Black Eyewear is the creation of optician and lifelong jazz devotee, Robert Roope. It was the late 60s, Roope was living in Copenhagen. He was a regular at the world-renowned jazz club Jazzhus Montmartre. These are the sort of glasses that every Free Car Mag reader should be wearing, we throughly approve and love the back story.

One night someone sat down and joined him on the piano. Robert was about to ask him to stop when he saw it was Count Basie. Stunned, Roope got up to go, but Basie motioned him to stay, and for a few moments they played a duet. “That was such a great experience” says Roope.

As a lifelong jazz fan, Robert Roope’s frame designs are inspired by eyewear worn by jazz musicians of the 1950s. As a token of his admiration for their music, Robert dedicated his designs to jazz greats like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The brand ‘Black Eyewear’ has, to date, over one hundred and fifty models in the collection, each one individually embracing the uniqueness of these great artists.

“I decided one afternoon that I would dedicate each model to a jazz great. Obviously they’d never worn them, but I wanted to find some sort of friendly connection to each,” he says. “The ‘Bird’ was dedicated to Charlie Parker, the ‘Chet’ was dedicated to Chet Baker, and off I went… I had decided that black wasn’t enough.” Roope’s array of designs also includes frames dedicated to Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and many more. I recently discovered a new favourite of my own, which also happens to be one of Roope’s most popular designs – ‘Buddy’, dedicated to virtuoso drummer Buddy Rich and currently available in 28 different colour variations. In 2013, Roope’s son made him aware of a vacant shop space at 38 Goodge Street. “We started here on Goodge Street as a pop-up and quite soon people were visiting us on a regular basis; quickly we became a permanent fixture,” he says. Since then, Roope has continued to showcase his designs in his Fitzrovia-based store as well as in his shop in St. Albans.

“The early designs of my Black Eyewear collection took inspiration from glasses of the 1950s” says Roope. “It was a decade of eyewear design that shaped the future of the optical industry. The transfer of skills from the redundant ornamental comb industry to Optics in the late 1940s combined with the sunglass-wearing icons of Hollywood were major influencers that transformed eyewear from an indicator of physical abnormality to a must-have fashion accessory; glasses wearers could look as cool as everybody else.”

Fashion frames in the UK began to emerge as an alternative to the glasses available on the National Health Service. Many small frame factories were geared up across the UK to supply the large volumes of NHS models that were both cheap and efficient. At the same time, they offered their own designs which were classified as ‘private’ frames and cost more. Both NHS and ‘private’ frames were all hand made and often made to measure. The choice was then left to the patient, NHS frames were free or private frames at an extra cost.

“My collection of archival, early hand made frames, showed how the focus on the fit was paramount. Frames of the 1950s seemed made for much smaller faces and the challenge of refreshing these as larger sizes became my major challenge. I loved the simplicity of these small 1950s frames perhaps because they rekindled happy memories of my time at Dollond & Aitchison and Selfridges in the early 1960s when products were supplied by an array of small UK companies. Life felt so simple then. “— Robert Roope