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The latest in tasteful eyewear

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Times Staff Writer

So I saw this story not long ago about a German company that sells eyeglasses with detachable frame-arms that can be used as chopsticks or forks.

At first I thought it was a joke. But no. Ic! Berlin is selling these “sushi specs” at $200 to $350 a pair. They’re made of lightweight stainless steel, snap together without any screws and are available from the company’s website (www.ic-berlin.de) and at select high-end eyeglass shops in Europe, Asia and the United States.

Having experimented briefly -- and not altogether successfully -- with a pair, I can only say one thing: I’m sure glad I wear contact lenses.

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Discovered by accident

Although the glasses -- regular glasses and sunglasses -- come in 65 designs, all have the same screwless hinge, and all the frames can be used as chopsticks or forks, depending on which end you hold. But the idea of using them to eat with came about “indirectly, almost accidentally,” Ralph Anderl, the 34-year-old president of Ic! Berlin, told me when I called him in Berlin.

“I was having a picnic with friends at an outdoor concert in Berlin,” he said. “Whoever packed the food didn’t pack enough silverware, so I didn’t have a fork to eat my potato salad. I knew that the design of our eyeglasses makes the frames easily detachable, and for some reason I suddenly got the idea of using the frames as a fork. They worked great -- cool -- so the next time I had sushi, I used them as chopsticks.”

Anderl says he mentioned these experiences in media interviews, but it wasn’t until this summer that a German television station and then a German fashion magazine picked up on the idea -- at which point, interest and sales boomed.

The glasses, available locally at L.A. Eyeworks in Los Angeles and Armstrong Root in Brentwood, don’t look significantly different from others, but several questions leap immediately to mind.

The first, of course, is: How do you see your food once you disassemble the eyeglasses to use the frames as utensils? The lenses won’t stay on your eyes without any support, so what happens if you reach for your sushi with your optical chopsticks (choptical sticks?) and wind up grasping -- and swallowing -- an entire mouthful of wasabi (or your friend’s cellphone)?

“If you really need your glasses to see, it might be a problem,” Anderl admits. But then he quickly adds, “You can smell more intensely when you can’t see, so you can enjoy your food even more.”

Of course.

Do you have to carry a spare pair of glasses, though, to avoid these risks? If so, doesn’t that negate the whole purpose of dual usage?

Anderl shrugged off that question. And he didn’t seem terribly concerned with how uneasy some folks might feel about hooking eyeglass frames over their ears and into their hair after they’d been wrapped around raw fish and dipped in soy sauce.

Despite his breezy confidence about his sushi specs, I have to say they’re not that easy to use. The “fork” end is tiny, a microscopic, three-part hinge. I’m sure that if you used the frames to eat with for two weeks, you’d lose far more weight than you would on the South Beach diet. Using them as chopsticks is a little better, but you need better manual dexterity than I possess to make them truly satisfactory substitutes for real chopsticks. Besides, they’re a few inches shorter than traditional chopsticks. And reassembling them is not so easy either.

Anderl has a quick answer to those concerns too.

“If you eat more carefully, more slowly, and eat less, it’s healthier.”

Dr. Atkins, meet Dr. Anderl.

As for taking them apart and putting them back together, Anderl rightly points out that each pair of glasses comes with a set of written instructions. The company’s website also has a video showing how to do it.

“Once you’ve done it two or three times, it’s easy and you can do it in seconds,” he said.

But why would anyone need such a contraption-cum-contrivance in the first place? If you’re in a restaurant, they have forks and/or chopsticks. Food to go? Anderl says that’s his primary market -- customers who order sushi to go. (“They’re a particular hit in Japan,” he says.) But in this country, most sushi bars I frequent provide wooden chopsticks with their to-go orders, much as other takeout restaurants provide plastic forks.

Don’t get me wrong. I like small, multipurpose tools. I think the Swiss Army knife is the second-best thing to come out of that country (first is Fredy Girardet’s cookbook), and my key ring has a key-size gadget that functions as a knife, bottle opener, mini-saw and three kinds of screwdriver. I also travel with a small tool that combines a stapler, scissors, tape measure, tape dispenser and magnifying glass.

But unlike the eyeglass/chopsticks, none of these gadgets requires you to abandon its primary function to perform a secondary function.

Double duty

Still, Anderl may be onto something. I wonder if the Swiss, long the world’s best watchmakers, could design one that doubles as a corkscrew.

And how about a tie clasp that doubles as an escargot shell holder?

Even without these innovations, the burgeoning Asian economies and populations and the growing popularity of Asian food seem to suggest that chopsticks, already the most commonly used eating utensils in the world (apart from fingers), are the wave of the future. Just last week, I received in the mail a package of two “TripStixx,” billed as “the world’s most versatile chopsticks.”

The “TripStixx” are handsome plastic chopsticks, disassembled like a shotgun, packed in their own pocket-sized plastic carrying case. The chopsticks, easily assembled and dishwasher safe, are said to be ideal for “going around the globe or around the block.”

But whether they’re TripStixx or sushi specs, I still don’t see why people have to provide their own chopsticks. I guess you have to be on a picnic in Berlin -- with a plate of German potato salad in front of you -- to understand.

David Shaw can be reached at david.shaw@latimes.com. To read previous “Matters of Taste” columns, please go to latimes.com/shaw-taste.


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