I’ve just had my face three-dimensionally “scanned" in order to enable the fitting of a pair of spectacles, no doubt an extraordinary and costly step in the making of a simple pair of glasses at your neighbourhood optician. But these are no ordinary glasses and John-Paul Pietrus is definitely no ordinary eyewear designer.
A veteran fashionista, whose storied photographic career includes shooting for Vogue, Vanity Fair and MAC, John-Paul Pietrus is known for an aesthetic which is bold, vivid, glamorous and ironic, an unusual combination with no direct, obvious comp, much like his superb new eyewear brand Francis de Lara. The eponymously named brand is the world’s first to offer optical quality spectacles made of solid sterling silver, gold, diamonds and gemstones.
A few years back, London-based Pietrus took a self-imposed sabbatical because he was badly in need of a break from the catty politics of the fashion world. He temporarily relocated to one of his favourite cities in the world, Florence, and decided to do something creative entirely for himself. Having photographed and been fascinated by the exquisite artistry of fine jewellery for decades, Pietrus enrolled in one of the city’s top fine jewellery schools, Metallo Nobile.
Enamelling and gold-smithing
When not immersed in intensive one-on-one training in time-honoured techniques like enamelling and gold-smithing, Pietrus spent his free time strolling the cobbled streets and gilded corridors of Florence’s most celebrated museums and palaces. It was here that he experienced the epiphany which led to the germination of Francis de Lara.
“One evening, I was walking through the Uffizi and looking at beautiful Renaissance paintings. In the portraits of clergy and nobility, the subjects were always adorned with incredible jewellery, rings, bracelets and necklaces but never any eyewear, not even a monocle. That’s when the pin dropped and I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if a character in a Renaissance painting had a pair of glasses to match.” With that as a starting point, Pietrus dedicated himself to creating a pair of bejewelled solid gold spectacles worthy of a Medici.
His first pair of spectacles, the Ruby Teardrop, was based on motifs Pietrus spotted in various pieces of Renaissance painting and sculpture, the blood tear and undulating ribbons. With the original intention of simply “realizing an idea”, without any thought to commercialization or comfort, he let his imagination take flight, explaining the unusual, exuberant butterfly shape of his first pair of frames. Pursuing a flight of a fancy, however, is very different than making a pair of spectacles which sits comfortably on the face. To perfect the first model alone took three iterations, countless hours and lots of finicky tweaking.
This past summer, after two years, Pietrus launched “Ribbons & Serpents” Francis de Lara’s first collection comprising three spectacle styles composed of sterling silver, 24K gold, sapphires, diamonds, emeralds, amethyst and ebony, each frame meticulously constructed, engraved and fitted by hand, based on the exact dimensions of the client’s face.
Made end-to-end by a single artisan in Florence, who also makes objets d'art for the Vatican, each pair takes between 260 and 360 hours to craft. The delivery lead time from commissioning a pair of glasses to the personal fitting by Pietrus is four months. But God is in the details. And details which are hand-made bring an ineffable richness to the texture and atmosphere evoked by the glasses.
“If you look at the Ruby Teardrop frames, and you think the width of the ribbon is uniform, in fact, it isn’t. I like the irregularities because it makes it clear that it’s not a cookie cutter product. Each line of engraving is etched by hand. In the Three Serpents glasses, some sapphires on the serpent’s scales are bigger and smaller. So are the depth of the undulations of the engraving, which, even if they don’t register on a conscious level, register on a subconscious level. It’s the difference between a mannequin versus a real person. A real person has a hair out of place.”
His commitment to uncompromising execution is part and parcel of Pietrus’ overall philosophy as an image-maker and long-time observer of fashion. “A lot of fashion and popular culture is very street, very urban. Even worse, designers have been elevating what’s tacky, cheap and vulgar into high fashion. I wanted to create an antidote to the Kardashian phenomenon of vulgar culture, so I made something which draws on a very beautiful, interesting, dynamic era with substance. That’s what we need -- to put substance back in our lives.”
No doubt about it, Pietrus has managed to do just that with his exquisite spectacles. By capturing the craft and sumptuousness of a bygone era, each pair of Francis de Lara is destined to become a modern-day heirloom.
Writer: Joanne Ooi