By Pamela L. Berman
A Disclaimer: In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that eyeglasses are to me…what shoes are to Carrie Bradshaw. Yes, my name is Pamela, and I am an eyeglass wearer.
While I have never held a pair of glasses up to my cheek and cooed, “Hello lover,” I will nevertheless admit that I have been known to gaze moonily at myself in the mirror whenever I score a new pair of specs. Well okay, maybe just for a day or two. And though I promise that I am an otherwise (credit) card-carrying Girl in Good Standing (and one who certainly does lust for my requisite share of shoes, handbags, and the perfect shade of lipstick) – I must confess upfront that eyeglasses are my Number One…my Numero Uno…my Shop ‘Til I Drop…accessory of choice.
And why shouldn’t they be? From the moment I wake up in the morning until that last moment at night when I finally slip into a world that is always 20-20, I wear glasses the majority of my day. Of my life! And anything that gets to take up that much personal real estate had better be something pretty darn FAB.
So as we come out of this long dull winter (as I write, it is pelting rain on this cold mid-April evening), I needed a pick-me-up. My once-fab frames were tired, dull and I was BORED! BORED! BORED! Besides, nothing says spring and new beginnings like a new pair of gorgeous glasses or a knockout pair of shades.
When the annual Vision Expo rolled into the Javits Center last month, I was so excited to attend my first show, curious to learn more about the world of eyewear, and what’s hot, what’s current in these uber-accessories that have been a part of my life since I was a kid. I picked up my badge and headed straight for a terrific press event, sponsored by The Vision Council. Staged to look like an optical store, with shelves displaying the latest styles I would be seeing on the convention floor, I browsed and learned about this year’s trends from my hosts at The Council. Colors, shapes, materials – all what’s new and now. “Retro Prep,” “Disco Diva,” “Urban Edge,” “Modern Heritage,” “Street Pop,” “Globe Trotter”: The Vision Council had it all goin’ on.
Next came my appointment with The Council’s eyewear specialist, who gave me a mini-course in eyeglass shapes, face shapes, bridges, temples, curves, eyebrows, camouflage and more. If you’d like a mini-lesson yourself, do visit The Vision Council’s informative website. It posts the latest in trends, what your favorite celebrities are wearing, how to choose the perfect frames for your own face shape, and so much more – and is a great resource for the eyewear fashionista.
So finally, I was turned loose and headed straight for the high-end designs of Germany, Belgium, France, Denmark and Switzerland. I was on a mission! No department store fashion designer licensed, mass-produced brands for me. I wanted the real deal. Not to dismiss the pricey, glamorous fashion frames that so many of us covet, but when it comes to eyeglasses, I personally prefer to wear the creations of artists and technicians who specialize in optical design. It’s like the difference between wearing a clothing designer’s shoes…and a Manolo, a Choo, or a Louboutin. And not just in price, which can actually often be comparable, but in the quality, materials, workmanship, fit, innovation and style that so distinguish extraordinary from good.
And…oh…my…God. Like a kid in a candy store, I didn’t know which flavors to try first! Designer after designer, company after company, I walked the aisles, dizzy with longing. I sheepishly admit there were times I had to be dragged away from booths like some day tripper stoned on form and color, strung out on flexible steel and titanium and cotton acetate and “green” plastics and psychedelic hues, only to have it start all over again at the next booth to catch my fancy.
Colors! Lots of colors! It seems that more than ever before, color has overtaken the eyeglass industry. Explosions of reds and oranges. More greens than I have ever seen – from bamboos and limes to chartreuse. Blues and turquoises. Bright pinks and purples. Clear and white and honey and cream. Geometric and architectural and asymmetrical shapes, with double and triple layers of color.
And while plastics always remain popular – lots of retro tortoise, browns and blacks mixed with all those hot colors – metals are making a big comeback this year in matte silvers, gunmetal grays, midnight blues, burnished golds, and copper browns.
Previously rounded temples are flattening out, and are textured, laser-cut and patterned, running the gamut from plain and elegantly simple to wildly ornate. Squares and rectangles and even aviators are softening and curving into rounds and ovals and subtle cat’s eyes. Bigger is definitely better. Yet the unbearable lightness of being is key: materials are becoming lighter, more flexible, and feel more like a kind of high-tech fabric for the face.
And these artists-designers-entrepreneurs are positively evangelical about their creations. This isn’t just business. This is immense pride in innovation and function and form (and I was terribly amused by the distinct undercurrent of one-upsmanship I could feel bubbling all over that room). I was fascinated by the sheer amount of technology and machinery that goes into the making of high-end optical eyewear, the constantly developing advances in materials and engineering. I don’t know about you, but I know that I have certainly wondered just how a few pieces of seemingly simple plastic or metal, joined together with a few screws, could possibly warrant the sticker shock we often face when purchasing these little suckers. Outrageous! It seems that to gorgeously accessorize our eyes, it costs an arm and a leg! But now at least I know why (of course, never mind the substantial mark-ups in the industry, but that’s biz)
I had heard especially good things about a few companies, so I headed next for Theo of Belgium. What a kick. Personally walked through by Toon Somers (son of co-owner and co-founder Wim Somers, whose partner is Patrick Hoet – with Theo being an anagram of “Hoet”), who himself was wearing an adorable large turquoise and lime frame. I finally saw for myself what the buzz is all about. With many design lines from which to choose, the ones that stood out for me were thin, thin, thin coated wire in the most unusual shapes and colors that look so fresh and different and unlike anything else I saw. In varying shapes, they are like morphing “goggles” (i.e. with a kind of uni-lense feeling), yet are completely lightweight and feel barely there. While large, they lighten and brighten and open up the face and eyes. Just the ticket for summer! Very trendy, very European sizzle meets New York cool. Their business card and cute “cartoon illustrated” website tell us, “Theo loves you.” Well, we love you back, Theo baby. Wish list: Theo. Check.
Next stop: IC! Berlin. Now this was probably the coolest, hippest, too-sexy-for-its-shirt brand on the whole floor. The only booth to have make-up artists and swag bags and “coins of the realm,” I was walked through the entire ethos by new representative Douglas Dowers, an artist himself and already a true believer, and so passionate and knowledgeable about the designs and technical advances of IC!’s eyewear. And I was thrilled to meet owner Ralph Anderl of Germany, who couldn’t have been more impossibly Euro-sophisticated and high fashion, nor more charming and accommodating. I was completely captivated by the story of IC! Berlin and Ralph himself. A former Ph.D candidate in comparative something or other, it seems that Ralph one day met a couple of designers who had invented an almost revolutionary hinge that required no screws at all. None. And there we have it: A “calling” was born. These hinges remind me of the sterling silver puzzle ring I had purchased on the Spanish Steps in Rome on my first trip to Europe. Spatially challenged that I am, it took my handsome 20-something Italian vendor, on whom my entire 13-year-old American self was crushing, the better part of an hour (well, I had to delay him somehow – I’m no fool) to teach me how to put together that Rubik’s Cube of a ring. IC! Berlin hinges are equally clever and equally as seductive. These glasses are so innovative, so high tech and made up of the lightest, most flexible stainless steel and other materials, and yet are so simple that you can literally take them apart and reassemble them yourself. Ralph, and IC! Berlin, are like no other. Be sure and visit their fabulously wild website. Wish List: IC! Berlin. Double Check.
Anne et Valentin of France was nearby, also showing its lovely, architectural shapes in great colors, and of which I already own several pairs. Alas, sorry guys, but no time to linger on the familiar.
Only now I’m gettin’ it. Now I see why my longtime optician, co-owner/brother Dimitrei Gladstein of Euro Optika on Columbus Avenue (212.501.7070) – my very own favorite up-to-the-minute Euro-guru of eyewear fashion, quality, high style and hip – I now get why he has always been so positively evangelical himself about these three brands, and all the quality eyewear he loves so much (and wears himself). Great news, D – I get ’em! And I want ’em!
Many other design, quality and style advances caught my eye, including new developments at Pro Design of Denmark http://www.prodesigndenmark.com – and SWISSFLEX of Switzerland http://www.swissflex-eyewear.com (which are positively the most featherweight glasses you will ever wear) – but I was now fading fast and ready to get down to my most important business of all. I headed straight to TAG Heuer of France for my last stop of a long day.
Knowing virtually nothing about the company, but having had my eyes on their frames for more than a year, I was fortunate to snag charming representative Felix Marks, who graciously introduced me to the brand and history. And personally helped me select the perfect frames, color and lenses shape from their Track Series of rimless designs, with rubber temples. In red. Yes! They are at once light, sporty, stylish and with a flash of red that just brightens up my world.
TAG Heuer, with its motto of “Swiss Avant-Garde Since 1860,” introduced their first line of eyewear in 2001, with many design series since. With constant engineering and advancements in performance, function and design – from signature hinges and temples to ever-lighter, stronger and more weather-resistant materials – the TAG Heuer company is always moving forward in the world of eyewear, as they do with their coveted timepieces. Long associated with Formula One racing, they are a beautiful blend of sport, performance and high fashion, and TAG has one of the most identifiable looks on the market. You know instantly that they are TAG. There isn’t anything else like them, and ten years later, they are still unique.
And while Felix would have enthusiastically continued telling me about their new materials of carbon fibers, and, and…while showing me one of the latest lines, the Automatic Series, whose temples spring open automatically (super cool, kind of like an automatic umbrella – which let’s face it, you don’t know you need until you can’t live without it)…now I’m on technology overload. TAG has some great looks for women, but this line has to be positively irresistible for boys who like high-performance toys.
I could listen to the impressive features of TAG Heuer eyewear all day long, Felix. But I’m a girl! So enough all you guys at the Vision Expo with the tech talk! I just want to look cute! Wish List: TAG Heuer. Checkmate.
Home to rest my brimming brain. Finally, a few days later and a brand new prescription in hand, specifically for this article I set off to find a new optical store and optician with whom I had no previous experience.
While there are many fine optical stores in New York, including some of the larger “chains,” I have always had a preference for supporting small individually owned boutiques. I don’t know what it is about eyeglasses and the opticians who dispense them, but they quickly become like old friends. They get to know you, your style and your vision needs (and stay current for you on the latest options in all the myriad lines of now-digitalized and “high definition” lenses on the market. And by the way, as many optical stores tend toward their own favorites, you may also want to do a bit of independent research on what might be best for your particular correction requirements. Most opticians will be happy to work with you accordingly). If it’s the right place, it’s always so much fun to come back and hunt for the next pair of glasses.
So having already decided that my first purchase just had to be the TAG Heuers, I spent some time dropping in at several retailers who carry the brand … until I got that intuitive hunch, that je ne sais quois, that feeling of the right mix of confidence, professional know-how, style and personal service. Grand Central Optical was the one I wanted to try.
Though I am not often in Grand Central Terminal, I love visiting this elegant New York grande dame from time to time. Forty-seven years in Grand Central alone, Grand Central Optical is a grande dame itself. Family owned, in this generation by Scott Stein, the company has been in business since 1923. But let me tell you…old doesn’t mean fuddy-duddy. This is one happening place. And, of course, I couldn’t help myself when I walked into this kinetic store and just had to say, “Wow – It’s like Grand Central in here!” Yeah, they’d heard that before.
But after you get used to the pace (their Madison Avenue store, usually presided over by Mr. Stein, is a bit less hectic; not to mention that the Grand Central store is a lot like Grand Central Terminal in that it slows down a little at “off-peak” times), its longtime employees, all of whom are either opticians or eyewear specialists, will work with you patiently to choose a frame from their many exclusive brands, and numerous other fine optical designers and fashion brands, as well.
Manager and lead optician Gregg Randell is the conductor and chief engineer of this well-oiled train. From the moment I began working with him, I knew that I was in very capable, knowledgeable hands. Hands that were doing a million things at once, mind you, but this man knows his stuff. And has a great time doing it.
The main thing in an optical store, at least for me, is that there be absolutely no high pressure, no sales pitch. This is about my eyes and vision – and my daily display of taste and style, after all – and I, literally, have to live with my glasses. Which means, they need to get them right. And with the price of frames and lenses these days, they need to get them pretty darn close to perfect. At Grand Central, I felt as if they care more about establishing an ongoing relationship than in making a sale.
Indeed, there wasn’t a single time, on any of my visits (of course I had to go back and get another pair – just the absolute cutest Oliver Peoples sunglasses! http://www.oliverpeoples.com), that another customer didn’t turn to me and say that they had been coming there for 10, 20, 30 years. Honestly, I think that says it all about Grand Central’s quality and customer service. They stand behind everything they do. And they’ve been standing a long time.
Oh, and a couple of neat tips from Gregg I had never heard: When you clean your glasses, spray one time and wipe them only once across per spray. It prevents scratching. And Gregg also recommends using Bounty paper towels, as they are made without wood fibers, which can also lead to scratches (Bounty, I’m sensing a new ad campaign here). And here’s a neat tip from me: Gregg.
For more information about Grand Central Optical, the services they provide (including their on-site optometrist), the brands they carry, their full line of contact lenses, and special promotions, visit their website. And if you decide to give them a try, tell them that BeautyNewsNYC.com sent you. But of course!
Soon, I intend to get to that Belgian and German checklist and my guru Dimitrei. In the meantime, summer is just around the corner and my world looks fresh again. I am ready now for whatever life may bring…
I can see beautifully.