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Thursday, March 12th 2009

talking to larry leight of oliver peoples

Actress Zooey Deschanel in Oliver Peoples' latest ad campaign.

An optical brand that made its mark in the 1980s, Oliver Peoples is the must-have in the world of sunglasses. Simultaneously timeless and on trend, chic and practical, each pair of Oliver Peoples sunglasses is a statement in personal style. I recently talked to the brand’s Founder and Creative Director Larry Leight about the unique origin of the label’s name, the Oliver Peoples customer, and why they chose to feature Hollywood favorite Zooey Deschanel in their latest ad campaign.

shopbop: The origin of the Oliver Peoples brand is truly fascinating. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Larry Leight: After high school, I just wanted to learn a trade where I could travel and be free, so I got my degree in ophthalmology. I traveled around the world, surfing and collecting vintage eyewear. While in New York, I happened on an auction for an assortment of rare frames from the ’20s and ’30s, so I bought it and had it shipped here to LA. One night while sifting through, I found a receipt signed by the late Oliver Peoples, the man who originally owned the pieces. It seemed only fitting to use the name for the store and line I was inspired to create. I wanted to design great fashion eyewear that was also superior in optical quality. My brother and I purchased a boutique on Sunset Plaza so we could show our designs in a stylish, gallery-type atmosphere. Suddenly Oliver Peoples appeared in the best fashion spreads and red carpet movie premiers and award shows. And the rest, as they say, is history!

SB: In the ’80s Oliver Peoples was an optical phenomenon. Why do you think the brand was so successful so soon after it launched?

LL: With the acquisition of that original vintage archive and our ability to recreate the essence of each unique frame, we tapped into something no other eyewear designer had: timeless shapes, high quality, and function in beautiful styles and classic colors. While everyone else was focused on futuristic, experimental designs, Oliver Peoples moved in a more vintage, retro-inspired direction. Other designers in the industry followed. Today we strive to craft innovative styles for progressive individuals who set the trends worldwide.

SB: You cite the “artists of modern Hollywood” as your inspiration for the spring 2009 collection. Could you elaborate?

LL: I am inspired by my surroundings in Los Angeles, which is not only the epicenter of the film industry, but also includes major players in the art, music, and fashion worlds. The natural talents of the people who reside here are widespread. For me, this collection was about combining the vintage feel of Oliver Peoples with elements that are reflective of modern Hollywood.

SB: Speaking of the artists of Hollywood, your latest ad campaign features Hollywood cutie Zooey Deschanel. Why was she a good fit for the Oliver Peoples brand?

LL: Zooey truly embodies what we consider the “core” Oliver Peoples customer because she is chic, mysterious, and grew up in LA. Like our designs, she exudes a sense of being inspired by classics of the past in her style and manner, but is very much a part of modern Hollywood and its current culture.

SB: Your design inspiration is Hollywood, but who is the Oliver Peoples customer?

LL: The ultimate Oliver Peoples consumer is a confident intellectual with a progressive sense of style. It is someone who appreciates discreet branding, discoverability, and quality without sacrificing fashionable expression.

SB: What advice would you offer a woman looking for the perfect pair of sunglasses?

LL: You should take everything into consideration when choosing a frame: skin tone and color, face shape, eyebrows, and the width or length of the nose is most important. You want to make sure you pick something that is true to your individual style. One must remember that sunglasses are made for different functions and are a very visible accessory; they are one of the first things someone notices about you. Most likely you have different shoes for exercising, for work, or for casual weekends. Each serves a different purpose and is specifically designed to suit your needs in different conditions. The same applies to your shades, so invest in a time-tested classic, like a double bridge aviator, in addition to a more trend-driven, progressive style.

SB: What’s next for Oliver Peoples?

LL: We are currently designing for 2010 and we have many great things on the horizon. Stay tuned…


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