LSoD Chats to Larry Leight of Oliver Peoples

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Like many iconic brands, Oliver Peoples was started on a vision and a gamble. For, in 1986 Larry Leight (above) along with his brother Dennis bought $5000 worth of frames, optical posters, brochures and lenses from an auction in Connecticut that belonged to a man, who Larry went on to name the brand after. 

We met at the Haymarket Hotel in London during London Fashion Week as a last minute invite to meet and talk to 'the man behind the brand', we drunk tea and went from there...

Oliver Peoples will be celebrating 25 years in two years time, but the brand has been lying quietly and exclusively in the fore of optical wear since the early 1990s. Yet it is now considered a vintage brand and is looking forward to a bumper year for Spring/Summer 2011, as Leight explains, "There are new pieces we are launching for Spring/Summer 2011 that are optical but these represent key new designs for people who wear optical lenses as well as sunglasses." Leight elaborates, saying, "There are also a few directional pieces in Oliver Peoples mainline, such as the ones we did in a metal like the new polarized frames." 


Oliver Peoples inspiration has come from a number of places, mostly from American heritage such as Hollywood and for the coming collection is looking towards something a little more definitive. "There is quite a story behind the Jack Ones from the 1960s Hollywood as Neil Diamond used to wear something similar." He explains,  "Here they took a RayBan Aviator and bent it up by hand, and I remember that we used to sell a lot so we asked the same guy from 30 years ago who bent that one frame, a German optician, then sent it off to a factory tool it." 

But what about now? "We have remade it in modern colours, but with the same feel and shape, striking with interesting angles and a metal frame. They are very recognisable and unisex, as well as being distincitc, and as the brand has no logo's on it is identifiable by shape - it's light, high quality and affordable." 

Oliver Peoples quickly caught the attention of fashion magazines, film wardrobes and other high profile outlets for which the brand could take advantage of, however Leight admits how magazines just lapped up the pieces, others followed and how he is developing that for the coming season. "Brad Pitt made the 'Arrow' world famous, and we have remade them with vintage lenses from the archive, some of which were used for fashion and beauty in rose, blue and yellow." He continued, "We ran out and went to the biggest manufacturer in Italy who copied the colours but made them transition lenses which change in the light inside and then outside, which is multipurpose but in very vintage beautiful colour lenses - we have amber and viola which is a new feature to a classic frame." 


The brand prides itself on not replying on celebrity endorsement but on quality and having understated yet stylistic aesthetic. Though surely they may have some help? No, not really, as Leight muses, "Oliver Peoples are authentic, trendy and timless which can be worn for a movie, but also define your character. Many people think Oliver Peoples as womens glamour glasses, but like Bulgari with the oversized logo, we have Jackie O (Onassis, former wife of the late American President John F Kennedy) pieces with no logos which is more exlcusive and distinct." He goes on to exclaim, "Celebrities and names don't want names on it because they would be seen as adveritising them but they don't want too, however they are in a way really but they are not obviously." 

This season, however, sees a very special reissue of three of the most iconic frames from 24 years, as Leight says, "Which defined who we were, how it defined Oliver Peoples and how people bought frames. It was the first time someone catagorised an American look of eyewear, such as redefining the way the Wall Street guy would dress with Gucci loafers, an Armani suit and Oliver Peoples sunglasses." 

The O'Malley, which was named after the 1950s owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, as well as being the pair Patrick Bateman wears in 'American Psycho' and Christian Bale's representation of the character wore them in the film. Additionally, the 505 and 1955 which became definitive styles of the 1980s will be a part of the vintage reissue, and will be available from December in a very limited number, to which Leight comments and explains this reasoning behind the sales initiative,"Back then we were inspired by 1920s architecture, the machine age, watches, jewelry, the fashionable 1960s, Warhole, Lenin and The Beatles. A lot of companies don't have that heritage or archive, so a lot of companies can only go back and make things that look old." He went on, "Where as we have gone back to the beginning and today these frame are being reintroduced as we are being inpsired by three Oliver Peoples styles; they are made in the same way they were built, moulded, engineered, and they will be sold in a limited amount over about 60 days or until it is sold out, so it is a collectable." 

The limited edition pieces come with an original box and special cleaning cloth which is printed with the very first advertising campaign. Leight describes the significance of the packaging, "The case was made in England but the company went out of business 10 years ago but the crushed velvet inside was probably used for the NHS cases." Additionally, "The original 1987 advert was based on the premiss that people thought we knew that were were doing, rather than a company that was owned by someone. With the oversized tools and glasses being constructed by miniature people, for which me and my brother were, it show clients how we hand make frames and they think they must be people who know how to craft frames." 


Whilst this could be a fantastic revenue maker, Leight does not feel that this is the time, "We will do something else later for that as we have a library, but this is about releasing something unique and people are wanting to hold on onto something, have stories, heritage. After 24 years we have things that have become legendary, but they don't until time passes over with events, film, culture and they make you have a memory to put to them."  As what is essentially a luxury brand, has Oliver Peoples overcome the economic storm, and have people seen eyewear as an investment akin to bags and jewelry? "People invest and hold on, every shop and store was down but we didn't go out of of business but we had to adjust but our retail stores were down a little though not to what the averages were. People are buying herrtiage, style, value and forever lasting, proven forwever lasting, a story – something more than just a material." 

And with that, Larry kindly spent a few minutes fitting some frames for me, finding the right size, shape and colour for my face, which I can only say was an honor and a privilege to have a master of eyewear personally pick a pair out. 

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