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WWD recently conducted a relatively concise interview with Larry Leight, founder of Oliver Peoples. Leight explains how the label got started and came to be named – first buying a few thousand handmade frames that had been in storage for around 30 years by a mysterious “Oliver Peoples,” Leigh immediately sought to bring life back to the abandoned frames. An expert himself, Leight actually qualified as an optician prior to realizing his love for styling and design. The remainder of the interview discusses a range of topics from the brand’s relationship to the stars, the growth of the brand and its future. Key excerpts from the interview have been included below:
Your name is Larry. Who’s Oliver Peoples?
He was someone with an amazing collection of American-made frames that were never worn; we assume he was a distributor. These frames had been in storage for 30 years. There were 4,000 or 5,000 frames, clip-ons, lenses—all handmade in the USA—as well as tools, brochures and documents with the name Oliver Peoples. I went to a liquidator’s warehouse in Connecticut and wrote a check for about $5,000 for the whole thing.
Your brand seems to have a strong association with movies and celebrities.
That wasn’t planned at all. We simply opened a flagship store on Sunset Boulevard, in West Hollywood, in 1987. That opened up a whole new world. The first big thrill was when Elton John came into the store—he bought something like 50 pairs.
Who are the great eyewear icons?
For men, it’s Andy Warhol. He wore several styles, all very artistic. And today it’s Johnny Depp—he rotates between a couple of frames—and Jay-Z, who wears our Daddy B sunglasses. There’s also a movie about Vidal Sassoon coming out, in which he wears one of our styles—big, heavy plastic frames, like the ones worn by Aristotle Onassis. It makes a strong statement.
The retro eyewear styles you introduced when you started your company in 1986—the round frames from the Fifties—were all over the 2010 runways. Did you see this coming?
We did. We knew from experience that things come back around, and before our anniversary a few years ago, we took another look at those frames. But people were still wearing big Eighties-style frames; the time didn’t feel right. Then the recession hit and suddenly there was a vintage buzz, not just in eyewear but also in watches. So now we’re reintroducing three of our iconic frames. They’re more of an intellectual style—something John Lennon or Andy Warhol would wear. They’ll be in the stores in January or February.
It has been reported that one of those frames, the O’Malley, was selling at a rate of 20,000 pairs a year. Why did you discontinue it?
The O’Malley is true vintage—it’s a little bit droopy, not tailored. We decided to design a frame called the Riley, which was retro but updated. But now the O’Malley feels right again. It’s OK to be a little funky.