In Edith Wharton’s 1913 novel The Custom of the Country, the social-climbing protagonist Undine Spragg walks into a New York gallery and is intrigued by the sight of a woman wearing an unusual accessory — a tortoiseshell eye-glass, set with diamonds and hanging from a long pearl chain. To her, this represents the height of society chic.
At London Fashion Week in February, I had my own “Spragg epiphany”, when I spied gargantuan golden links swinging from the sunglasses of British Vogue’s news editor Olivia Singer. They were practical, yes, but they were also a dazzling piece of statement jewellery — and all of a sudden they were the only item I wanted. In the days that followed, I saw similar versions being worn by many stylish industry figures — Tamu McPherson, Susie Bubble, Xenia Adonts.
This new breed of glasses chains is worlds apart from the twisted cords in lacklustre shades I’ve sometimes seen affixed to the spectacles of librarians. They are a rather delightful twist on geek chic, featuring baroque pearls, colourful lacquered beads, tortoiseshell and chunky gold links.
“Just like for their jewellery, consumers are willing to experiment more when it comes to adorning their glasses, and our chains are like jewellery pieces within themselves,” says Vanessa Harrington, co-founder of London-based unisex label Frame Chain.
Since its launch in 2014, Frame Chain has expanded to more than 200 independent stockists, including Matchesfashion.com and Net-a-Porter. The designer, model and Next in Fashion host Alexa Chung is a fan. Its bold designs range from chains that create the illusion you’re wearing sparkly chandelier earrings to the newly launched “Candy Store” capsule (prices from £95, brownsfashion.com) and pastel beads that look good enough to eat.
One of Frame Chain’s newest creations is “Hooker” (£210). At first glance, it’s a chunky gold-plated choker but it doubles up as a nifty hook for your spectacles when not in use. “What people truly want is versatility — they have busy lives and seek accessories with duality,” says Frame Chain co-founder Ann-Margret Kearney.
Browns Fashion has also seen a spike in online searches and sales of glasses chains in the past six months, with Kaleos and Frame Chain being the most popular brands on its site: Frame Chain’s 18ct-gold-plated “Pearly Princess” (£220) has routinely sold out. “They’re playful and are a really fun way to add another dimension to your outfit capsule,” says Aveen Byron, a jewellery buyer at Browns. “Candy Store already has a waiting list,” she adds.
Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele’s eyewear mantra could well be “go big or go home”, and when he sent his oversized resin chain-links featuring interlocking “GG” charms (£265) down the runway, it wasn’t long before they found themselves added to the spectacles of street-style stars.
Maximalism is also the trend du jour at eyewear label Linda Farrow, whose oversized roundlink acetate chains come in multiple colourways (from £195). Chanel offers a dose of nostalgia, paying homage to founder Coco Chanel and its own iconic ’90s glasses chains. The updated version is made from leather, gold and pearls, designed to be layered or looped around the neck and cascade down the décolletage (£650).
Men need not feel left out: the AW20 collections have plenty of eyewear options, too. Flat snake chains appeared on the catwalk at Berluti (£200), and models wore glasses chains at Fendi, from simple gold-metal links paired with visor-like aviators to chains featuring the house’s signature “F” in contrasting tortoiseshell (£450).
But why buy, when you can make your own? Fine jeweller Carolina Bucci has devised “Forte” bead kits (£1,030), so that anyone can create a personalised chain. “I designed and launched our Forte bead necklaces and bracelets collection, and at the same time I went through a period of losing four pairs of sunglasses over a summer — the glasses chain just kind of invented itself,” she says.
The kits, all created in Bucci’s family-run atelier in Florence, come with 60 vibrant precious-stone beads, from lapis lazuli to malachite to peach aventurine, as well as glittering Lurex cords with shoelace-like ends in 18ct gold. For extra personalisation, 18ct-gold beads and letters can be bought separately. The collection comes “from lazy summers spent making plastic beaded bracelets with my two sons on the beach,” says Bucci. “I wanted to create something more permanent that captured that spirit.”
Glasses aren’t the only essentials that now come with chains. Three days after Apple issued its latest AirPods, Tapper launched braided leather ropes. Now, it has expanded the range to include twisted chains that look like fine jewellery necklaces, plated in 18ct gold with 925 silver and black hematite (prices from €70). Each chain-end features a neodymium magnet to attach it neatly to your tech.
That’s another benefit to the chains: you’re less likely to lose your AirPods, or your glasses, again.
Follow @financialtimesfashion on Instagram to find out about our latest stories first. Listen to our podcast, Culture Call, where FT editors and special guests discuss life and art in the time of coronavirus. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
Get alerts on Style when a new story is published