Although the advice “I just want to say one word to you—just one word—plastics,” was delivered by a smug Los Angeles businessman to the 20-year-old college graduate, Benjamin Braddock (a.k.a. Dustin Hoffman), in the now legendary 1967 film “The Graduate,” that same sentence could have been communicated by Wilhelm Anger, a good 15 years earlier. Anger is the creator of Optyl, a custom-made duro-plastic eyeglass frame material based on epoxy resins, and a founder of the Austrian-based Optyl/Carrera Corporation, a giant international eyewear manufacturer in the last decades of the 20th century. Sàfilo purchased the assets of Carrera in 1996.
Plastic has clearly been a main focus of Anger’s long career in eyewear, but certainly not the only focus. Indeed, Anger’s biography reads much like a history of major optical events through the mid to late 20th century.
His career began as a necessity. After World War II, Anger, who had been raised on a farm in Czechoslovakia, needed to find work so he set off for Austria and in 1947 founded his own eyewear production company. “I was interested in creating safety goggles, but it was a slow business,” he notes. However, he did eventually develop Carrera sun and sports eyewear, which had a significant international market share by 1958.
Anger was also involved in a non-optical plastic business. “From 1948 to 1954, I worked in the plastic industry with pipes used for sewers, learning all I could about plastic. Plastic became my major focus.”
At the same time, Anger was learning about plastic and how it could work with eyewear, he was changing the image of eyewear from that of a medical device to one of fashion. “Probably the most important decision I ever made was introducing the motto ‘Dress Your Face’,” he explains. At that point, he also started looking outside the business for frame designers, hiring a student who had won a competition at the Vienna Art Institute.
Another major step in the evolution of eyewear is, of course, the introduction of designer/branded names. And in that area, too, Anger was actively involved. In the mid ’60s, he approached the House of Dior and in 1966 entered into a licensing agreement with Christian Dior. This is widely reputed to be the first eyewear license and has continued uninterrupted since 1966. The license is now held by the Sàfilo Group.
“I believe the agreement with Dior was a key step in elevating eyewear to a high-fashion accessory. In order to merchandise eyewear as an accessory, we needed branded names,” Anger explains. He then relates a story about meeting the fashion designer Emilio Pucci in the late ’60s. “Mr. Pucci said to me in all seriousness, ‘Why are you wearing a designer name on your eyewear? How much is Dior paying you?’ I had to explain we were actually paying Dior.” In 1972, the year the Optyl Corporation [later known as Carrera] was founded, several other licensed collections joined Dior at Optyl, including Dunhill, Playboy and Porsche Design.
The corporation took its name from Optyl, a new plastic material Anger developed and introduced in 1969. “In the ’60s, everyone worked with the same plastic and had the same colors. Optyl was a real breakthrough for the industry,” Anger notes. “It was a complicated process and there were lots of problems and resistance at first. But the material is still manufactured by Sàfilo, using the same technology I developed.”
In 1978, Anger sold his share in the optical business and moved to New York. In 1988, he introduced Eyemetrics, a computer system that measures an image of the face so the frame can be customized for a perfect fit. “The idea was ahead of its time. The computer we needed at the time cost $70,000. The same computer is now built for $3,000 so I sold the system to a Japanese company. Eyemetrics is still being used very successfully,” he says.
In the mid ’90s, Anger focused again on plastic, developing Marsyn, a high-performance polymer that combines strength and rigidity at elevated temperatures, is hypo-allergenic and offers dimensional stability. It’s used to construct Swissflex and T2 frames.
As for the future, Anger doesn’t plan to stray far from that one word—plastics. “I’m going to stay with plastics. I could do this for ever and ever. I have so many ideas.” —Gloria Nicola