Traveling to NYC to view the latest, most fantastic eyewear from all over the world is always a total thrill. That is why we love the International Vision Expo. At Eclectic Eye, one of our core values is to ensure and promote independent eyewear. To do that, we must actively educate ourselves on the beautiful products being handcrafted around the globe. There is no better place to do that than the 3-to-4-day show in New York City at Jacob Javits Convention Center in Midtown Manhattan.
The International Vision Expo is around this time every year in New York, and as is the case in Memphis, you never know what type of weather is in store for you in mid-March. This year, we flew in days after a significant blizzard had pummeled the city. Yet, no sign of it was in place when we arrived at our hotel at about 12:30 Thursday afternoon. NYC was glittering in full midday sunshine, which made it feel warmer than it actually was.
We checked into The Refinery Hotel in the Garment District of Midtown Manhattan, which is a stone’s throw from Bryant Park. It’s an old Millinery Factory that has been renovated with many of the timely touches used in the production of hats from the early 1900s. I hardly ever stay in the same hotel twice, and one of the reasons I save our credit card points is so that we can experience luxurious, boutique hotels when we travel without actually having to foot the bill for them. It’s always an important part of our experience to see the attention-to-detail that goes into the construction and execution of some of these hotels. The Refinery did not disappoint. The subtle but beautiful lighting, the music, the costuming and storytelling of the employees, the stocked mini bar in the room and the beautifully tiled bathrooms with heavy duty brass hardware, the walls of the hallways covered in the fabric used to line the hats from years gone by. Details, details, details. They were everywhere. There were sculptured wall hangings made from the wooden tools that originally created the various chapeaus and the most fantastic bistro called Parker & Quinn with tall, intimate booths that provided comfortable and quaint seating to have a delicious rack-of-lamb or melt-in-your-mouth burger. We heard exceptional live Jazz in the lobby lounge as we came and went each evening. But, the Rooftop Bar with the most amazing view of the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building really set the stage for the above-and-beyond experience that this hotel provided us. You might wonder why any of this is important to what we do? Let me explain. In 2002, my husband and I stayed at the Hudson Hotel in the spring before opening our business the following fall. I think it was our architect, Barry Yoakum of Archimania, who told us about it. It was our first trip to the International Vision Expo. We had a list of vendors to try to obtain, so we were scared but excited to see what the possibilities were. It may be hard to imagine, but we were trying to sell Memphis, Tennessee, on the idea that we wanted a fun, eyewear boutique that doubled as an optometric office. We hoped to host art shows, trunk shows and other events. And, ultimately, we hoped to turn people’s perception of what an eye care place could be on its head. Think back almost 20 years. There was nothing like us in Memphis. People had trouble grasping that we could host an event to showcase cool eyewear in a very cool space. These were still the days of people choosing Big Box for all of their needs, and this included eyewear.
Anyway, we wound up at the Hudson Hotel that chilly spring in 2002. I had never stayed in a boutique hotel before then. In fact, the term “boutique hotel” was just becoming a thing. We certainly didn’t have one in Memphis. We had The Peabody, of course, and it was luxurious alright, but boutique was different. I will never forget getting dropped off in the cab, the doorman taking our bags, and telling us he would meet us upstairs in the lobby at the registration desk. We entered the revolving doors into this dark, cavernous setting with an extremely tall elevator that was illuminated with lime green neon. And, if this wasn’t striking enough, there was a base beat thumping so loudly that it felt like entire space was throbbing. It was 1:00 in the afternoon but I felt like I was in the most exclusively, awesome club I had ever been to. Yet, there were business men and women heading to and fro as if this was perfectly normal. It was a shape shifting moment for me. Sort of like when I read Wicked for the first time and became aware that the reality of the Wizard of Oz as I knew it, might just not be the reality.
The details of that first stay in a boutique hotel impacted me profoundly, and it gave me the courage to begin the creation of the environment that Eclectic Eye exists in today. We don’t typically have loud base popping at Eclectic Eye, but the attention-to-detail found in the many boutique hotels I have stayed in since that first experience at the Hudson Hotel is reflected in many ways. Being truly great in the optical field requires an insatiable detailed eye. Our success is measured in millimeters, exact refractions, perfectly attuned adjustments. But, equally important is the experience of stepping into our space and finding an immaculately clean bathroom, current periodicals, interestingly displayed eyewear, up-to-date information on happenings around us from our engaged team, music that adds to the experience, rotating local art reflecting our belief that eyewear is, without question, art for your face, and the intimate relationships we cultivate with our customers, patients, friends. We want our customers to feel as though they have stepped into a world where they will experience a beyond-your-expectations experience. Ever since 2002, I always try to stay in any place that has the potential to inspire me and provide examples of how to do our job better. NYC knows how to provide a concierge experience better than anyone. Staying at The Refinery was also nice because it meant that Javits Center was only a mile away. Getting a cab, an Uber, a Lyft from Javits can make a person break down, so in the event that one has to walk back to the hotel after a long day meeting with vendors, a mile is way better than two or three. Of course, the day this happened to us this year, it happened to be 30 degrees with hurricane wind gusts, which made the experience less than lovely. Javits is simply a beast. It takes up one long block and five short blocks in NYC. I wish I had on my Apple Watch, so I knew how many steps we took on any given day. If you have ever been a buyer of anything, chances are there is a show during the year at Javits. It is a one-stop-shop for everything related to our industry, whether it’s equipment, lenses, frames, accessories and/or services. It is a maniacal experience and by the time we get back, I always need a full-on detox.
We are a part of a more specific subset of the overarching eye care industry, which is luxury eyewear. Many of our vendors exhibit off site from Javits at a place called The Loft. It’s only a block from Javits but a much more exclusive and accessible venue for viewing the latest and greatest independent brands. As mentioned above, one of our core beliefs is to promote independent eyewear. This means working with small, boutique companies, like us, creating limited runs of truly exceptional products. We strive to have a meaningful connection with our vendors. We like to understand their process, their goals and work together to achieve a relationship that benefits us both equally. This is next to impossible when working with large conglomerates like Luxottica, Safilo, Kenmark, Marchon, etc. These are large global companies that have bought the rights to certain names like Ray Ban, Burberry, Armani, Tory Burch, Chanel, Vera Wang, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, etc. They produce massive quantities of products under these licensed brand names that reflect a level of quality, price and design that we are no longer willing to promote.
We are members of a group called the Luxury Eyewear Forum that further promotes this interest in boutiques and shops all over the country and world. Many of these vendors showcase their goods in The Loft or in the more exclusive areas of Javits called The Galleria and The Underground. Vision Expo is really the best place to get a sense of what all is happening in the luxury eyewear world in a compressed space.
We had the privilege of seeing many new designers this year that might have a place in our boutique one day. We saw Gotti, which is this architecturally-cool Swiss line with a 3-D printing option and an outstanding rimless selection. Plus, their booth in Javits was a cool shipping container that they had painted bright white and had its own seating, tables, and coffee bar.
Jacques Marie Mage is one of our more recent luxury acquisitions, and we got to visit with them at the International Vision Expo for a more detailed viewing at Javits.
I am totally in love with the design, the feel, the rivets, the zyls, the hinges, the faceted details of this beautifully handcrafted line. This product is the epitome of what Eclectic Eye is about, and we look forward to their official launch in May 2018. We received it in about four weeks ago and are already seeing it fly off the shelves with price ranges from $500 to $1,300 retail. It is simply stunning. Check out the case that the designer hand made out of a frog in red. What? Craziness. This level of creativity is so exciting to us. Jacques Marie Mage is based in Hollywood, California, but Jerome, the designer and creator, is from France. The frames also arrive in exceptional packaging, including a luxurious leather case, oxblood silk box and matching fine cleaning cloth. This small-batch collection reflects the attention-to-detail that we expect and are thrilled to exclusively offer in our area.
We also saw a beautiful line called Kaboraum during the International Vision Expo. This product floats the line between steam punk and classic. It’s almost angry and antagonistic, while providing a beautiful fit and ehtheral feel. The designer calls the frames masks, which I find interesting. It was founded in Berlin and has a very exclusive feel.
We fell in madly in love with Ahlem. Ahlem Manai-Platt is the designer, and she designs and produces entirely in France. A series of their frames showcase beautiful filigree inspried by the Bauhaus movement. We are always a sucker for vintage art inspiration. The temples have a spliced design at the ear piece that allows for a vintage zyl dot to be inserted to further add interest to these unique pieces. The Mazzuchhelli zyls are rich and luxurious and their metal series has the most flawless rose gold coloration I have ever seen. Another area that set them a part to me was the treatment of their lenses. Ahlem exercises great care in the choice of lens for her frames. Look for Ahlem at Eclectic Eye soon.
Every year at the International Vision Expo, we meet with Francis Klein in NYC at The Loft. Dixie, our rep, only makes it to see us once per year from France, so it’s imperative that we spend some time with them in NYC viewing their new limited pieces and placing a replenishment order for our store. This order typically takes a few months to receive, as it is all produced individually based on our color, stones and etching selections. It is all customizable and heavily influenced by 1950s eyewear reproductions. It is all zyl with some of the most exclusively sourced materials in the world. Francis Klein pieces are sparkly with Swarovski crystals and other gem stones and transport you to an over-the-top wow space and are exclusively offered by Eclectic Eye in the Greater Memphis area. It’s great to spend time with the Francis Klein family in New York once a year and work on my French with the sisters as well.
One of the most exciting newer designers we saw was SPEXWAX.
David Keith, the designer, is a fabulously interesting fellow, who takes recycled vintage records and turns them into eyewear art. This is the type of story we easily identify with. He’s an optician by trade who wanted more out of his life – more meaning, more creating, more living. He wanted to take something that people use every day and create something one-of-a-kind. Well, that’s no different than what we are doing, so we get it. Even better, he found a way to recycle an unused product into something beautiful. He uses a skateboard deck to mold the shape in his own little studio. Even cooler for us was that David came to us. Last summer, he mailed us four frames with a handwritten note saying he would love to talk more about his new product and he heard we were THE store for him in Memphis. A HANDWRITTEN NOTE! That’s a pretty powerful opening. It took us eight months or so to finally meet with him, which we did last week at Javits in the New Designers Showcase area. And, let’s just say, you’ll see this highly customizable product here at Eclectic Eye by fall.
We meet with Valrose every year at the International Vision Expo. They don’t have a rep that travels the states. They are a unique accessories company, so this is our only opportunity to order for the year. We order felt and leather cases plus eyewear retainers andnecklaces. They speak very little English, so it’s always a challenge to place an order, but we are excited about the process. Look for new Valrose products in the store by June.
Finally, I will tell you just a bit about meeting with Wissing. They are an acetate-only company from Germany that are known for their layered laminate colored frames. Every layer and shape is entirely customizable. We will tell you much more about this exciting collection when arrives next fall at Eclectic Eye.
There are many other meetings and conversations that we learn from while attending this important show. We have a chance to visit face to face with some of our most loyal and long-lasting vendors. We always want to know what we need to be doing differently and how they think we are doing. We love it when we hear positive face-to-face comments, but the kind criticisms are even more helpful. And, the relationships we build with our vendors allows for this type of honest feedback that makes each of us better. Truly, we have some of the best partners in the business.
A huge perk of attending the International Vision Expo is that we get to visit with other opticals doing what we do across the country and beyond. We spoke briefly with Julia Gogosha at the Lofts. Her store in Los Angeles, Gogosha Optique, we have obsessively stalked for years because of her adventuresome buying.
While eating lunch on the stairs at Javits, all of the eyewear we were each wearing immediately drew us into a conversation with a fellow luxury optical wizard named Julie Kubsch, who owns Specs Around Town in Bloomington, Illinois. I literally have followed her store for 10 years, so it was nice to finally meet her. Also, randomly, we wound up at an insane Andy Wolf dinner party the very same night with the Austrian owners of Andy Wolf at Edi & The Wolf on the Lower East Side. So crazy how all of this can happen when at this event. And, as a side note, a dinner party with the Andy Wolf crew should be on absolutely everyone’s bucket list.
We had the pleasure of running into a former employee this year at the International Vision Expo who moved away but stayed in our industry. Jonathan worked for us a long time ago, but we still keep up with his stellar optical career in Denver.
We typically have time to view some of our favorite NYC opticals, but our abbreviated trip prevented that this year. It’s always helpful for us to check out how they are displaying things or the lines they are carrying while in the Big Apple.
International Vision Expo gives us a compressed glimpse into the ever-changing world that we are trying to bring back to Memphis on any given day. It is an essential event for our business. It invigorates our brand promise, which states that we will provide our customer with a “tailored experience, curated eyewear, artful craftsmanship and unparalleled care.” It strengthens our core, so we can provide these things daily.
By the end of the three days of the International Vision Expo, we are exhausted and ready to head home. It is always bittersweet to see the NYC skyline slip away in the distance. It takes days and weeks to process all we have seen while there, but it slowly trickles out over the next few months as the products come in and what we learn shines through. This gives you a glimpse.
New York, New York
March 15-18, 2018
By Robbie Johnson Weinberg, Owner