By the time tourists were snapping up pairs of military-style Foster Grants on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in the late ’20s, sunglasses were on their way to becoming a necessity (at least, as we go broke financing a new pair, we’re convinced there’s no living without them). Still, L.A.’s got a better excuse than most places to shell out for them: year-round sunshine. These boutiques specialize in stylish designs ranging from about $100 to $15,000, and their staffs are expert at matching frames to faces.
Even if you’ve never been in the store, you’ve likely noticed the creations from l.a. Eyeworks (7408 Beverly Blvd., L.A., 323-931-7795 or laeyeworks.com). That’s because its glasses—retro styles smartly updated with bold colors and shapes—are unlike anyone else’s. This location sells only the designs of owners Gai Gherardi and Barbara McReynolds, who have long inspired devotion (the original Melrose Avenue store, which stocks other brands, opened in 1979). The space, by architect Neil M. Denari, is a sublime backdrop for the wares; its smooth powder blue surfaces and off-kilter walls resemble a deconstructed Tiffany box.
With a facade of horizontally suspended metal plates, DITA Legends (7625 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323-658-7078 or ditalegends.com) is a cool contrast to the screaming storefronts dotting the Melrose strip. Inside, the mood is equally understated. Some frames are technologically advanced (we’re partial to the Mykitas from Germany, which feature an ultraflexible screwless hinge and are nearly indestructible). The lines on display—such as London’s Oliver Goldsmith—and the in-house DITA label are trendy without trying too hard. Before everybody from Madonna to Maria Shriver was sporting supersized ’70s-style frames, the Olsen twins picked up the store’s giant “Supa Dupa” model and kicked off the craze.
Jack’s Vintage Eyewear (120 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., 323-933-1402) looks like a run-of-the-mill optician’s shop. In fact, it’s a trove of vintage dead stock, with hundreds of sunglasses—some dating to the 1690s—on offer. Stylists frequently troll here for unusual pieces, and customers pay thousands for rare Alpinas or Cazals tricked out with diamond edging (owner Jack Bernstein works with a jeweler to customize each pair). Ask Bernstein to give you a tour of the merchandise, which includes the kind of Nixon-era Playboys and Porsches that get heavy rotation on BET. If you love an item that doesn’t quite fit, he’ll modify it, and you’ll leave the store with something you couldn’t find elsewhere.
The hunt for the perfect aviators usually comes to an end at Oliver Peoples (8642 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310-657-2553 or oliverpeoples.com), which produces several versions of the World War II fighter pilot classic (the petite “Benedict” is the latest incarnation). You’ll find them, along with the rest of the goods, displayed atop whitewashed, pharmacy-style cabinets. When it was launched in 1988, the company sold only vintage sunglasses. While this location still carries a selection from the ’70s and earlier, what brings in the customers are the contemporary designs and innovations like VFX (a type of lens that adjusts to various light conditions and is treated with coatings that repel water and oil).
At 100 square feet, Fred Segal Eyes (500 Broadway, Santa Monica, 310-394-1875) is about half as large as a walk-in closet, so the selection is limited. But the clientele are here for the thoughtful mix of old (Persols, Ray-Bans) and new (Barton Perreira, Salt Optics), all of which have an unadorned aesthetic. David Gonzales, who worked at the shop for 7 years before becoming an owner 11 years ago, is particularly good at identifying the frames to best complement the shape of your face. On the rare occasion when he can’t find ones that work, he’ll call when they come in.
Photography by Oliver Goldsmith