In the 1984 film Risky Business, when Tom Cruise slid across his living room floor in only an oxford shirt and tighty whities, dancing to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” his totally cool persona was defined by his Wayfarer sunglasses by Ray-Ban. Many Hollywood types — from Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn to Jack Nicholson and rock ’n’ roll royalty like Bono — have taken their eyewear and turned it into their signature accessory.
Needing to update my baby-boomer reading glasses, I stopped by Occhiali Eyewear in Montecito to meet with Irwin Eve, who co-founded the upscale and “in the moment” boutique with his wife, Salli, 25 years ago. Both audiologists, they met at UC Santa Barbara and made the transition into the eyewear business after attending an optical show in New York City in the mid-1980s while living in Philadelphia.
The Eves were inspired to have a boutique business that transformed the look of eyewear into a fashion accessory, not just as a visual appliance. The couple stays abreast of state-of-the-art technology, including digitally surfaced lenses.
“A great pair of glasses can also act as the perfect accessory to finish off any outfit, add style, mystique and sexiness,” Eve said.
The Eves returned to Santa Barbara and opened their first store at 1046 Coast Village Road in 1988; a second followed at 7 W. Canon Perdido. They’re also proud parents of two adult children: Noah, who graduated from UCLA and works in Los Angeles as a junior analyst, and daughter Samantha, a graduate of the New York University Tisch School of Arts who has her own theater company in Santa Barbara, Out of the Box Theater Company, which will be putting on a production of Bonnie and Clyde The Musical this spring, and a gourmet cupcake business, Violette Bakeshop.
Eve, the full-time face of Occhiali and an avid golfer, loves to share stories with his customers, many of whom have been buying glasses from him for years. It’s not unusual for him to have watched his customers’ children — mine included — grow up, go off to college and start their own families.
“It marks time, and it is wonderful to feel you belong to a special community,” Eve said. “I love transforming someone by finding the perfect pair of glasses. This can be pretty challenging when your client base is 5 to 95!”
In addition to its loyal customer base, Occhiali is known for its popular advertising campaign that showcases customers proudly wearing their eyeglasses, mentioning their job or interests, and all photographed by nationally acclaimed artist Kim Reierson.
While eyewear can be purchased just about anywhere these days, Occhiali has flourished by creating relationships with its customers and carrying the latest styles in fashion and prescription lenses. Its commitment to offering stimulating products and personally assisting clients with critical attention have resulted in intense customer loyalty and longevity.
Eve and his staff — all licensed opticians — look at a customer’s facial shape, skin tone and hair color when suggesting the perfect look.
“Fit is essential,” he said. “We discuss a customer’s style, and the image one wants to project. Glasses can range from a serious pair for work, but a more creative or whimsical style for the weekends. After working with particular clients for many years, we have a good direction for their personal interests.”
According to Eve, the 2014 trend watch for women includes the Cat Eye, which designers have brought back from past seasons with a unique look in bold colors and even styles featuring frames with two different colors. Once a misery to wear, Chunky Bold is back, too, but now in bold colors or even two colors.
Oversized Round is also prominently featured. These are another retro look. Once worn primarily by accountants and other number crunchers, the Oversized Round is being embraced by fashionistas. Extra Detailing are also a trend. They might have mixed metals or metals with a tortoise shell accent as well as cutouts or embellishments on the sides.
Eve says men’s fashion trends continue in the Retro category. You’ll see plenty of throwback style on the current market. They are inspired by vintage silhouettes and often reworked in new materials, color and textures.
For a shop its size, Occhiali is comprehensive in scope, and combines high-fashion awareness with prescriptive expertise. Favorite lines include Chanel, best-seller Oliver Peoples, Persol, Maui Jim, Alain Mikli, Judith Leiber and Paul Smith, to name just a few.
This spring, straight off the runways of New York and Europe, Occhiali will be featuring glasses by Thierry Lasry. Launched in 2006, this brand is based on the concept of Futuristic Vintage. Lasry gets his inspirations from vintage designs and materials, but incorporates an updated modern avant-garde touch. Entirely handmade in France with the best craftsmanship techniques and traditional know-how, Lasry sunglasses use only acetate from the old Mazzucchelli factory in Italy.
Blac is another innovative eyewear brand you’ll see at Occhiali. Designed by Claus Bellinger, the revolutionary designer eyewear is made from carbon fiber reinforced with titanium, has a lightweight frame and yet is very strong. In the spirit of modernism, Blac is the world’s first adjustable carbon-fiber frame, with a patent to prove it. It’s designed and handmade exclusively by the production team in the Bellinger House in Risskov, Denmark.
Oliver Goldsmith rounds out Eve’s 2014 picks. OG originated in 1926 and the frames are handmade one at a time in Notting Hill, England, with the utmost care and craftsmanship. They were popularized by iconic 20th-century figures such as Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, John Lennon, Givenchy and Dior. Every year, OG releases about 20 frame designs from its archive (from the glittering 1940s to the expressive ’80s) to form a collection that captured the dynasty’s heritage. OG is now headed by Claire Goldmsith, the founder’s great-granddaughter.
Whether you sport geeky chic optical or oversized aviators, you’re advocating eyewear trends — perhaps unknowingly. True, glasses help us see, and protect our eyes from the sun’s glare but, most important, they are everyone’s favorite accessory.
Occhiali Eyewear is located at 1046 Coast Village Road in Montecito and 7 W. Canon Perdido in Santa Barbara. Click here for more information, or call 805.565.3415 (Montecito) or 805.963-5760 (Santa Barbara).