Garrett Leight is a man from Los Angeles who makes very, very nice glasses. We first met him a few years back when he landed at Seen with a suitcase full of his designs to show us. Off the back of that meeting, we became Garrett’s first UK stockist (and only his second in Europe), and he’s since become one of our favourite designers.
We caught up with the man himself via e-mail to ask him a few questions...
“I’m just not into big logos.” — GL
Starting things off fairly lightly, how’s it going? What's a normal day like for you?
All is well. I get up to my daughter waking up in the morning. She wakes up around seven, then two days a week I workout at eight. Then I head to work and it's meeting after meeting... finance, design, sales, e-commerce, marketing. If I’m lucky I have two or three hours a day to answer people’s emails.
Lunch is important and I leave the office for an hour, usually with a few team members. I leave the office every day at five so I can get home to hang with my baby.
When did you start making glasses, and perhaps more importantly, why did you start making glasses?
I started making glasses in 2008. I thought it would be a good idea to help some of the people I had met in the fashion industry to make glasses. So I was basically doing private label eyewear for street wear brands.
Your designs are pretty clean. What made you decide not to slap a massive logo over your glasses?
I’m just not into big logos. I wear black and white t-shirts and jeans nearly every day. It’s just never been my style. I like more of an understatement.
Your frames are inspired by everyone from the playwright Arthur Miller to Susan Sarandon’s character in Thelma and Louise. Who else has inspired your glasses? And what is it that you take from these people?
There’s a variety of people that inspire eyewear design — a variety of eras is a better way to describe it. I pull inspiration from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. I’m usually drawn to characters that fly a little more under the radar.
Although you take inspiration from the past, your designs aren’t remakes. How conscious are you not to just repeat old designs?
I think designers believe in perfection and often believe that they have a vision for what is perfect for them and their customer. If I see a frame that I believe is already perfect, I would never remake it.
“Generally the frames we pull inspiration from are just shy of perfect.” — GL
Generally the frames we pull inspiration from are just shy of perfect. Their essence is there, but maybe I just believe the bridge can be smaller or bigger, or the frame could have been more rounded or square. Or maybe would look better with a plaque or pins or in certain colours...
Take something like your Kinney glasses for example; can you talk me through how these got from an idea in your head into something real I can wear on my face?
Kinney was inspired by a vintage frame I had in my store that was made in the 90s. We had a bunch of them and it was interesting because they were slightly different in each colour we had them in—and none of them were quite perfect. So we found our favourite things about each colour and sort of moulded the Kinney into what it is.
You clearly put a lot of thought into your designs, but how important is the production side of things? How are your glasses made? And what are they made out of?
They are made out of a variety of materials—acetate, stainless steel, cr-39, glass and titanium. Production is huge because it speaks of the quality. You have to have both original designs and high quality.
There’s only one way to make a frame… the right way.
Tareq tells me that Seen was the first UK stockist of GLCO, and you visited his store with a red briefcase of your frames. Do you recall your trip to Manchester?
Yes, it was an orange briefcase actually. I was really sick in Manchester. In fact right after Manchester I went to London and had the worst night of my life. I thought I was dying. I must have had 105 degree fever.
Haha, that sounds dreadful. What made Seen feel like the right kind of place to be your first UK stockist?
I think Tareq actually emailed me after we got some press. I loved that he really wanted to see my collection so I made a point to travel and visit. Once I got there, I felt like the combination of brands he carried and his store location and his attitude were a good fit.
You come from good optical stock and your dad is the man behind Oliver Peoples. What do your folks think of what you’re creating? And are we going to see a Larry Leight for GL release any time soon?
My parents love what I am doing. My dad is really proud of me and the company that I have built. I’m sure one day we will work together.
“There’s only one way to make a frame… the right way.” — GL
Like a new pair of shoes or a well-made watch, putting on a pair of sunglasses can often make people feel better about themselves. Why do you think this is? And do you get a buzz out of knowing your designs make people feel good?
I love making people happy. It’s great when people love my glasses and swear by them. It’s nice knowing that you can make someone happy with a pair of glasses.
What glasses do you wear? Do you have a favourite pair?
I wear the Wilson and the Kinney. I can’t pick a favourite between them. I like both.
How did your collaboration with Mark McNairy come about?
Actually a mutual friend connected us. We had a conversation on the phone and we liked each other. I don’t know when we first met in person but it’s always felt pretty natural. Mark is great, but can be awkward—and I think in a way that describes me—so it’s just been a natural relationship, and we like working together. Every moment with Mark is a good story.
Garrett with his father, Larry Leight
You’re based in Venice Beach in Los Angeles. What’s it like around there? Say if I was visiting for a weekend, what would you recommend I do?
I would recommend you rent a nice house and lay out in the sun and walk around and eat food, and ride a bike and go run in the ocean. Don’t leave Venice, you don’t need to. Don’t rent a car, that way you won’t leave Venice.
I hear two big passions of yours are the Lakers and tacos. What else are you into?
Sports is a big one—so Dodgers and Kings as well. Food in general is a big deal for me. Other than, I’m basically a family man. I love hanging with the fam’ on the weekend.
Okay, I think we've covered a lot here. One last question... what next for Garrett Leight?
We are opening a lot of retail stores. I like to travel so a store in a new city is always something exciting. It would be cool to open somewhere in Europe. Or Tokyo would be awesome.
Top portrait by We are the Rhoads.