Altina Schinasi, The Artistic Innovator Behind the Iconic Harlequin Glasses


Explore the life and creative genius of Altina Schinasi, the artist and inventor who revolutionized eyewear fashion with her iconic “Harlequin glasses.” Learn about her diverse artistic works, social activism, and lasting impact on art and design. Discover the unique legacy of this influential figure in popular culture and fashion history.

Altina Schinasi

Altina Schinasi was an artist and inventor known for her unique and innovative contributions to various fields. She was born in 1907 in New York City and passed away in 1999. Schinasi gained recognition for her artistic talents, particularly in the realm of sculpture and painting. However, she is perhaps most renowned for her invention of the iconic “Harlequin glasses,” also known as “cat-eye glasses.”

These distinctive glasses featured an upswept, elongated shape at the outer corners of the frames, resembling the eyes of a cat or the mask of a harlequin character. The design became popular during the mid-20th century and continues to be an enduring fashion statement to this day. Altina Schinasi’s innovative eyewear design left a lasting impact on the world of fashion and eyewear, solidifying her place as an influential figure in both the art and design communities.


Altina Schinasi was born on August 4, 1907, in New York City, United States. She was the daughter of an Italian-Jewish tobacco tycoon, Morris Schinasi, who amassed considerable wealth from his cigarette manufacturing business. Growing up in a privileged family, Altina had access to a high-quality education and exposure to the arts from a young age.


Altina attended private schools and later pursued studies in art and sculpture at various institutions, including the Art Students League of New York. She was a talented artist and sculptor, and her work was influenced by her experiences and observations of society.

In the 1930s, Altina gained recognition for her involvement in the art world, showcasing her artwork in exhibitions and galleries. Her artistic endeavors brought her into contact with prominent figures in the art community, including Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, and Marcel Duchamp.

However, Altina’s most enduring legacy comes from her invention of the “Harlequin glasses” in the 1930s. The unique cat-eye shape of the glasses became a fashion sensation, especially among women, and they remain an iconic accessory associated with mid-20th-century fashion.

Besides her artistic pursuits, Altina was also a strong advocate for social justice and civil rights. She supported numerous causes, including the anti-fascist movement during World War II and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Her dedication to social causes and philanthropy earned her recognition and respect from her peers.

Throughout her life, Altina Schinasi was known for her independent and eccentric personality. She had a reputation for being a free spirit and lived life on her own terms. Despite her privileged background, she showed a passion for helping others and fighting for social equality.

Altina Schinasi passed away on August 5, 1999, leaving behind a legacy of artistic innovation and social consciousness. Her contributions to art and fashion continue to be celebrated, and her Harlequin glasses remain a symbol of her creative genius and influence in the world of design.

Harlequin glasses frame


Designs and Other Artistic Works

Altina Schinasi was a multi-talented artist with a diverse body of work that encompassed various forms of visual art. Some of her notable designs and other artistic works include:

  1. Harlequin Glasses: Altina’s most famous creation, the “Harlequin glasses,” revolutionized eyewear fashion in the 1930s. The cat-eye shape of the frames became an iconic and enduring design that remains popular to this day.
  2. Sculptures: Altina was a skilled sculptor and created numerous sculptures that were exhibited in galleries and art exhibitions. Her sculptures often explored themes related to the human form and emotions.
  3. Paintings: Schinasi was an accomplished painter, and her artwork exhibited her artistic versatility. Her paintings showcased a mix of styles, ranging from abstract and surreal to figurative and expressive.
  4. Illustrations: Altina’s artistic talents extended to the world of illustration. She created illustrations for books and magazines, showcasing her ability to bring stories and ideas to life through visual storytelling.
  5. Fashion and Textile Designs: Apart from her Harlequin glasses, Schinasi also dabbled in fashion and textile design. Her creative approach and unique aesthetic were evident in her textile patterns and clothing designs.
  6. Jewelry Design: Altina explored jewelry design, creating pieces that were known for their artistic flair and unique use of materials.
  7. Interior Design: With an eye for aesthetics and creativity, Altina ventured into interior design, contributing to the creation of distinctive and artistic living spaces.
  8. Film and Theater: Altina’s artistic influence extended to the realm of film and theater. She worked as a costume and set designer, contributing her artistic vision to various productions.
  9. Social and Political Art: Throughout her career, Altina Schinasi used her art as a means to express her social and political views. Her artwork often addressed themes of social justice, civil rights, and human rights issues.

Altina’s artistic works reflected her passion for creativity, individuality, and innovation. She was an influential figure in the art and design communities during her time, and her legacy continues to inspire artists and designers today.

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