The true story behind Michael Caine’s signature Sixties glasses

Designed by Curry & Paxton, the actor’s iconic ‘Yvan’ frames first came into focus in 1965’s The IPCRESS File…

This spectacular, spectacled story begins — as do so many tales of modern menswear — with James Bond. Sean Connery’s 007 had recently dispatched Dr. No and was on the hunt for a new mission. Bond producers enlisted author Len Deighton to help with this, tasking him with the screen adaptation of Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love. 

Deighton was already an accomplished, respected writer; having published his first spy novel in 1962 — the same year Connery’s Bond debuted in Dr. No. So when producer Harry Saltzman recruited the author, he had full confidence in his abilities, even sending Deighton to Istanbul to ensure the film would feel authentic. But the screenplay fell badly behind schedule, and Deighton was eventually replaced.

And yet, during the author’s brief encounter with Eon Productions, Deighton managed to sell Saltzman the rights to his own spy novels. And, before long, an adaptation of the first entry in what would become known as Deighton’s ‘Harry Palmer’ series, The IPCRESS File, was put into production. Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster was brought on to adapt the novel (Sangster, ironically, would be replaced himself after also falling behind schedule on the script). But, before he was dismissed, he did suggest the ideal actor to play the film’s protagonist; Michael Caine.

Caine, whose star was rising after 1964’s Zulu, was heavily involved in The IPCRESS File adaptation. He and Saltzman named Len Deighton’s as-then anonymous protagonist (borrowing Saltzman’s forename, and the surname of a boy Caine had known at school, Tommy Palmer). Caine managed to mediate relations between director Sidney J. Furie and Saltzman when things got frosty on set. And he even suggested that various props and products be featured throughout — from an ‘Insta-Brewer’ coffee pot to Palmer’s distinctive pair of Curry & Paxton spectacles.

And distinctive these spectacles definitely were. Over the next few years, Caine’s frames would crop up in a number of famous film productions. But, whether you recognise them from the spy sequels that followed The IPCRESS File, or The Italian Job — in which Caine slipped on a tinted spin on the style — Curry & Paxton’s ‘Yvan’ glasses set the standard for cool mid-century menswear. 

But why glasses? Many have speculated that Caine’s spectacles were a way to distinguish his Harry Palmer character from James Bond. But the true explanation is much simpler. Caine wanted the signature spectacles to distinguish Palmer from himself. 

Eyeing The IPCRESS File as the first of a spy series (five films would eventually be made), Caine wanted an accessory that exemplified his Palmer persona; something he might remove for other films to ensure he didn’t become over-identified with the role. The actor was also near-sighted even then, so working a pair of reliable frames into his costume meant Caine could engage in as many punch-ups, gunfights and car chases as the scripts called for. 

That being said, the first film’s production did suffer a delay after all three pairs of prop glasses were broken. An entire day was lost, and resulted in the costume department buying twenty extra pairs to avoid similar setbacks in the future. And these specs were all sourced from Curry & Paxton; a quintessential British brand.

Originally founded in 1876 under the named ‘Pickard & Curry’, George Paxton Snr joined the brand ten years later. By 1920, ‘Curry & Paxton Ltd’ was born, and the following decades saw the frames adopted by all; with a Royal Warrant bestowed upon the brand in 1943, and many NHS contracts awarded to the company from 1948 onwards.

Caine’s frames, then, were popular even before The IPCRESS File premiered. Franchise creator Len Deighton wore a pair daily, and many sources describe the ‘Yvan’ style as the first affordable ‘designer’ frames available in Britain. Within the film series, Caine is rarely seen without his glasses on. In the original, and sequels including Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967), the actor can be seen wearing the statement specs, whether he’s in his pyjamas grinding coffee beans or shrugging on his similarly iconic spy-beige mackintosh in East Berlin.

And the striking style pervades spy fiction to this day. Films from Matthew Vaughn’s modern Kingsman series to the tongue-in-cheek Austin Powers franchise feature covert protagonists in thick-rimmed glasses — not coincidentally, Michael Caine also appears in both. And the legendary British actor even found roles for his favourite frames in other films of the 1960s, with The Italian Job being a particularly stylish highlight.

In the car-fixated caper, there are many fashionable moments — from Caine’s tailor-made Douglas Hayward suit to his pair of high-shine black Chelsea boots. But the actor’s ‘Yvan’ frames also make a dashing appearance; firmly on the face of the Caine’s ‘Charlie Croker’ as he attempts to evade the mafia in Turin airport.

But it wasn’t just in character that Caine wore these famous glasses. Throughout his early career, photographs of the actor can be found cavorting around London with friends and partners, socialising whilst wearing his ‘Yvan’ frames. Years later, in 2006, a pair in tortoiseshell were even auctioned off at Christie’s — with The IPCRESS File-starring spectacles selling for £6,600.

Which gives us even greater pleasure in revealing that the ‘Yvan’ frames are back. And, whether you’re after a pair of Michael Caine-mimicking spectacles, or a more Charlie Croker-copying sunglasses style, Curry & Paxton has you covered. 

Made from high-grade cellulose sourced from Italian acetate manufacturers Mazzucchelli, the modern-day ‘Yvan’ frames feature five-barrel hinges and genuine pin fastenings for maximum strength and durability. Available in either ‘Dark Tortoiseshell’, ‘Piano Black’ or ‘Caramel Tortoiseshell’, you can pick out either optical lenses or a set of UV-shielding brown tinted lenses.

Regardless of the look you like, there are few style icons cooler or more collected than Michael Caine at the height of his mid-Sixties swagger. So, whether you’re disbanding nefarious intelligence units, absconding with millions in gold bullion or just going about your daily life, Caine’s frames are a pair you can always count on.

The true story behind Michael Caine’s signature Sixties glasses

Curry & Paxton ‘Yvan’ Sunglasses

£189.00

Buy Now

Want more behind-the-scenes tales? Here’s the inside story of James Bond’s stolen Aston Martin DB5…

Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.

Further Reading