Best of the Best: Creative Leaps

Black Optical supporting ballet

Expanding Oklahoma-based business revels in artistic collaborations

With admirers far beyond its two high-end heartland shops, Black Optical will open two new locations this year. Credit the strong artistic sensibilities of founder Gary Black and his team, and consider their success a cue for how you, too, might engage with creative organizations in your town. — JULIE FANSELOW

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of INVISION.

THE IDEA: Gary Black serves on the board of the Tulsa Ballet. The ballet’s artistic director, Marcello Angelini, is a fan of the high-end optical shops, with locations in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Black Optical has become widely known for its creative, multiplatform storytelling campaigns, and Black and Angelini had talked for several years about doing one together.

Enter Kara Przybyl, who had worked for the Tulsa Ballet and is now Black Optical’s digital strategy and online sales manager. “One thing led to another,” Przybyl says, and dancers from the Tulsa Ballet II were featured in Black Optical’s holiday/winter 2015 campaign, which included a video (see it at, social media posts and a gorgeous look book, all featuring eyewear by Ahlem, Barton Perreira, Dita, Garrett Leight, Mykita, SALT Optics and more.

“Performing art is very different from visual art, but we see eyewear as both,” says Przybyl. “It’s beautifully designed, especially the eyewear we carry. It’s something we can all marvel at, similar to dance. Eyewear is an expression of who you are, and dance is also an expression.”

Dancers from the Tulsa Ballet II were featured in Black Optical’s holiday/winter 2015 promotions.
THE EXECUTION: Black Optical’s stylist Stacy Suvino teamed with the ballet’s costume director to decide on a look for the parallel stories that show the dancers at work and a couple falling in love. Alfonso Martin of Tulsa Ballet II was on the set to work with the dancers during the one-day shoot for the ballet sequences. Darshan Phillips — a noted art director, designer and filmmaker from Tulsa — was behind the camera to create the evocative imagery.

The Tulsa Ballet II was one of two major local collaborations for Black Optical in 2015. The company also teamed with Jacques Marie Mage to create an American Bison collection honoring the cultural heritage of the Osage Nation. The historically inspired designs featured frames wrapped in bison leather sourced from ranchers who, like the Native Americans of the Great Plains, ensure no part of the animal is wasted. For every campaign, Przybyl says the focus is always on storytelling. “We’re selling these products that we’ve traveled all over the world to find,” she says. “We know they’re the best, and people want to know the stories behind them.”

THE REWARDS: By celebrating culture, Black Optical has earned customer loyalty and industry acclaim. In fact, the business will open two more locations in 2016. One is part of a new apartment and retail complex in Dallas’ Knox-Henderson district, where Trader Joe’s and Sur La Table will be among the neighbors. The other is at Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach, CA.

The California shop will be a five-minute bike ride to the beach, while the Texas digs will put the company into a thriving urban scene with plenty of money and art. But look for Black Optical to stay true to its Oklahoma roots, too. The company is also a major supporter of the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, including an annual mixology competition/fundraiser, and Black Optical would like to forge more partnerships in its backyard. “We’d love to do something with the Oklahoma City Thunder” NBA team, plus that city’s ballet and symphony, Przybyl says. Now that would be a ball.

Cultivate Cultural Ties

How to become an artistic powerhouse in your community

Have a mediator, someone who can say, as Kara Przybyl puts it, “We understand both of you are wonderful at your jobs. We need you to be wonderful together.

Explore the connections you already have, both in your community and in the wider world.

Think visually and hire professionals. High-quality photography and video will make your campaign a work of art and attract media notice.

Be respectful of your cultural partners’ artistic visions. Be open to new ideas and aim for a true collaboration.

Celebrate your influences. On its website culture page and via social media, Black Optical highlights the company’s wide-ranging design inspirations.