Altina Schinasi (August 4, 1907 – August 19, 1999) was a brilliant American artist, designer, and inventor best recognised for developing the enduringly well-liked “cat-eye” eyeglass frame. Altina Schinasi’s inventive abilities went beyond eyewear; in addition to patenting numerous other items, she also made films.
Altina Schinasi, who was raised by immigrant parents and was born in Manhattan, New York, in 1907, was exposed to a variety of cultural influences. She pursued her passion of painting in Paris after graduating from high school, a move that sparked her love for the arts. When she eventually made it back to the US, she continued her painting studies at The painting Students League in New York and found work as a window dresser on Fifth Avenue, where she had the chance to work with and study under great artists like George Grosz and Salvador Dali.
“Cat-Eye” eyeglasses inspired by her?
The “cat-eye” eyeglasses that Altina Schinasi invented were inspired by her work as a window display designer. She took inspiration from the Harlequin masks she had seen at the Carnevale festival in Venice, Italy, after observing the dearth of fashionable options for women’s eyeglasses. She was enthralled by the refined and pointed design of these masks, therefore she used paper to make paper replicas of her original frame.
Altina Schinasi persevered in spite of initial rejection from significant manufacturers who thought her design was too avant-garde. A nearby store owner saw the potential in her invention and asked for an exclusive design for a period of six months. Within a short period of time, the Harlequin spectacles were widely worn by American ladies in the late 1930s and early 1940s, sparking a fashion craze. Altina Schinasi received praise for her innovation and was featured in publications like Vogue and Life in addition to receiving the esteemed Lord & Taylor American Design Award in 1939.
Altina Schinasi expanded her career beyond eyewear by getting into movies. Her 1960 documentary “George Grosz’ Interregnum,” which focused on the life of her former mentor and renowned artist George Grosz, was one of her many accomplishments. The documentary received accolades, including a Venice Film Festival grand prize and an Academy Award nomination.
In her senior years, Altina Schinasi’s artistic spirit flourished once more. In addition to volunteering as an art therapist and writing her book, “The Road I Have Travelled,” she also created a line of distinctive portrait chairs and benches she dubbed “Chairacters.”
Altina’s “cat-eye” design is still a fashion staple today, over a century after it was first introduced, a monument to her enduring artistic legacy.