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Meet the man responsible for the retro eyewear trend

BENT ANTENNA - Audrey N. Carpio (The Philippine Star) - February 8, 2013 - 12:00am

Oliver Peoples arguably started the whole hipster-nerd eyewear trend, back in the ‘80s when the prevailing looks were super-futuristic and, well, ‘80s. Their frames, characterized by subtle detailing, retro aesthetics and high-quality materials, soon became the official eyewear of cool Hollywoodlandia, with celebrity peepers taking cover behind Oliver Peoples and sparking new trends and instant sell-outs. Twenty-five years into the industry, the brand remains highly influential, staying relevant with fresh campaigns that deploy film, music and designer collaborations (Zooey Deschanel, Devandra Banhart and Paul Smith, for example) all communicating a lifestyle that is distinctly Los Angeles — palm trees and all.

Before Larry Leight and his brother Dennis opened the first Oliver Peoples retail boutique on Sunset Boulevard, they had purchased an estate collection of vintage American-made eyewear from the ‘40s to the ‘60s. In the boxes they found paperwork and receipts with the name “Oliver Peoples,” who they figured was the original owner of the collection. They couldn’t find any more information on him, but decided to use the name in his honor when they opened the store and launched their original collection inspired by those vintage frames. He is part of the mystique of the brand, which is now available in Manila.

YStyle had a few questions for Larry Leight, a native Angeleno, ardent surfer and successful optician.

YSTYLE: Oliver Peoples was bought by Oakley in 2006, yet you have said that it still feels like a small company. Indeed it is still seen as a cult label. How did you achieve this?

LARRY LEIGHT: I believe that our exclusive distribution, discreet branding, and innovative marketing strategies are key in maintaining the brand identity. We know our customers and what they like, what they want to see from us, and what they want to buy. Our brand is not for everyone and we don’t try to make it for everyone — we design for the sophisticated and stylish person who we imagine would wear our frames and does. We maintain a mystique and discoverability even as we expand our reach globally through grass roots, organic approaches. Word of mouth was critical to our success in the beginning and we depend on it to this day.

You’re also a passionate surfer. How does the surf culture influence your work?

The LA surf culture greatly influences my work and the brand overall. Everything about it from the movement of the waves to the colors of nature can inspire me on a certain design or the overall feeling of a collection. Malibu has been a great inspiration for my designs, and is also the hub of our OP CDs.

The design of the anniversary XXV frames actually date back to 1989. Can you tell us more about it?

I sketched these frames back in 1989 but they were never produced. I always loved them, but they just weren’t right for our collection at the time. We had something going with our aesthetic — it was a new and different intellectual category of eyewear, and people were really drawn to it. These frames just felt a little more modern than what we were doing back then, in celebration of the 25th anniversary, I wanted to dig back into our heritage. We recently released some of our renowned styles from the past, but for this I wanted something different. I wanted it to be new for our consumer but still remain true to our roots. As we began to think about our momentous anniversary that was approaching, we sifted through the archives for design inspiration. When I came across the archived sketch, I knew it was the perfect style to commemorate 25 years in business.

Your son put up his own optical label (Garrett Leight California Optical). Do you consider him competition?

I am so proud of my son and do not consider him competition. He is just starting out and Oliver Peoples is an established 25-year-old brand. I wish him nothing but the best.

After 25 years, what are the top three things you have learned?

1) Be authentic. Don’t try to be something you’re not or follow others. If you believe in what you are doing, commit to it and know you will find success.

2) Find a balance in your life between work and personal. It is one of the hardest things to do but it actually helps you achieve your goals.

3) Surround yourself with a great team of people you can trust. You can’t do it all by yourself, so having a strong team of people that you can depend on is critical.

* * *

Oliver Peoples can be found in Adora in Greenbelt 5, LS Pascual Optical and Sarabia Optical in Rockwell, Rustan’s and Almeda Optical in Shangri-La Plaza.

ALMEDA OPTICAL BEFORE LARRY LEIGHT DEVANDRA BANHART AND PAUL SMITH GARRETT LEIGHT CALIFORNIA OPTICAL LARRY LEIGHT LOS ANGELES OLIVER PEOPLES PASCUAL OPTICAL AND SARABIA OPTICAL
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