After 15 years of wearing glasses, I finally realize I have no idea how a pair is made in Illesteva's brand-new shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In the bright, Scandinavian-inspired, succulent-dotted interior, the tools needed to create a pair of unique glasses are laid out on a counter opposite a wall painted to resemble an eye test chart.
Shallow boxes present an array of frames, temples (as the side arms of glasses are known in the industry), and multi-colored lenses, all tempting customers to forgo one of the many stylish pairs of pre-made glasses lining the shelves in favor of customizing a pair and seeing it assembled right in front of them.
Founded in 2010, Illesteva offers both eyeglasses and sunglasses in updated retro styles, all handmade in either France or Italy. The brand has previously collaborated with the likes of Lou Reed, Zac Posen, and Jourdan Dunn—all figures who embody cool in our book. But what makes the new Illesteva boutique stand out from the rest is its offer of instant customization: shoppers can just walk in, choose the details they prefer, and walk out having forged a one-off collaboration of their very own.
Here's How It Works
Step 1: The Frames
As I take my place at the glasses bar, I'm assisted by repairs manager Gabe d'Amico—he happens to moonlight as the bassist in the indie pop band Mr Twin Sister—who prompts me to choose one of four unisex frame styles (Leonard, Leonard II, Milan III, or Milan IV), a frame color, and a temple color (both available in black and a mix of tortoiseshells).
For my frames, I stay in my comfort zone with a basic black round option (Leonard), and select tortoiseshell temples for a bit of a twist. "Some people have really surprising choices," he says, gesturing to the patterned temples that customers bolder than I have chosen.
Step 2: Shaping
D'Amico assembles my frames, twisting a precision screwdriver into the hinges that keep the temples in place, and then plunges them into a heated box of white, nearly glittering granules: turns out the secret to shaping glasses is something as simple as a sandbox—this is in distinct contrast to my high-tech imaginings, and seems downright charming.
Step 3: The Lenses
Once the frames are warmed, it's time to pop in some lenses. The brand has an impressive number of choices, but I go for simple silver reflective lenses—a selection that d'Amico endorses, noting that the mirrored option is popular at the moment.
After one more dip into the hot box to shape the frames to my face, I've got a fully customized pair of sunglasses, in about five minutes flat. I slide them on, and suddenly, I feel like a fledgling fashion designer who's just presented a majorly successful collection. My look is 1976 meets 2016—equal parts discotheque and music festival photo op—and I (almost) made it happen all by myself.
How would you customize your own pair of sunglasses? Share this with a friend who you think would have fun with this!