The fact they chose optometry started a chain of events that means celebrations are planned to mark the 100th anniversary of the family business. The pair’s inspiring work practices and energy reverberate strongly with the current custodians of the brand – husband and wife team Jason and Karen Kirk.
Jason’s innovative grandfather and great uncle began by refashioning a discarded sewing machine into a lens cutter and moulded powdered cows’ milk to produce spectacles.
They were the first to develop a motorbike delivery service, be bold enough to take business trips by boat to Brazil to source premium materials – the best quartz from the best beaches – saw their safety glasses travelling at unimaginable speeds on the face of Donald Campbell, recognise the power of advertising and marketing and made the capital a centre of industry excellence.
They bought houses next to each other, married sisters and raised a big, close-knit, happy family.
One of those was Neville, who was next to take up the mantle. He cared for a corner of Buckinghamshire (Chalfont St Giles) as its optician, priding himself on providing an essential and exemplary medical service and saving a number of lives, using his skills to identify early diagnosis of serious conditions.
When you are in possession of that calibre of gene, it was part of the natural evolutionary process that Jason, who heard the extraordinary stories of old and toddled around in his Dad’s glasses emporium, would take and combine the finest elements that stimulated him to become the third generation of trailblazer.
A suitcase full of fabulous original 50s and 60s Kirk Brothers’ glasses was discovered in 1992 and used as the blueprint for the first new designs, paid for with a modest but timely redundancy settlement. Old acetate was upcycled until demand dictated that finite resource was not sustainable.
Jason said: “I walked boldly into the offices of designers Helen Storey and Nick Coleman as if I knew them and started selling those old glasses. From that moment on, we’ve never looked back.”
Kirk & Kirk now concentrate solely on the frame and are the only eyewear designers in the world producing in acrylic – their own bespoke grade of the material developed over two years to ensure workability, quality, comfort and that heads are turning. With the wisdom gathered from frame makers from the early to mid-20th century, artisans in France are handcrafting the designs.
Jason said: “We do not trade in units but in emotion. Human beings handle our frames – as they are built, as they are polished, as they are packaged. Our team know there can be a myriad of stories attached to the frames we sell.
“I adore the dialogue we enter into with many of our customers to discuss what they are looking for. I love even more when faces light up when someone looks in the mirror wearing the perfect pair of glasses that reflect their personality. It makes them feel two inches taller. We help people fulfil their potential, which is a joyful experience for both sides.”
Celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this week, Jason says graphic designer Karen brought the creative discipline to his optical ideas and it has proved a winning fusion. She is responsible for the kaleidoscopic palettes and unique colourways that play in different lights and angles.
The couple are also driving a passionate crusade to protect the independent optician and the quality and service they have always represented. As well as selling online to facilitate the needs and desires of the consumer via their own website www.kirkandkirk.com, their worldwide stockists are handpicked optical practitioners who Kirk & Kirk will recommend to attend for the right examination and prescription.
Jason said: “Do not cut corners with that expert care. You will take health risks otherwise. Get the correct prescription, the correct advice and then relax and enjoy the experience of picking new glasses.”
The Kirks, who live and work near Brighton with a second office now in Philadelphia, follow in their forbearers’ footsteps and travel with their products and it is endlessly fascinating. While the beautiful, clinically-engineered opticians of Germany order crystal, tortoiseshell and black frames only, the stores of Japan ask for the brighter the better.
Pinning down the profile of your typical Kirk & Kirk customer is nigh on impossible it seems. They know from sons Eden, 23, and Ezra, 21, who perhaps have not always appreciated just how cool their parents are but who are now walking adverts for the brand, that Millennials may be on the turn and are tiring not only of beards but little round specs.
Jason said: “Often people will say ‘do I dare’ and we say ‘yes you should’ because you look great, be you 20 or 80. They are not simply a piece of functional equipment, they have the power to transform, to surprise, to invigorate. Don’t ruin your face with dull glasses!”
Instagram star and pathologist assistant Nicole Angemi (IG @Mrs_Angemi) has collaborated with Kirk & Kirk for a limited-edition range of eyewear. The collection speaks to Jason and Karen’s love of the Victoriana vibe, the different and the interesting and Angemi’s passion for edgy glasses as an essential style item. The designs feature precious metal detailing with animal heads, hearts and scalpels. Just an advisory note . . .those of a squeamish disposition, caution is recommended when visiting her IG profile.