Wednesday, April 02, 2014

In the Market Report: Monocles

Monocle by Swarovski

There's something new (actually it’s something impossibly old), in the early Spring air and the eyes have it.  I’m not referring to the pollen (yet), but rather an eye wear phenomenon.    I was just marveling at the fact that Warby Parker, the hip and trendy eyeglass chain with a social conscience (as Tom’s does with their shoes, a pair of glasses is donated to those in need each time a pair is purchased) had opened their third Manhattan store in an unhip and untrendy uptown locale (the other two are in the Meatpacking District and in SoHo).  On Saturday, March 22 the former Lascoff’s Pharmacy (1209 Lexington Ave. on the decidedly staid UES) became the new, (old) home of their sixth store (they have a mostly online presence) when, appropriately enough, according to the NY Times and several other media of note, the hipster fad of monocles went viral.

Lascoff store front  on East 82nd Street now Warby Parker

The Times has now devoted two separate articles to the monocle. The first one appeared innocently enough, in the Thursday Styles section as a cover story by Allen Salkin and began by calling the monocle trend "one part Mr. Peanut, one part hipster chic." article 1 and article 2 Those words then became fodder for what I consider one of the funniest send-ups  entitled "Beyond the Monocle: Five Ideas for Future New York Times Hipster Trend Pieces" by Amanda Hess for Slate.(click here for Slate article) "Where can the Times go from here?" she asks.  "We plugged five outmoded fashion trends into gray lady language to forecast the future of the Times trend piece."  She then goes on to suggest several hilarious combinations including my personal favorite "One part Plague Doctor, One Part Hipster Chic" in which the donning of the old-thyme bird masks with "meticulous sharpened beaks--often filled with aromatic wildflowers to ward off the stench of death..." well, it definitely deserves a read.

Estate sale platinum and diamond lorgnette

By chance, Warby Parker stocks a monocle and their new store in the restored 1900’s location  complete with original moldings, terrazzo floors, 20 ft. cathedral ceilings and 20 ft. arched windows, plus pneumatic tubes (!) to transport the glasses from the basement where they are stored to the sales floor, would be the perfect place to buy it.  Even the legendary green blade sign hanging outside the building will soon be reworked with the Warby Parker name on it to ease you into your step back in time and perhaps prepare you  for your single lens. OK, if you insist on being hopelessly un-hip ( eye roll here), you can also purchase regular eyeglasses.  Amazingly, they carry those, too.

Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker wrote an article in Inc. which appeared last year entitled "Why Our Worst-Selling Item is My Favorite." Guess what item he was referring to...uh-huh the monocle which he terms "a great brand statement" whose value should never be underestimated.   He also mentions that his wife bet his co-founder Jeff that they would never sell out of their first order but, of course, they did and she owes Jeff ten dollars.  Fun fact: apparently a handful of chefs use them to read recipes since they don't fog up as readily as glasses so at least some outside of "hipster-dom" have found a utilitarian use for them.

Colonel Klink

The irony is not lost on me that hipsters, as I had previously noted in my last article, are fond of wearing outmoded items ironically lending a certain plausibility to this micro-trend while bringing back the spectre of  The New Yorker's mascot dandy Eustace Tilley and Hogan's Heroes Colonel Klink.   Is the one-eyed vision enhancers’ supposed resurgence serving as a bridge to Google Glass which looks rather monocle-like?  Maybe, to paraphrase Hillary Clinton, it’s just a “vast right-eye conspiracy” to acclimate the wearer and the person observing the wearer (excuse me, they’re called “Explorers”) of Google Glass, to get accustomed to having (or seeing) a foreign object hovering over one eye.

Sarah Jessica Parker wearing Google Glass

If monocles have a Sherlock Holmesian appeal to men, then I’d like to suggest the concept of a lorgnette as worn by Charlotte Bronte or Sara Bernhardt for women.   I’ve always liked the decorative single magnifying lens as a necklace and had owned two of them in costume jewelry before I even needed glasses, because I thought they were cool.  There are several available on Etsy and ebay, some jeweled and from estate sales and other less precious options from mid-century.

Soon the monocle fad (if it ever really existed) will have had its 15 minutes. Tick-Tock...I'm timing it on my pocket watch.


- Laurel Marcus

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