Eye of the Beholder
South Bay DIGS stops by Eyedentity Optique in Riviera Village for a conversation with owner and optician David Smith.
AS TOLD TO CONSTANCE DUNN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PAUL JONASON
SOUTH BAY DIGS: What inspired your involvement in the world of eyewear?
David Smith: I was in college and working at a LensCrafters nearby. One day I walk into a local surf shop and the kid working there is wearing the coolest sunglasses. He told me he got them here, which was then called Ballard Optical. I came in and asked the owner— a German lady named Wilma—about the sunglasses. I told her who I was and where I worked. A few days later I get a phone call from Wilma, asking me if I wanted a job. So I guess I conducted myself in such a way that she thought I’d be a good addition to her team. That was 1989.
SBD: So, you went from being an employee to owning the place?
DS: Yes. This lab is where I perfected my skills in terms of being a true benchman—an optician that does more than just fit and sell eyewear. I understand how to build glasses. The science behind it and the craftsmanship. I’m able to focus on the finished product before it’s fabricated. Thanks to Wilma, I went to Berlin as part of an occupational exchange program and trained with some of the best opticians in the world. I left here thinking I was a badass optician, but the Germans taught me how to make sure everything is absolutely precise, and helped me understand everything about optics. Finally the weather got to me. Winters in Berlin are really long, cold and dark. As a Southern California boy, it wasn’t easy. So after five years I came back, and ended up buying the business.
SBD: I notice you don’t carry a lot of household or “name” brands. Why is that?
DS: We’re different because we only work with eyewear companies whose sole focus is eyewear. So there’s no labeled brands in this store whatsoever. You won’t find Dolce & Gabbana or Calvin Klein, or any brand that puts out sunglasses as part of an extension brand or an accessories collection. There are name brands in the eyewear industry, such as Oliver Peoples or Barton Perreira, but they don’t do anything else; their sole focus is eyewear.
SBD: Which makes a difference in terms of craftsmanship, I imagine.
DS: There’s a big difference in the quality of the manufacturing. A big company, Luxottica—the same company that owns LensCrafters and a lot of optical shops—owns the license to about 30 brands out there. The public doesn’t generally know this, but everything is made in the same factory, and it’s not like Dolce & Gabbana are sitting down and designing their glasses.
We work with true optical companies that are thinking, ‘Is this going to be comfortable on the person?’ ‘Is it going to work with their anatomy?’ You can feel it in the substance and the weight of the product. Fit and comfort, too. For many of these lines, I carry the exclusive in the South Bay. There really isn’t anyone in the general area who carries the collections that we [do].
SBD: Is there a collection that’s currently flying off the shelves?
DS: In sunglasses, it’s definitely Thierry Lasry. He’s a French designer. He has a lot of drive from stylists and people who do hair and makeup for photo shoots. If you look at the celebrities who are wearing his frames, well, it’s everyone. The sunglasses are beautiful, the way they fit women. They have a vintage vibe to them, yet are very modern. He [Lasry] personally sold the collection to me when he was here in L.A.
SBD: The onsite lab is a huge bonus, no?
DS: Yes, we fabricate everything onsite, from start to finish. The glasses never leave our sight. A huge advantage is that our frames last a long time because the materials they are made from. Another big advantage of having an in-house lab is that we can order everything ahead of time, so the wait time to have your glasses fixed is about 30 to 45 minutes. Many strip-mall opticians ship glasses out to a mass-production laboratory, so you have to give up your glasses for two weeks. With us, there’s no downtime.
SBD: You have a talent for picking out the perfect frame for a person’s face. How do you do it?
DS: Interesting question. I’ve been doing this for so long, I just know. When someone walks in and tells me they need glasses, I’ll take a look at their prescription and first qualify what their needs are in terms of the medical side. After that I‘ll pick out a frame for them. Then we’ll go through the rest of the store so the customer feels comfortable about what they have seen—but over 80-percent of the time they’ll select that first frame I picked. With time, I’ve developed that skill, and am able to aesthetically see what looks good on each person.
SBD: Having this guidance is priceless. The worst is standing at a mall kiosk, trying on pair after pair and hoping you’ll find one you love.
DS: There’s something about eyewear that’s super intimate, because of its placement on your face. It’s going to speak to everyone before anything else that you’re wearing. So it’s a very important decision to make. We try to make sure everyone leaves here with the most amazing eyewear they can possibly have. Some of my customers have known me since I was 19 years old. They don’t go anywhere else.
1702 S Catalina Ave
Redondo Beach, CA 90277