If you have ever wondered who invented the cat-eye glasses, the popular fashion accessory that has been worn by celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Taylor Swift, then you might be interested to know more about Altina Schinasi, the woman behind this iconic design. Altina Schinasi was a remarkable American sculptor, filmmaker, entrepreneur, designer, and inventor, who was born on August 4, 1907, in Manhattan, New York. Today, Google celebrates her 116th birthday with a special doodle that features her signature eyeglass frames.
Altina Schinasi’s artistic journey began with her studies in painting in Paris after completing her high school education. She honed her skills at The Art Students League upon returning to New York. Initially working as a window dresser for Fifth Avenue retailers, she unexpectedly found herself collaborating with renowned artists like Salvador Dali and George Grosz. The idea for the cat-eye glasses emerged when Schinasi noticed the limited options available for women’s eyewear. Drawing inspiration from the harlequin masks at Venice, Italy’s Carnevale festival, she envisioned that the sharp edges of the glasses would brilliantly accentuate a woman’s features.
Though she faced initial rejection from many retailers, a local shop owner recognized the potential in her design and agreed to sell the glasses with their distinctive edges and curves. In the late 1930s and 1940s, the demand for Harlequin glasses skyrocketed among women due to their rising popularity. Schinasi’s design received accolades, and she was honoured with the American Design Award in 1939. Her name soon became synonymous with eyewear fashion, leading to features in prestigious publications like Vogue and Life Magazines.
Beyond her groundbreaking work in the eyewear industry, Schinasi displayed her creativity in the film world. In 1960, she produced the critically acclaimed documentary “George Grosz’s Interregnum,” which received praise at the Venice Film Festival and earned an Academy Award nomination. The film portrayed the life and career of her mentor and instructor, George Grosz. Schinasi’s brilliance extended beyond eyewear and film. She showcased her inventiveness and artistic abilities by creating unconventional portraits of chairs and benches, aptly named ‘Chairacters.’ These unique creations demonstrated her versatility as an artist and inventor.
Altina Schinasi passed away in 1999 at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and inspiration. She was the subject of a 2014 documentary titled “Altina,” which explored her extraordinary life story. Google pays tribute to her today with a doodle that captures her spirit and style.