This story is part of Image #10, “Clearness,” a vivid document of how LA radiates in its own right. Read the full issue here.
You haven’t really made it to Los Angeles if you haven’t been in a laEyeworks ad campaign. Which means I didn’t, because I haven’t. The ad’s aesthetic is simple: a distinctly illuminated face is photographed close-up and framed by one of the company’s iconic glasses. At the bottom of the ad is its succinct feature: “A face is like a work of art. It deserves a great frame.” The pioneer’s leading artists, actors and lights have been immortalized in these commercials over the course of 5 decades. Debbie Harry, RuPaul, Pee-beng Herman, Andy Warhol, Iggy Pop, Grace Jones, Gregory Hines and countless others have been stunting for Greg Gorman since 1981.
According to laEyeworks statistics, it has photographed more than 200 people, some of them as famous as the list of celebrities mentioned above, and some just ordinary people with remarkable faces. . Without much effort, laEyeworks has become a local institution, a payment hub for the creative class, and an icon of cultural exoticism among its descendants.
Wearing a pair of laEyeworks frames instantly signals to those around you that you don’t just want to stand out; you need to. I’ve tried his glasses on so many times, and there’s still a voice in my brain that says, “Are you sure you can do this?” The sharp angles, odd shapes, and striking colors laEyeworks is famous for may cause chaos in your face, but you can feel the elegance and confidence in the models in commercials. .
The frames are both an expression of pure luxury and a secret codeword among like-minded people, signaling that you too have a sense of humor about yourself, that you are different too. That is the feeling of the city itself. This is a sudden, impossible place. LA is magic, and it attracts magical people.
Many of them, especially LGBTQ people, come here for laEyeworks ads, according to co-founder Gai Gherardi. “I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say, you know, we can’t wait to know who’s going to be on the next campaign,” Gherardi told me over the phone recently. as we reflect on the influence of her life’s work. “I get these truly heartbreakingly beautiful letters from people who have talked about having a piece of our ad in their bedroom when they were growing up as the only weirdo. [in their hometown]. ”
laEyeworks could not have survived America’s changing tastes without the connection it had forged with its customers. For laEyeworks devotees, this is more than just a place to buy glasses. It’s a place to feel seen.
Gherardi opened laEyeworks with her business partner and childhood friend, Barbara McReynolds in 1979. They opened a store on what was once a sleepy stretch of Melrose Avenue between Martel and Vista. Both hail from Huntington Beach and were involved in the optical industry during a period of strong growth, particularly in Southern California. Brands like Larry and Dennis Leight’s Oliver Pe People are popping up in more fancy neighborhoods with more fancy addresses, but laEyeworks has positioned itself in what will become the focal point of the bohemian community in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s.
Melrose rents eventually skyrocketed, but laEyeworks managed to stay put. When a new store opens, Gherardi says, there’s a sense that it will be “the downfall of Melrose.” Many other stores closed. “But we’ve weathered all of that in this beautiful way.”
laEyeworks still exists despite never selling out to an optical consortium like Luxottica. Now, when you step into one of its stores, you’ll be transported back to what was like a golden age of cultural relevance in the city: the rerun “LA Law,” the shops. Italian and Japanese tailoring, lunch at Spago and beautiful eyeglasses. All that ’80s glamor feels like it’s coming back into fashion, but what’s truly timeless about laEyeworks is its steadfast commitment to inclusion. Its ad campaigns could feature comedian Louie Anderson alongside Pam Grier or John Waters’ legendary muse and drag icon Divine.
Gherardi was at the Divine’s photo shoot that day and recalls her arriving at the studio in disarray: no makeup, no wig, in a casual-looking suit. “She came out three hours later,” Gherardi recalls. “I waited and when Divine appeared in this beautiful pink sequin dress, tears rolled down my cheeks. It was the most transformative moment. And part of it is the overwhelming sense of how people negotiate and work towards beauty. “
Living in Los Angeles requires the perpetual pursuit of beauty, an uncanny attempt to achieve goals that are constantly moving in front of us. One has to remain in a state of constant flux to manage to retain whatever makes them beautiful, if they even know. Because the honorific “beautiful” is traditionally bestowed on us by others, life is filled with moments when you hope someone will pity you with a compliment. And most of us don’t actively look at people for the sake of finding their beauty. The sheer number of faces we see every day in a city as large as ours becomes white noise after a certain point. How can you tell one from the other unless the beauty is undeniable? You have to assume that person is famous.
But laEyeworks has always said that beauty can come from anywhere, anytime, from anyone. That’s especially important in Los Angeles’ visual landscape, with cultural gatekeepers and major corporations reverse engineering celebrities and selling their manufactured images on billboards, on mobile apps, on screens in movies. Celebrities are aspirational but elusive. It’s for the sake of exclusion, because not everyone can be learned that way. Luck, genetics and consumer ambition are basically prerequisites. To sell a product, you have to be someone others want to copy.
on the contrary, laEyeworks does not nurture aspiration. By alternating celebrities with unknowns, it flattens the idea of fame. It says a face is like a work of art, but it doesn’t qualify for any kind of face. It’s every face. What it sells is not exclusive. It’s a common sense of belonging. Glasses focus your attention on the eye of the person wearing the glasses – someone who deserves to be understood, like all of us. Each of their portraits expresses a deep, believable human emotion.
“This is not self-consciousness,” says Gherardi. “This includes only the things we love and the people we love, as well as the things we say and the way we say them back.” laEyeworks “grow from that and it continues to grow out of a love for color,” she added. “So magical.”
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