They’re everywhere! But should you get a pair?
“Hi there! I’m looking for a small brand, they’re called Jacques Marie Mage.” Except, what I really said was Jacques Marie …Mayyyyje, cautiously drawing out the last name, unsure of the proper pronunciation.
“Ahhh, Jacques Marie Mahhje,” he responded, not in a kind professorial way, but in a condescending, “how could you” manner that made me question whether I was, in fact, the only customer in the store (I was).
The salesperson then led me with an extravagant flourish to a display case that held exactly two sunglasses by Jacques Marie Mage, neither of which was really what I was looking for. I politely thanked him for his “help” and left, never to return to that particular establishment.
I had been on a mission to learn more about this brand in the fall of 2019 and was having a tough time finding a retailer, and the Jacques Marie Mage website at the time was pretty bare-bones.
Luckily after my aforementioned poor experience, I stumbled across a new shop in town (interestingly enough I had met the owner six or so months earlier, and he remembered me and my dog’s name when I walked in) that had an amazing selection.
But after reviewing the wonderfully diverse and selection to choose from, I still had two questions:
1. Are Jacques Marie Mage glasses worth it?
And, if so…
2. Which pair should I get?
About Jacques Marie Mage
If you’re unfamiliar with the optical world, you may not know that one brand has had a massive position for decades. (And no it’s not Warby Parker.) Essilor Luxottica is estimated to have at least 20-percent of the global market for optics and sunglasses, and some estimates have the number as high as 45-percent.
Those fancy Persol glasses you’ve got your eye on? They’re owned by the same brand that also makes Oliver Peoples, Oakley, Ralph Lauren, and Costa, plus dozens more. So to compete in the space, you need to either have strong venture-backing, or some kind of key differentiation.
Enter micro-brand Jacques Marie Mage.
The LA-brainchild of Jerome Mage (as noted above, pronounced Mah-je), a French designer who founded the brand in Los Angeles in 2014. Jacques Marie Mage was designed not to appeal to everyone, but to really appeal to some people. They focus on bold designs, small-batch production methods, and top-of-the-line materials.
What’s On Offer
Jacques Marie Mage offers a range of sunglasses and optics, usually made from acetate (which is actually not plastic as most people think, but an organic material made of cotton and wood), but also with titanium and precious metals.
The calling card of all Jacques Marie Mage frames (with a few notable exceptions) are the signature arrowhead hardware at the temples, a nod to Americana that infatuated Jacques, but also the timeless quality of those tools.
Their offerings range from the now ubiquitous aviator-style sunglasses to Buddy-holly eyeglasses to the boldest fashion-forward frames you’d expect at Paris Fashion Week.
One of the unique features of Jacques Marie Mage frames though is the individual numbering and once-run nature of their releases. Once a specific frame and colorway is done, it is not repeated again, so there is a scarcity beyond just that expected from a micro-brand. This has also led to collectors (of which I now can consider myself) of the frames, with some actually gaining in value since release, pretty unheard of in the optical world.
Popular Jacques Marie Mage Styles
There are a couple of frames that they’ve become famous for over the past few years, the Dealan (colloquially named after Bob Dylan – designed to look like a cat-eye frame he wore on tour back in the 60s) being a prime example. The Fellini is another example, named for the incredibly influential Italian filmmaker, and sporting a wide stance with a strong rectangular frame that somehow is also subtle at the same time.
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My first pair were the Taos (done in collaboration with Dennis Hopper’s Hopper Goods) and meant to mirror the frames he wore in the watershed 1969 film Easy Rider. I tried on the root beer frame sporting intricate arm detail (see photo) and a unique square shape. I was instantly in love and they’re still one of my go-to daily wearers.
Since then I’ve also added the Enzo (so named for Enzo Ferrari, who famously wore black shades pretty much all the time) in Noir 4 (black frame with tortoise bayonet at the ear), dusty pearl (a clear frame), and Argyle (a wonderful pinkish tortoise that is unlike anything I’ve seen), the Molino (very similar to the Fellini) in wax, the Irwin optical in clear with a gold detailing and a gold clip-on sunglass, and the list goes on.
Presentation is everything with Jacques Marie Mage, and you’ll notice that the beautiful silk presentation box is on par with what you’d get from a watchmaker like Rolex, and includes a wonderful Italian-leather sleeve and cleaning cloth, plus myriad story details about your frame. It’s really unlike anything you’ve seen in optics.
How It’s Made
The secret sauce for Jacques Marie Mage is in their manufacturing by some of the premier acetate manufacturers in the world, who reside in Japan.
Each frame is cut from a block of 10mm acetate like a sculptor, then tumbled in a large barrel with bamboo chips. Every subsequent step, from injecting the wirecores to mounting and polishing is hand done.
At the end of the process each frame is individually numbered and passes a 20 point measurement test. Jacques Marie Mage maintains a separate facility on the premises of their acetate and titanium manufacturers to ensure that what you’re receiving is truly unique.
As mentioned above, no detail is spared, and you’ll continue to notice little details as you continue to wear and admire your product. For example, my Irving glasses have painted red tips at the end of the bayonets to mimic the rear taillights of a 1959 Coupe de Ville.
Jacques Marie Mage has also started to dabble in collaboration, particularly with Hollywood celebrities stylist George Cortina. Eschewing some of the traditional elements of the brand, George has helped launch even more unique perspectives on what cool frames look like. This pair in particular must make Tom Ford envious.
Okay, so now to the serious part of the review. There is very little out there ranking the benefits of Jacques Marie Mage, so I tried to put together the top 5five best features of their glasses that I could:
1. Quality. Simply the highest quality frames you can get, a step above anything from a designer house like Gucci or Yves Saint Laurent. They’re also well above more attainable “luxury” brands like Ray-Ban or Persol.
2. Uniqueness. You’re almost guaranteed not to be in the same room with someone wearing the same frame, hard to say the same for Wayfarers or something even as high-end as Tom Ford glasses.
3. Heft. This might not be a pro for everyone, but for me, I like having something substantial, it feels like you’re getting what you paid for, and these frames (particularly something large like the Enzo) have some weight to them.
4. Conversation starter. You’re almost guaranteed to get questions about your frames, either people who have heard of the brand and are curious, or people that just notice they are different. I was on a zoom call the other day wearing my Irwin opticals and the other person said they were the coolest frames he had seen, which was a great way to start a call!
5. Preservation of value. This one is a little bit more nebulous, as who knows what the future holds. However, given the scarcity piece of the equation, and the growing brand awareness and burgeoning collecting scene, there is a better than good chance you’ll be able to sell your frames in the future at close to what you paid for them, and in some rare cases, even more.
While the pros are very impressive, and there aren’t many cons, these two factors may be deal breakers for you.
1. Cost. There is no way around it, these are expensive frames. You’re looking to pay at least $550 before taxes and that’s not even considering if you have a prescription. You could be paying over $1,000 for these frames, and then there are some of the special project seriously limited edition frames that can go for over $2,500!
Bottom line, they’re pricey. But if you’re like me, you do not leave the house without sunglasses and they’re on your face a good portion of the day (and what’s the first thing people look at anyway), so cost-per-wear is maybe a better way to think about things.
2. Scarcity. While this can be a pro for some, if there is a specific colorway and version that you’re interested in, there is a good chance you might have trouble finding it. Which in today’s sneaker-drop, watch gray-market, reseller-driven world can be a bit annoying.
My recommendation would be to establish a good relationship with a retailer and they’ll be able to pull some strings or let you know about forthcoming releases.
Will They Work For My Face?
As with any luxury good, it’s a pretty good idea to interact with it IRL, as trying them on is the best way to find out if they’ll work for you. Jacques Marie Mage doesn’t have a Warby Parker-esque try-on app or anything like that, so you’re going to have to work a little bit.
That said, I would say Jacques Marie Mage frames tend to work on faces that can manage a substantial frame, like a square or oval shape. Some of the wider frames also work great for wide faces–I heard from a friend that the Walker were the only glasses he had ever worn that truly fit his basketball head.
If numbers are helpful for you, I haven’t seen many frames from Jacques Marie Mage with an eye size smaller than 50mm. For reference, the classic Ray-Ban Wayfarer is exactly a size 50mm lens.
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I think most consumers considering a purchase like this will most likely look to comparably-priced frames to determine which style suits them. In that tier, you’ll find mostly designer glasses, which I tend to think are overpriced because of the brand name and usually lower quality.
For comparison sake, I thought it might be helpful to also compare Jacques Marie Mage to a small brand that manufactures their frames in essentially the same factory, Just Human. The price point of Just Human sits at around half of Jacques Marie Mage, but their quality is quite good.
The differences are subtle but they are noticeable if you really dig in, from the lack of variety to the sparser use of metals to a less substantial frame. I would say Just Human are a great example of high-end optics for someone looking to be under $400, but if you can spring for Jacques Marie Mage, the differences are worth the additional cost.
I of course tipped my hand earlier in this article when I said that I had become a collector. I would say that Jacques Marie Mage have won me over fully, and each time I see a new pair of frames from another designer I’m immediately comparing them to either a pair I have from them already or a pair that I’ve had my eye on.
I’ve been wearing glasses or contacts since I was in the third grade, and it’s one of the things that I truly believe in paying up for quality for. If you can stomach the price, you cannot go wrong with a pair of Jacques Marie Mage glasses. Just make sure to spend the time to get to know them, find the right pair for your face, and wear the hell out of them, because they’re definitely made to be seen.
Chime in: What are your thoughts on Jacques Marie Mage glasses?
He Spoke Style