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Leight Keeping Oliver Peoples' Focus

Luxury eyewear company Oliver Peoples has been buffeted by change the last two years, but founder Larry Leight nurtures the vision he had when launching the firm in Los Angeles 20 years ago - creating top quality eyewear with a vintage ethos.

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Luxury eyewear company Oliver Peoples has been buffeted by change the last two years, but founder Larry Leight nurtures the vision he had when launching the firm in Los Angeles 20 years ago — creating top quality eyewear with a vintage ethos.

Oliver Peoples, which is favored by Hollywood heavyweights such as Renée Zellweger and Tom Cruise, has transitioned from a privately held company to a luxury standout in the portfolio of sport optics specialist Oakley Inc. to swimming in a sea of high-end eyewear brands such as Prada and Chanel at Luxottica Group. Oakley bought Oliver Peoples for $53.1 million in February 2006 before joining Luxottica in a $2.1 billion merger completed in November.

The fast-moving developments stunned Leight, who named the brand after a deceased eyewear collector whose stash of hundreds of early 20th-century frames Leight purchased for $7,000 in 1986. The frames continue to inspire him.

"That is the big surprise that we couldn't control," he said of the Luxottica deal. "Of course, we thought, 'What if Oakley gets sold?' We heard rumors about that, but I just couldn't imagine that [former Oakley majority owner] Jim Jannard would do it."

With the deal done, Leight, who is creative director, renewed his dedication to protecting the integrity of the Oliver Peoples brand.

"I don't want to see the name ruined," he said.

Oliver Peoples is paying homage to its history with the release of a 20th anniversary collection for resort-spring and summer 2008. Although not the initial intent, the collection highlights the brand's heritage for the new ownership and for new clientele, which is essential to grow Oliver Peoples' business. And it attempts to show that the retro-meets-modern aesthetic resonates enough to make the company an aspirational force in the global eyewear industry.

To get the word out about the anniversary collection, Oliver Peoples created a black-and-white ad campaign featuring Robert Evans, producer of "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby," and teamed with him on a thick rectangular plastic frame for $365.

Oliver Peoples' first big hit in 1987 was the 505, a fake tortoiseshell plastic optical frame made famous by Sting and Al Pacino, and worn by Christian Bale in "American Psycho." A year later came the O'Malley, an acetate frame modeled after the glasses sported by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, and, in 1992, Oliver Peoples launched the MP2, a round metal frame with fake tortoise plastic inserts that "Curb Your Enthusiasm'' star Larry David continues to wear.
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