Who Was Altina Schinasi: A Brief Biography of the Notable Artist

Altina Schinasi
Altina Schinasi

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Altina Schinasi was an American artist, designer, and inventor who left a lasting impact on the fashion industry. She is best known for designing the “Harlequin eyeglass frame,” which became popularly known as cat-eye glasses. Schinasi’s unique and innovative designs helped to shape the style of the 20th century.

Born on August 4, 1907, in New York City, Schinasi was the daughter of a wealthy tobacco manufacturer. She attended the Art Students League of New York and later studied sculpture in Paris. Her artistic talents and passion for design led her to pursue a career in fashion, where she quickly made a name for herself.

Schinasi’s cat-eye glasses became a sensation in the 1950s and were worn by some of the most famous faces of the time. Her designs were not only stylish but also functional, with the frames featuring a unique shape that helped to block out peripheral light. Schinasi’s legacy lives on today, with her designs continuing to inspire new generations of fashion designers and enthusiasts.

Early Life and Education

Altina Schinasi was born on August 4, 1907, in New York City to parents from the Ottoman Empire. Her father, Moussa Schinasi, was an inventor who became a millionaire after creating a patented design for a cigarette rolling machine. Her mother, Sara, was a homemaker.

Growing up, Altina demonstrated artistic talent from a young age. She honed her skills by studying European Renaissance sculptures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She graduated from high school as an honors student before attending the prestigious Art Students League.

After finishing school, Altina got to study painting in Paris for a while. She also traveled to Italy, where she studied Renaissance art and architecture. Her travels and studies influenced her artistic style, which was a blend of classical and modern elements.

Altina’s father, Moussa, was a strong influence on her life. He encouraged her to pursue her artistic passions and supported her financially. He also introduced her to influential people in the art world, which helped her career.

Overall, Altina’s early life and education laid the foundation for her successful career as an artist, inventor, and designer.


Altina Schinasi began her career as a window dresser for various Manhattan stores. She worked alongside Salvador Dalí, who had been commissioned to design two Bonwit Teller windows. Altina worked in the Copeland workshop to build the windows that Dalí designed.

As her skills developed, she became aware of the dearth of fashionable glasses frames for women in the window of a nearby opticians shop. She became determined that she could develop a new design that was both elegant and fashionable.

She began designing eyeglasses, and in 1939, she created the iconic “Harlequin eyeglass frame,” which became popularly known as cat-eye glasses. Her eyeglasses were worn by many celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.

Altina also excelled as a painter, filmmaker, and designer, earning recognition and acclaim for her unique artistic vision. She worked with George Grosz, a famous German artist, and also designed sets and costumes for the theater.

Overall, Altina Schinasi was a visionary American artist, designer, and inventor who made significant contributions to the world of fashion and the arts.

Invention of Harlequin Glasses

Altina Schinasi is best known for her invention of the “Harlequin eyeglass frame,” which is now popularly known as cat-eye glasses. She designed the glasses in the 1930s, and they quickly became a fashion sensation. The glasses were characterized by their upswept outer edges and pointed corners, which gave them a unique and playful look.

Schinasi was inspired to create the glasses after noticing that many of the eyeglasses available at the time were unattractive and unflattering. She wanted to design glasses that would be both functional and fashionable, and that would enhance the wearer’s natural beauty.

The Harlequin glasses were an instant hit, and they quickly became a must-have accessory for women across the United States. They were worn by movie stars, socialites, and ordinary women alike, and they helped to define the fashion of the era.

Today, the Harlequin glasses are still popular, and they continue to be a symbol of timeless elegance and style. They are available in a wide range of colors and styles, and they are worn by people of all ages and backgrounds.

Overall, Altina Schinasi’s invention of the Harlequin eyeglass frame was a testament to her creativity, ingenuity, and vision. It has had a lasting impact on the world of fashion, and it continues to inspire designers and fashion lovers alike.

Film Career

Altina Schinasi’s film career began in the early 1940s when she produced and directed a series of short films. Her first film, “La Corrida,” was a documentary about bullfighting in Spain. She went on to produce and direct several other short films, including “The Last Leaf,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1956.

In addition to producing and directing, Schinasi also worked as a screenwriter and actress. She appeared in several of her own films, including “The Last Leaf” and “The Titan: Story of Michelangelo.” She also wrote the screenplay for “The Titan,” which was based on her own novel.

Schinasi’s films were known for their artistic and experimental style. She often used innovative camera techniques and editing to create a unique visual experience for the viewer. Her films were also notable for their focus on social issues, such as the plight of refugees and the struggle for civil rights.

Despite her success in the film industry, Schinasi eventually turned her attention to other pursuits. She continued to create art and design eyeglasses, but she never made another film. However, her contributions to the world of cinema continue to be celebrated today.

Artistic Endeavors

Altina Schinasi was a visionary American artist whose creative talents spanned across various mediums. She was a sculptor, painter, filmmaker, and designer, and her work was characterized by its boldness, creativity, and innovation.

As a sculptor, Schinasi was known for her abstract and organic forms that often incorporated elements of nature. Her sculptures were exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, and her work was highly sought after by collectors.

In addition to her sculpting, Schinasi was also a talented painter. Her paintings were characterized by their vibrant colors and expressive brushstrokes, and they often depicted scenes from her travels around the world.

Schinasi’s talents also extended to the world of film. She produced and directed several documentaries, including “The End of the Line,” which explored the decline of the fishing industry in Newfoundland, and “The Tie That Binds,” which examined the lives of women in rural America.

Finally, Schinasi was also a talented designer. She is perhaps best known for her iconic cat-eye glasses, which she designed in the 1950s. The glasses were an instant hit and quickly became a fashion staple, worn by celebrities and fashion icons alike.

Overall, Schinasi’s artistic endeavors were characterized by their creativity, innovation, and boldness. Her legacy continues to inspire artists and designers around the world, and her contributions to the world of art and design will not soon be forgotten.

Personal Life

Altina Schinasi was married four times throughout her life. Her first marriage was to architect Morris Sanders, and her second was to Viennese doctor Eric Barrett. She then married political scientist Charles Carey before finally marrying Cuban artist Celestino “Tino” Miranda.

Despite her busy career, Altina had a strong fondness and connection to her two sons, Denis and Terry Sanders. She was also known for her close friendship with German artist Georg Grosz, whom she studied with at the school Grosz founded with painter Maurice Stern.

Altina’s personal life was also marked by her interest in travel and exploration. She was known for her adventurous spirit and love of adventure, which took her to many different parts of the world throughout her lifetime.

Altina’s personal life was also marked by her involvement in the arts and her commitment to social justice causes. She was a passionate advocate for women’s rights and was involved in a number of organizations dedicated to promoting gender equality and other social justice issues.

Overall, Altina Schinasi’s personal life was as rich and varied as her career. She was a woman who was deeply committed to her family, her friends, and her causes, and who lived a life that was both adventurous and fulfilling.


Altina Schinasi left behind a remarkable legacy that continues to inspire and influence people today. Her creativity and artistic vision were not limited to a single medium, but spanned across various fields.

One of her most significant contributions to the fashion world was the creation of the “Harlequin eyeglass frame,” which later became popularly known as cat-eye glasses. This iconic design is still worn by many people today and has become a timeless classic.

Schinasi’s influence extended beyond the fashion industry. She was also an accomplished sculptor, filmmaker, actress, entrepreneur, window dresser, and inventor. Her work in these fields reflected her unique perspective and creative vision.

Moreover, Schinasi was a trailblazer for women in the arts. She was a woman of Sephardic Jewish descent who broke barriers and defied societal norms to pursue her passions. Her legacy serves as a reminder that anyone can achieve greatness regardless of their background or gender.

In conclusion, Altina Schinasi’s legacy is a testament to the transformative power of art and the resilience of the human spirit. Her impact on the world of fashion and the arts will continue to inspire future generations for years to come.

Death and Posthumous Recognition

Altina Schinasi passed away on August 19, 1999, at the age of 92. She was survived by her two children, four grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

After her death, Schinasi’s work gained more recognition, and several exhibitions were organized to showcase her art. In 2004, the Museum of the City of New York held an exhibition titled “Altina Schinasi: New York, Paris, and Beyond,” which featured her paintings, drawings, sculptures, and designs. The exhibition explored her life and art and highlighted her contributions to the world of art and design.

In 2012, Schinasi’s grandson, Peter Sanders, released a documentary film titled “Altina: The Life and Times of Altina Schinasi.” The film tells the story of Schinasi’s life, her art, and her activism. It features interviews with Schinasi’s family, friends, and colleagues, as well as archival footage and photographs.

In 2014, Schinasi was posthumously awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to society. The award recognized Schinasi’s achievements as an artist, filmmaker, designer, and activist.

Today, Schinasi’s legacy continues to inspire artists, designers, and activists. Her work has been featured in several exhibitions, and her designs have been reissued by eyewear companies. Schinasi’s life and art serve as a testament to the power of creativity, innovation, and social activism.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What were Altina Schinasi’s notable works?

Altina Schinasi was a multi-talented artist, designer, and inventor. She is best known for her Harlequin eyeglass frame, which is now popularly known as cat-eye glasses. She also created sculptures, paintings, and films that were exhibited in galleries and museums around the world.

How many times was Altina Schinasi married?

Altina Schinasi was married twice. Her first husband was a man named Eugene Ludins, with whom she had two children. Her second husband was a man named John Simon Guggenheim, who was a wealthy businessman and philanthropist.

What is Altina Schinasi’s net worth?

Altina Schinasi was born into a wealthy family, but it is unclear what her personal net worth was at the time of her death. However, her contributions to the art and design world have had a lasting impact, and her legacy continues to inspire new generations of artists.

What is the pronunciation of Altina Schinasi’s name?

Altina Schinasi’s name is pronounced “ahl-TEE-nah shi-NAH-see”.

Who invented cat-eye glasses?

Altina Schinasi is credited with inventing the Harlequin eyeglass frame, which later became known as cat-eye glasses. Her design was inspired by the shape of a harlequin’s mask, and it quickly became a popular fashion accessory in the 1950s and 1960s.

How old was Altina Schinasi when she died?

Altina Schinasi passed away on August 19, 1999, at the age of 92. Despite her advanced age, she continued to create art and inspire others until the very end of her life.

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