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Edward Beiner is an eyewear expert whose eponymous boutiques have served Miami for more than 30 years—that's right, guys, a boutique in Miami that's been around since way B.A. or Before Andrew. There's good reason why he's been able to stick around: He knows his stuff and his stuff is good.
His eyewear boutiques in South Miami, Coconut Grove, Brickell, Coral Gables and Dadeland, not to mention a few more a bit up north as far as Orlando, are stocked with the best names in eyewear design, including the Edward Beiner collection, which is only available in-store.
Beiner talked to us about his latest project, a traveling ultra-custom eyeglass service called Ottica Su Misura, coming this week to the Merrick Park store, his thoughts on why eyeglasses are more important than Louboutins, finding inspiration in Parrot Jungle's escaped parrots and a major fashion crisis he sees in Brickell.—Patricia Guarch Wise
Can you tell me a bit about opening your first store in Miami?
We opened the first store here in South Miami in 1981. Back then, eyeglasses were treated as a cheap commodity; people bought them because they were a medical device. Eyeglasses came without cases or with a pretty cheap case. The level of aesthetics of the industry was not exactly the best.
My father was a jeweler and I worked with jewelry when I was a kid. I used to size rings and that was my afterschool job to keep me busy. I realized that the optical industry lacked the finesse.
When I opened my store I thought, we need to change the way this is done. When I opened South Miami, I went out of my way to find better ways to package and deliver eyeglasses in a more luxurious way. I served food and coffee. There were trunk shows and that was basically unknown in the industry.
I started traveling back in 1984 to Europe. Back then there was hundreds of artisanal eyeglass manufacturers. I started bringing eyeglasses from Europe to my shop in South Miami. For the first time, consumers didn't have to travel to Europe to get glasses. I used to hear that all the time.
Back then, and even today, it was not just about the brand name designers, it was about the people in the optical industry that were creating designs for eyeglasses such as Alain Mikli. Back then Oliver Peoples was an early starter in the game, and that was the whole beginning.
I wouldn't have thought it was such a small market.
Well, it wasn't such a small market, even back then it was still billions and billions of dollars, but the consumer was trained not to buy something that was beautiful, the consumer was trained to buy two pairs of glasses for $9.99. If you paid more than thirty dollars for a pair of glasses, you weren't that smart. It was all about the price and how cheap you could get them.
I still tell people, you can buy a beautiful pair of Louboutin shoes, and spend thousands of dollars but at the end of the day you're sitting at dinner and your feet are under the table. If you're wearing a pair of glasses that you have to hide in front of your friends, why would you do that?
Right, it's like jewelry for your face.
It is jewelry for your face.
We see a pretty quick turn around on independent stores around here. Why do you think you've been able to stick around for so long?
I think part of the secret is stick to your DNA. We have faced all sorts of economic hardships, nationwide, locally, hurricanes, a recession in '81, our market crashes in '88, 9/11, the market crash in 2009 and people try to adjust because they want to make the sale. The logic is let's bring cheaper products, let's try to make bigger profit, let's try to lower our profit by bringing in lower priced products. My DNA says, this is how you started, and you need to adjust, but the basic thing is I still go out and look for an artisanal frame.
The Ottica Su Misura trunk in-store
Can you tell me about the brand that you design?
In around '96 and '97, people would travel from all around the state to come to our shop because they knew we were carrying products that were really the one-and-only and I felt the need to be creative and didn't want to give my customers the eyeglasses that everywhere else would be carrying.
I thought, I knew what my clients want. I'd been going to Italy and France and I knew how to manufacture. I consulted with people constantly asking for my design and choice of color and I wanted to give my customers something that I could do without any restraint.
By the way, we ended up wholesaling it from around '96 – '07 all around the country and around the world.
Why did you stop?
I stopped doing that in '07 because as the market started getting a little bigger, the fun of designing it started to disappear and it because about what the mid-west wanted and what someone would want in New York.
It became more business than sandbox. I felt that I wanted to go back to the sandbox and do what I wanted to do for my clients here in Miami. I took a break, decided to reset and picked a new manufacturer in France. And I thought, I want to have fun; I want to pick the colors that I want. I didn't want to be restrained by dollars and cents and what my consumer in New York might want. I don't want to sell to department stores. If I did it would be limited to four or five of them, handpicked.
So now you have to come to Miami to get them and you're designing for the Miami buyer...
Don't forget, there is a difference between what someone in Miami, California, Chicago and New York want. I come from Brazil. I love the greens, I love the ocean, I love everything about Miami – I don't feel exactly the same about California (he laughs). It's wonderful, the palm trees are wonderful, but they aren't the ones I recognize. I like the jungle at Fairchild Garden. That I get. I like to see the parrots that escaped from parrot jungle a few years ago in the sky. I like to look up in the sky in summer and late spring and see the parrots. As wonderful as California, it's not tropical. Period.
It's not home.
It's not home. The colors are not the same, the sunrise, the sunset is not the same, the greens are not the same, the sky is not the same. So why should I try to design for someone in Chicago?
I'll pick Miami any day!
Any day! And all that, when you're sitting down and looking at glasses, you're inspired by all that even if you don't want to believe it.
Especially in Miami, where sunglasses are such an important part of getting dressed everyday.
Not to mention I've gone on for a long time about the health benefits. Not only does it look good, but let me tell you, with all the plastic surgery that goes on in Miami—and God bless it!—if you start wearing good sunglasses that protect against UV light, they protect you from getting wrinkles around the eyes!
You know, I think that's really not talked about enough.
It's because the industry is all about the sexiness and not necessarily the benefits of the product. That's why I believe that people should buy their glasses at an optical shop. We want people to look great, that's why they came in, but we want to give them lenses that will protect them in the sun. It's like wearing a sun blocker.
That's really such a great point. How do you recommend that people shop for glasses? Should you take into account your face shape? Your haircut? Or just buy what speaks to you aesthetically?
This is controversial and confusing. There's all sorts of advice out there. Think of clothing, is there a particular way that people should shop for clothing? Well, first there's style, if you're a hipster and you're living in Brooklyn there's a look. If you live on South Beach, there's a look. If you're wearing white pants and a pair of sunglasses in sandals at the beach, you should look casual and sporty. We need to look at who you are, how you dress and we dress differently for different occasions. I think sunglasses should go the same way.
If you jog in the morning and you wear a pair of sneakers, in the evening and you're in a simple black dress, would you wear the same sneakers? The answer is no! Why not treat glasses the same way? I really recommend people to have three or four. I'm not trying to sell eyeglasses here, it's common sense!
I see a lot of men in Brickell with a suit and tie and Oakleys. I love Oakleys, they're wonderful glasses, but you don't wear them with a suit!
You should start a consulting business!
It's like wearing sneakers with a suit—it's a big no, no!
Anything else we should know when shopping? How do we start to make a decision when there are so many beautiful ones!
Well, I like to keep it simple. The oval shaped face is a perfect face. The goal is for your glasses to make you look like you have an oval shaped face. So, you'll do the opposite of what your shape is. If you have a square shape, you want a round frame that's going to stick a little bit out from your cheeks and jawbones to create an oval effect. If you have a round face, you want a frame with stronger edges. That's for both prescription and sunglasses.A look at the Ottica Su Misura design process
Can you tell me about Ottica Su Misura?
A lot of our artisanal factories have disappeared. The big brand names are all over the place. There are a few products out there today that let you customize and mix and match, they're ok.
We wanted to see how we could go a level above that. We found, a young group in Italy, a small factory, well, I would call it more like an artisanal factory because they don't mass produce, and they're a group of Millennials who were trying to figure out how to make things different. They're making eyeglasses su misura, to measure.
I went in and my jaw dropped. Here is a way of making eyeglasses where you can pick thousands of color combinations. We can laminate; it's unheard of in the eyeglass industry. That means that the customer says I want a black color on the outside and an orchid color on the inside and the can glue them together.
You can also write whatever you'd like on the inside, if it's a gift maybe "Happy Birthday," or a date of birth, "I Love You Honey." The owner of the Steelers, we did her glasses on Worth Avenue, we did her glasses in yellow and black and wrote "Go Steelers!" If you want your signature in it, we can do that! And I'm probably forgetting half of the things we can do.
The question was how can we create this and bring it to Miami? We designed with these folks in Turin a traveling trunk and we redesigned it so that the trunk would carry all the shapes and colors. The frames are $790 per frame, when you consider the price of eyeglasses from $300 to $400 for things that are available to most people, this is something you design for yourself and it's really quite affordable. And it only takes six weeks to manufacture from beginning to end and it's totally by hand.
The gentlemen from Italy will be training our staff in Merrick Park and the trunk will be there by Tuesday or Wednesday. If you're in search of knowledge and the future, this is part of the future and it's just amazing.
· Edward Beiner [Official Site]