Icons of The Exchange: Tom Davies
These limited-edition patriotic sunglasses epitomise the luxury eyewear brand’s quintessentially British sense of style
When the Spice Girls performed at the 1997 Brit Awards, all eyes were on Geri Halliwell and her Union Jack-emblazoned dress. The dress (which was actually a plain Gucci dress with a Union Jack tea towel sewn on the front) has gone down in history as an iconic style moment, and later sold at auction for an incredible £41,320.
From The Jam’s Union Jack new wave mod blazers in the late 70s, to Noel Gallaghar’s Union Jack guitar during the mid 90s Britpop era, the bold colours and strong stripes of the United Kingdom’s flag has long been adopted as an exhibitionist style statement and a powerful symbol of pride and individuality.
For the eponymous founder of bespoke eyewear brand Tom Davies, the Union Jack flag proved an invaluable, if unorthodox, source of inspiration for one of his most iconic styles. ‘When I’m designing frames, I don’t like to start with a design brief,’ Davies explains. ‘One day I felt like making some Union Jack sunglasses. Once I’d had the idea it was only a matter of time.’
Several years earlier, back in 1996, Davies moved to Hong Kong with £200 in his pocket to try and put his newly acquired art degree to good use. By chance, he ended up working for an eyewear manufacturer where he quickly learned the ins and outs of the business, and how a pair of frames can totally transform a face.
After honing his skills in Hong Kong, Davies returned to Britain in 2000 with the aim of launching his own eyewear brand, with a focus on creative, bespoke design and the principles of ‘fit, form and function’.
Initially the frames were made in Japan, later China, before Davies brought production to Britain full-time. In the London workshop, Tom Davies sunglasses and optical wear are made from premium materials by skilled craftsmen and women who usually have to train for up to two years.
The Tom Davies approach is highly bespoke, with the minute details of the wearer’s face taken into consideration in order to accentuate features and, ultimately, create the perfect pair of frames for each individual face.
‘People don’t usually like their glasses,’ Davies says, matter of fact. ‘This is because there are far too many compromises involved in shopping for frames. My glasses will fit beautifully. We take detailed measurements around the head, specifically around the ears and nose, and then design the frame of your choice to balance on your head. We also take photos of you and discreetly tweak the shape to match your natural features, such as your brow line.’
Tom Davies is one of only a handful of eyewear designers to operate their own in-house production, as well as running stores in prestigious London locations, including The Royal Exchange. This branch is also home to state-of-the-art optical equipment to ensure that prescriptions are as definitive and bespoke as the finished frames. Premium, lightweight materials are also a cornerstone of Tom Davies, and the Union Jack frames are no exception.
‘I’m not the first one to make Union Jack flag sunglasses, but I’m certain mine are really the best,’ say Davies. ‘This material is 79 per cent cotton, which gives it a translucency and quality that is important for a luxury product. Each piece of material takes two hours to make by hand, before you even start on the frame. I spent months tinkering with the process. I made a new machine to bond all the pieces together and went through five different companies who make the pigment for the colour red. I wasted a lot of flags before I successfully made the first frame, but inventing this process has opened so many new creative processes for my eyewear. Sometimes it’s really worth pushing the boundaries. I think that’s why I love these frames so much.’
The limited-edition Union Jack sunglasses made their patriotic debut in summer 2019 and have proved to be a bestseller ever since. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but clearly there is an appetite for this whimsical and quintessentially British product.
‘No one buys my Union Jack sunglasses as their main pair of sunglasses, it’s always as a second pair,’ Davies admits. ‘But they are just so much fun that people buy them to bring some joy to their lives and, in the end, find themselves wearing them far more than they intended!’
See the Tom Davies Union Jack sunglasses being made:
Limited Edition Union Jack sunglasses, £295, Tom Davies Bespoke Opticians
The Royal Exchange celebrates its 450th anniversary this year. Our Icons of the Exchange series pays homage to the exceptional array of retailers that call The Royal Exchange home, with a look at the heritage, design and craftsmanship of products that epitomise the essence and excellence of our celebrated brands.
We look forward to welcoming you to The Royal Exchange during 2021, for a considered shopping experience in spectacular and historic surroundings. Please visit our boutiques page for regular updates on our retailers’ opening information and hours, as well as details about virtual appointments and click and collect services.
Visit our heritage page to learn more about the history of The Royal Exchange and keep an eye on our 450 Years site, journal and Instagram for more fascinating facts and insights about its past and present as we commemorate this special milestone throughout the year ahead.