Larry Leight, to many the man who changed the optical industry forever (otherwise known as Oliver Peoples) sat down for a little chat about how he got his start, working with family and making time for his own.
INNER-VIEW | LARRY LEIGHT
Where did it all begin for you?
A family friend who was an optometrist encouraged me to earn my degree as a certified optician. It was at that time I began my journey in the eyewear industry. I gained some experience in design, sales, and marketing at high-end optical stores before venturing out on my own.
How / why did you get into eyewear?
After I ventured out on my own, my brother, sister and I started brainstorming the idea of opening an optical boutique. We were looking to create a gallery-like space that was fresh and innovative and didn’t already exist.
How did you and your brother become partners? Was it something you both wanted early on or something that evolved?
We were both in the fashion eyewear industry but working at different companies. We really developed our partnership in 1986 after purchasing an estate collection of vintage American-made eyewear. The assortment included thousands of beautifully filigreed rimless and metal sunglasses produced by iconic American companies. We purchased the entire lot, which inspired us to design our own original collection. I had always wanted to work with people I trusted and there is no one else I trust more than family.
In the 20+ years that Oliver Peoples has been around, was there ever a moment you considered branching out into apparel?
Yes, we considered it but it was too important for me to stay on the right track and focus my efforts on what I knew we could do the best. I’ve always loved fashion, but I know what I’m good at – and that is designing eyewear.
What has been your biggest success and biggest failure, and if you could do it all over again would you change anything?
My biggest success would be launching the first Oliver Peoples collection. It was inspired by the vintage frames we purchased in the estate sale. It was quite a departure from the futuristic styles and geometric shapes dominated in the late 80’s. And because runway fashion was moving in a vintage-inspired direction, the debut of the retro collection was fortuitously timed, as the direction of eyewear changed globally. Over the years, seeing my designs on some of the most recognizable people in the fashion and entertain industries has made me extremely proud of my work.
My biggest failure would be, not being able to find a balance between work and pleasure until later in life. I wish I could have found that balance earlier. If I started all over again and knew what I know now, I would defiantly find time for the other important things in life a little earlier on.
If you had to pick a few of the best frames in the past twenty-five years, which would they be?
The O’Malley. It’s frame was modeled after the classic eyeglasses worn by the Los Angeles’ former owner, Peter O’Malley. The style showed its true glory when worn by Christian Bale in American Psycho. The O’Malley was recently re-leased in limited quantities in the Oliver Peoples Vintage Circa 1987 collection. After all that time, I love that it remains one of our most iconic and sought after frames to this day.
Family and work… How do you balance them both?
It’s always a struggle to find this balance. At this point in my life I am confident I have found it, but as I said early on it was quite difficult. My family has been very involved in the Oliver Peoples brand and understands my passion for this field of work. They respect the fact that I’m deeply invested in this company and they realize that sometimes there are going to be meetings and business trips but when I’m home, I devote all of my time to being with them.
What do your kids think about Oliver Peoples? And do they know you are an eyewear rock star?
I have two young daughters and they both love Oliver Peoples. I get a lot of inspiration and advice from them about the different pieces that we create – I let them try the frames on, see what they like and don’t like about the glasses.. They’re great critics and my biggest supporters. My son, Garrett, is also in the optical industry and recently launched his own collection of eyewear, Garrett Leight California Optical. He definitely respects Oliver Peoples and I think he was extremely inspired by what we did and continue to do. Needless to say, I’m a proud dad.
I know surfing is a big part of your life. How often are you able get in the water and have you had the chance to surf NYC?
Although I can’t say I’ve ever had the chance to surf NYC, surfing is a huge part of my life – weather it’s actually getting in the water or watching other people. I try to go as much as possible. I usually go at least 3 or 4 times a month. But last week, I went almost every morning so it really depends on my schedule and the conditions.
What’s your top three eyewear icons? Why?
There really are so many but I would have to say Kate Moss first and foremost. She’s a risk taker and a tastemaker. I love her style. Another icon in my top three is Johnny Depp. His collection of eyewear is impeccable and he knows just how to wear every single pair. One of my classic eyewear icons is Michael Caine. He is one of the original trendsetters is terms of eyewear and I continue to be inspired by him.
Who do you most admire personally and professionally?
I definitely admire Steve Jobs. He was absolutely fearless in all of his endeavors and believed wholeheartedly in everything that he did. He was passionate and an incredible visionary.
What is inspiring you right now?
I’m really drawing inspiration from my immediate surroundings. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for my entire life and I never get tired of the beauty that I find in this city. This season we are launching a new color collection called, “Horizons” that features two-toned frames that were inspired by the things that I see here every day: rich red/orange sunsets, deep blue oceanic horizons and sparkling nighttime skylines.
Easy. Pralines and Cream ice cream from Haagen-Dazs. It gives me a natural high.
What is the one thing you can’t live without?
Other than my family, which is obvious – I really think the one thing I couldn’t live without is surfing. I’m my happiest when I’m in the water and I love taking vacations with my buddies to visit remote, un-crowded, pristine surfing spots in the South Pacific. It’ll be a sad, sad day when I can’t do that anymore.
THANK YOU LARRY
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