Friday, 5 November 2010

Interview: Larry Leight, CEO of Oliver Peoples

Like many iconic brands, Oliver Peoples was started on a vision and a gamble. In 1986 Larry Leight 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, whom Larry went on to name the brand after.

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 1990's. 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."

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 1960's Hollywood as Neil Diamond used to wear something similar." He went on to say, "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 distinct, and as the brand has no logos 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."

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". The O'Malley, was named after the 1950's 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 1980's will be a part of the vintage reissue.

Available from December 2010 in a very limited number, Leight explains this reasoning behind the sales initiative, "A lot of companies don't have the 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 inspired 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 collectible."

As what is essentially a luxury brand, has Oliver Peoples overcome the economic storm, and have people seen eye-wear as an investment? "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 heritage, style, value and forever lasting, proven forever lasting, a story – something more than just a material."

For the Oliver People's spring summer 2011 collection, acclaimed photographer and aspiring director Lisa Eisner is the force behind the campaign who's inspired images breath life the collection when being presented to consumers. Whilst last two season's campaigns were lighthearted, this season's are pretty provocative. Starring real life couple, Devendra Banhart and Rebecca Schwartz, the focus is an exploration of intimacy and sexuality, in a contemporary Southern California setting.

Words by Dan Hasby-Oliver

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