Maison Bonnet – Paris:
In the world of menswear (and, no doubt, womenswear) there are a few Houses who, through their designs, have influenced the collective style of generations, far beyond what any of us may immediately appreciate. Whether it be Domenico Caraceni and Vincenzo Attolini’s re-thinking of the traditional stiff English suit jacket, for a change to lightweight, unstructured jackets and suiting, or Aldo Gucci’s legendary Horsebit Loafer. Both designs are now respected staples in classic western menswear, but few understand their origins.
Fourth generation family owned Parisian bespoke eyewear house, Maison Bonnet, has made an equally impactful contribution to western eye-wear since their inception in 1950, whilst quietly going about their business in their small atelier on the rue des Petits-Champs.
Earlier this year I met with brothers Steven and Franck Bonnet to commission a pair of bespoke sunglasses (that article will be published next week or 2) and to understand more about the family’s history and contribution to eye-wear over the past nearly 70 years.
A selection of their designs have become icons in their own right. Aristotle Onnasis’ famous frames, arguably one of the most famous eye-wear designs of the 20th century, were created by Christian Bonnet (Steven and Franck’s father), with Onnasis becoming a great customer over the years. As the frame design was so unique, he would frequently be complimented on them by friends or passers-by and he would simply take them off and give them to whomever paid the compliment. So he took to ordering ten pairs at a time (all made from turtle shell) so that he could give them away and then put on a new pair immediately after. The King of Morocco, also a client, did something similar.
In addition to Onnasis’ frames, the House also designed Yves Saint Laurent’s trademark frames, first in 1965 and then an update in 1974. As an interesting side note, the reason for the larger lenses was due to Saint Laurent’s intense shyness allowing him to hide behind the glasses.
Maison Bonnet have really only ever done the one thing, and that is to make custom eye-glasses with unique, rare and mostly natural materials, with each pair taking up to 30 hours to complete and at least 1 fitting during the process. They produce no ready to wear frames, something I applaud them for, and have resolutely focused on bespoke commissions since doors opened nearly seven decades ago. This goes against the grain of almost all other makers through the latter half of the 20th century, who either closed down due to falling demand or expanded into ready to wear production as a means of growth. This commitment to small-scale, precision artisanship fits within my experiences with other Parisian makers (mainly Pierre Corthay, Chapal and Camps de Luca) and their passion for seeing their work as an art form, which is applied with a craftsman’s discipline. Interestingly, Pierre Corthay and Marc de Luca both have their glasses made at Maison Bonnet.
Materials used begin with acetate (though not a natural material, its durability to withstand the rigors of daily life and diverse range of colours and patterns make it impossible to overlook as an ideal product for glasses) and move up to buffalo horn and, finally, turtle shell. Added to these materials is the ability to inlay various other materials, including ivory, gold leaf, silk and leather.
Once the first meeting to take measurements and design the glasses has taken place, the information is sent to their workshop in Sens (120km from Paris) to be crafted, before being sent to Paris for a first fitting with the client. From this point on, the glasses won’t leave Maison Bonnet’s Paris atelier and all remaining changes and finishing takes place here.
I’ll explain more about the stages of a commission in next week’s article.
One thing many high end makers tend to do (think Savile Row or many large luxury brands) is to relentlessly play up to their heritage, wanting to appear thoroughly old-fashioned as a way of attracting customers to a bygone era when craftsmanship was better valued and appreciated. One of the most noticeable elements of my experience with Maison Bonnet is that whilst they are aware of and respect their history, they have both feet firmly planted in the 21st century. Steven and Franck are unmistakably passionate about their work and continuing their families’ legacy, but they have no arrogance about what they do. They dress as they please, clearly not feeling a need to fit an increasingly outdated mould for catering to high profile clients (as some overly managed brands do) and they are relaxed and at home in the atelier. If I had to guess, I’d say this comes from an iron clad confidence in their ability to make a product to a standard which very few, if any others, can. I’ll make sure ask them about that when I’m back in Paris in a few months.
Varies significantly with each commission, so they prefer to quote on a case by case basis, but as you’d expect, prices increase with the level of complexity in a commission and with the exclusivity of chosen materials.