After 28 years, boutique eyewear brand Oliver Peoples continues its craft of designing and producing beautiful, American-inspired eyewear. It turns out that classics are, in fact, anything but boring.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Mr. Larry Leight was passionate about two things: surfing and travel. So it was fitting that he found a trade that would allow him to do both. In his early 20s, Light earned a degree as a certified optician and began his journey in the eyewear industry. While he’s taken a number of turns from traveling sales to distribution to cutting lenses in a lab, perhaps the most significant intersection in his path was the discovery of a large estate sale in the mid 1980s.
Light visited a Connecticut liquidator that was selling the contents of a huge room of eyewear, lenses, machinery, and clip-ons. The assortment included thousands of beautifully filigreed rimless and metal frames (all of which were unworn and in their original packaging), including clip-on metal sunglasses produced by iconic American companies such as Bausch & Lomb and American Optical. Light purchased the lot and discovered among the collection a receipt signed with the name of what he only assumed to be the original owner: a man by the name of Oliver Peoples.
Determined to open a shop of his own, Light dedicated his next venture to producing and selling eyewear inspired by the beauty and magic of his discovery. The shop opened in 1987, bearing the name of the man who unknowingly inspired its creation.
Since that day, Oliver Peoples has anchored their design ethos around those American-made spectacles from Connecticut, and the ongoing inspiration of Larry’s birthplace: southern California. In 1987, when the first Oliver Peoples boutique opened in West Hollywood, this vintage aesthetic was a substantial departure from the futuristic styles and geometric shapes in bright, brazen colors dominant at the time. In contrast, Light’s first several collections introduced sophisticated and timeless frames in a wide array of natural tortoise shell hues with discreet branding and subtle details. By creating and defining a new and more intellectual category, the brand garnered high profile coverage in global fashion publications. As a result, Oliver Peoples gained rapid popularity and the direction of eyewear changed globally.
While Oliver Peoples may not be the sensation they were in the late ‘80s, they’ve maintained those principles that made them great. Thanks to the vintage frames that inspired the brand’s creation (most of which featured no branding and unique details like engraved metal arms) Oliver Peoples has been creating classic frames in their likeness for almost 30 years. With a discreet logo plaque inlaid at the temple tip to filigreed corewires (which reinforce the integrity of the frames while providing lasting adjustments) the brand is consistent in creating beautifully understated designs. Its these distinctive but subtle details that make them special (not to mention recognizable to only the discerning eyewear enthusiast).
Even more subtle than these iconic details are the materials and lenses that make up every Oliver Peoples design. Taking inspiration from organic, natural colors, Oliver Peoples works closely with acetate manufacturers to create uniquely beautiful hues of tortoise shell that are both wearable and flattering. After initial design at their studio in West Hollywood, every acetate frame is produced in Lauriano, a dedicated factory in Turin, Italy, where it is carved, then warmed, pressed, and filed into shape. The lenses — many produced from a selection of polarized and photochromic mineral glass — are strong, beautiful, and sharp. And for their sunglasses, Oliver People’s applies multiple performance coatings, as well as a breath logo of their iconic symbol in the center of each lens — the series of shapes (pairs of circles, inverted triangles, and squares) is watermarked directly onto the lens, visible only at a precise angle in proper light. It’s a distinctly unnecessary but smart detail.
These unseen details, when combined with era-inspired designs, quality craftsmanship, and little visible branding make for a pair of glasses — not to mention a brand identity — that is intellectual, discreet, and wonderfully discoverable.
Be they classic recreations of the Vintage Circa 1987 Collection, frames born of collaborations with Paris couture house Balmain, or design partnership with Boardwalk Empire’s Jack Huston, Oliver Peoples delivers beauty and quality that must be seen and worn to be appreciated.