approach inspiration with subtlety, avoiding literal interpretations. Take, for example, our upcoming spring-summer campaign, drawing inspiration from the milk bars of Soho, London, circa 1959. This era, on the cusp of cultural revolution, encapsulates a moment of innocence and excitement before the onset of rock and roll. It’s a blend of Italian fashion influences from the late ’50s and jazz references from Ivy League culture—a melting pot of styles that inspires our creative process.

Our recent campaign exemplifies this approach. Collaborating with documentary-style photographer Anton Rennberg from Sweden, we captured authentic moments in and around Soho. Our goal was to create a photoshoot that transcends time, celebrating the people and the essence of the place rather than merely showcasing our sunglasses or spectacles.

Internally, we have a motto: “proselytize with a filthy cackle.” It’s a reminder to approach storytelling with humor and humility, engaging our audience in a way that sparks curiosity and excitement about life itself. At Cubitts, it’s not just about selling eyewear; it’s about fostering a connection and igniting a passion for the world around us.

Are there any meaningful moments in the history of Cubitts that you would like to share with us?

Reflecting on Cubitts’ journey over the past decade, it’s been a whirlwind of highs and lows that have shaped our identity and resilience. We marked our 10th anniversary last year—a milestone that prompted deep introspection into our successes and setbacks.

It’s important to acknowledge that our path hasn’t been without challenges. In the early years, we teetered on the brink of bankruptcy multiple times, with COVID-19 presenting yet another formidable obstacle. One particular moment stands out—a pivotal juncture after our first year when we were on the verge of financial collapse.

I vividly recall a remarkable turn of events during that precarious period. In the span of just two days, we received an unexpected order from a customer named Nick Hornby, the acclaimed author of “Fever Pitch.” Visiting his address to deliver the frame personally, I was stunned to find myself face-to-face with one of my literary heroes. His encouragement and appreciation for our work provided a much-needed morale boost, reaffirming our mission to persevere.

The following day brought another unexpected opportunity—a fortuitous email from a local named Gary Clarke expressing interest in investing in Cubitts. After a year of failed attempts to secure funding, this encounter felt like a lifeline. Meeting Gary and securing his investment of £100,000 in 2014 proved to be the catalyst that propelled Cubitts forward, enabling us to open our first store and expand our team.

Since then, our journey has been a tapestry woven with both triumphs and tribulations. From the exhilaration of opening new stores to the surreal moment of seeing music icon Paul McCartney donning our glasses, each milestone has reinforced our commitment to our vision.

As we reflect on our 11-year odyssey, I’m reminded of the profound impact of those 48 hours—the pivotal moment that altered the course of Cubitts and defined our identity. Through the highs and lows, that brief window of opportunity ignited a spark that continues to drive us forward, shaping Cubitts into the brand it is today.

Cubitts’ first store in New York, nestled in the shade of a rare downtown tree.⁠

Among the most iconic brands with a strong legacy, what is your favorite one and why?

When it comes to finding inspiration, forgive my bias, but I must say that the brand that resonates most profoundly with me is not a typical household name—it’s the Isokon.

Nestled in the heart of the Isokon building, where I reside, this architectural marvel isn’t merely a structure but an embodiment of an entire brand and philosophy. Dating back to the 1930s, the Isokon concept revolutionized urban living. It offered more than just shelter; it provided a complete lifestyle solution. Picture this: moving into a block of flats where everything, from furniture to art to cleaning services, was meticulously provided. The Isobar, an on-site restaurant fostering a sense of community, was the cherry on top. Its forward-thinking principles from the ’30s continue to resonate today, showcasing a visionary approach well ahead of its time.

What captivates me most is the furniture provided, designed by luminaries of the Bauhaus movement—Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy. Their creations exude personality, combining thoughtful design with impeccable craftsmanship. The Isokon ethos revolves around considered, well-crafted products that retain their unique character—a philosophy I deeply admire and seek to emulate.

Even today, Isokon endures under the moniker Isokon Plus, continuing to produce furniture that stands the test of time. Their enduring legacy serves as a beacon for us, reminding us that the best brands are grounded in a clear philosophy that transcends generations.

In the realm of traditional apparel brands, Crockett and Jones, a British shoemaker from Northampton, commands my admiration. Their ability to marry timeless elegance with modernity while upholding the highest standards of quality is truly commendable. In an industry often steeped in tradition, Crockett and Jones stand out as pioneers of progress, setting a precedent for brands striving to evolve without compromising their heritage.

In essence, whether drawing inspiration from architectural marvels like Isokon or esteemed shoemakers like Crockett and Jones, the common thread lies in their unwavering commitment to excellence and innovation—a principle that continues to guide Cubitts on our journey of growth and evolution.

Is there a book, a movie or a trip that has inspired your life or the creation of the brand?

When reflecting on what has inspired both my life and the creation of Cubitts, several influences come to mind.

Firstly, in terms of literature, I must mention “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby. This book holds a special place in my heart as it was the first book I ever read, around the age of 12 or 13, coinciding with the time I started wearing glasses. “Fever Pitch” ignited my curiosity for the world around me, laying the groundwork for what would later become Cubitts. Without the influence of this book, I sincerely doubt that Cubitts would exist today.

Moving on to a place of inspiration, I can’t help but mention my former residence at Cubitt Street in London. This address holds significant sentimental value, as it was not only my home for 15 years but also a constant wellspring of creativity and inspiration. Our company’s namesake is derived from the streets in this area, with all of our frames named after adjacent streets such as Ampton Street, Calthorpe Street, Judd Street, and Herbrand Street. Cubitt Street, nestled in the heart of Kings Cross, may have been historically misunderstood, but to me, it symbolizes an untapped well of inspiration. From its rich history, including plague pits and innovation, to its proximity to Clerkenwell—the original epicenter of spectacle making—every corner of this locale exudes creativity and heritage.

In essence, both “Fever Pitch” and Cubitt Street epitomize the ethos of Cubitts—curiosity, creativity, and a deep appreciation for heritage. These influences continue to shape our brand’s narrative, anchoring us firmly in the rich tapestry of London’s history while inspiring us to push the boundaries of innovation in eyewear.

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