iSpex was opened in 1987, to provide Melburnians with fabulous choices in glasses. Owner Michelle Guthrie, was inspired by the fabulous eyewear of the forties, fifies and sixties - when spectacles made a real statement of who you are.
From round eye tortoise-shell and heavy-browed horn - to chrome metals, cats eye and fly away wing styles - glasses were were innovative and fun.
According to ispex owner, Michelle Guthrie, eyewear started going wrong in the mid seventies and continued that way for nearly two decades. "Cars lost their fins and so did glasses. Opticians became 'Optometrists' and glasses became a 'medical' thing. There is absolutely nothing frivolous and fun about 'medical men' selecting what people should wear on their faces" says Michelle, "but that's what happened and glasses became a prosthesis".
In the early eighties, the French and Italians reinvented eyewear as a fashion accessory, and emerging designers such as Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Paloma Picasso, Missoni, Hugo Boss etc' introduced their elegant eyewear fashions onto the European catwalks.
Around the same time Australian artist, Ken Done was splashing bright images, of Sydney Harbour and cockatoos onto canvas. These bold and colourful images were hugely popular around the world and were even incorporated into export knitwear - further enhanced by Jenny Kee. In South Africa, Anglo American Eyewear Company was testing the European market with their very large, colourful, hand-painted spectacle frames and in Australia, Jonathan Sceats of Sydney was the first to introduce the brave new concept of bold and colourful acetate (plastic) eyewear - and so, for another decade, glasses became brave and fun again.
Disaster hit spectacle wearers in the nineties, when cheap eyewear was introduced to Australia via multi-national chain groups. They offered cheaper eye wear, mass produced in Asia - to gave them huge profits but put independents into a difficult position. In order to compete with the 'big boys', independent opticians were forced to either close down, be taken over by them, or form bulk-buying groups, which enabled them as a group, to be able to purchase large quantities of cheap imports.
Thus, it became, and remains, increasing difficult for spectacle wearers to find fabulous eyewear. In their search for something fabulous, consumers soon discover that no matter how many stores they visit, eye wear looks the same.
There are a handful of optical stores which resisted the path of cheap and nasty and iSpex in Collingwood, always remained true to their clients.
Since opening, iSpex has only ever stocked fabulous eyewear. Each pair of frames is hand-picked from the very best the world has to offer - and is usually hand-crafted by artesans committed to quality and style.
You'll find all the latest frames from alternative style designers such as Anne et Valentin, J.F. Rey, Bozz, LA Eyeworks, iC Berlin, Betsey Johnson etc.
From Australia - there's the beautiful, hand-crafted, acetate eyewear from Roger Henley of Adelaide, hand-made anodised aluminium frames from Brendan O'Keefe of Melbourne and funky designs from Paul Taylor and Isson of Sydney.
Of course, iSpex is renowned for the bold and colourful, often quirky eyewear, designed in-house by owner, Michelle. Her funky designs are hand-crafted in Adelaide by Roger Henley, and can be made in a wide array of colours and patterns to create a distinctive and individual look.
People have always referred to iSpex as "that funky glasses shop", so in 2000, Funky Spex was annexed to the name and is now officially called, iSpex Funky Spex.
Although the word "funky' has become a little overused of late - it does fairly well describe what iSpex is all about. Yes, they're a little off-beat; Not quite the norm and way removed from the mainstream market.
As the optical industry, tragically moves deeper into cheap mass produced imports - it's a comfort to know that you can still get high quality, hand crafted individual eyewear - right here in Melbourne, at iSpex Funky Spex.
et them just right. iSpex Funky Spex is a shop with an almost pathological desire to find the perfect set of glasses for every face.
Even the shop itself betrays a fascination with all things optical, decorated with antique equipment including delicate tools, old frames and an early eye chart with surprisingly obscure illustrations – reason enough for even the 20/20s to have an eye check.
In terms of the glasses, the range is truly fascinating. You’ll find specs that suit softer or more pronounced features, smaller or longer faces, rounder or more angular bone structures. Styles range from the hornrimmed sophistication of a mid-century architect, to the flamboyance of Dame Edna, and everything in between.
As well as stocking a mixture of high-end imports (mostly from Europe), iSpex has its own Australian-made range.
Some of the edgier designs have been in a constant state of evolution during the store’s 20-year existence, taking inspiration from fashion icons and Melbourne’s streets. But you still have the freedom to create your own colour combination from a swatch laden with dozens of colours, ranging from lurid magenta to stoic urban greys.
With the help of the laidback staff, you may just walk away with a look you never thought you could pull off – and a perfectly fitting pair of specs to boot.