Honoring Altina ‘Tina’ Schinasi: The Creative Visionary Behind the Iconic Cat-Eye Glasses

Altina Tina Schinasi.1

“Altina ‘Tina’ Schinasi: The Visionary Behind the Iconic Cat-Eye Glasses”


Altina Tina Schinasi

On August 4, Google plans to honor the remarkable life of Altina ‘Tina’ Schinasi, an American artist, designer, and inventor, as she would have turned 116 years old on this day. Schinasi, born in Manhattan, New York, in 1907 to immigrant parents, gained fame for her iconic creation of the ‘cat-eye’ eyeglass frame.

During her time at The Art Students League in New York, Schinasi’s passion for the arts flourished, and she had the opportunity to collaborate with renowned artists like Salvador Dali and George Grosz. Her creative spark ignited when, working as a window display designer, she noticed the lack of appealing eyeglass frame options for women.

Drawing inspiration from the Harlequin masks seen during the Carnevale celebration in Venice, Italy, Schinasi crafted a unique alternative. She designed her eyeglasses with sharp corners, believing they would be flattering to the face. Despite facing rejection from major manufacturers who deemed her design too bold, Schinasi persisted and found success when a local shop owner requested an exclusive design. The Harlequin glasses quickly became a sensation and garnered widespread attention.

By the late 1930s and early 1940s, the Harlequin spectacles had become a fashionable trend worldwide. Schinasi’s ingenuity was recognized, and she received accolades, including the Lord & Taylor Design Award in 1939 and features in esteemed publications like Vogue and Life.

Schinasi’s skills went beyond eyeglass design; in 1960, she made her film debut with the documentary “George Grosz’ Interregnum” about her old mentor. The movie received praise, taking up top prizes at the Venice Film Festival and even being nominated for an Academy Award.

Throughout her later years, Schinasi continued to channel her creativity by crafting original portrait chairs and benches known as Chairacters. She also authored her memoir, “The Road I Have Travelled” in 1995, and generously gave back to the community as an art therapist.

Even today, nearly a century after its inception, the cat-eye design continues to influence global fashion accessory trends, a testament to Altina ‘Tina’ Schinasi’s enduring impact on the world of art and design.

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