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Optician’s Success Secret? ‘It’s Not Rocket Science. Just Listen to People’

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Located in central Illinois, Specs Around Town offers a cozy boutique setting within a rather expansive geographical area. The downtown Bloomington shop serves clients from Chicago (two hours north) and St. Louis (two hours south), as well as Peoria and Champaign-Urbana. Even so, the experience clients receive is personal, customized and unique. Always unique.

Quick Facts

Julie Kubsch OWNER: Julie Kubsch
LOCATION: Bloomington, IL
URL: specsaroundtown.com
OPENED: 1998 (mobile), 2001 (storefront)
AREA: 1,200 square feet
EMPLOYEES: 5
TOP BRANDS: Theo, Anne & Valentin, Francis Klein, Face a Face, Lindberg, JF Rey, Barton Perreira, FEB 31st, Andy Wolf, Wissing, l.a.Eyeworks
FACEBOOK: facebook.com/specsaroundtown
TWITTER: @specsaroundtown
INSTAGRAM: @specsaroundtown

The shop’s eyewear selection and a high level of customer service are what Julie Kubsch and her team consistently offer. And Kubsch is grateful for the assistance she’s had from social media in growing her client base. “The number of times we’ve had people new to our area, but maybe who’ve always worn Theo or Lindberg, do a search and say, ‘I drove an hour and a half because I see you carry Theo’ … that never would have happened 20 years ago,” she says.

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When new clients arrive, Kubsch, or someone on her team, will offer them a brief tour of the shop to ensure they understand the overall layout. Kubsch notes that pulling frames and sitting down for a try-on session is always the goal, but the priority is each client’s comfort level. “Some people are more comfortable just browsing because they are maybe intimidated,” she says, “but when you let them browse they often don’t know where the heck to start.”

When the Specs Around Town staff observes what Kubsch describes as a “deer-in-headlights situation,” they step in. “It’s good if we can wrangle them a little bit and get some conversation going to find out a little more about their lifestyle, what they do, how they do it, and what kind of look they’re going for.” Armed with these details, the staff can make educated suggestions. Kubsch describes how the next step of the process often unfolds, saying, “We’ll hand somebody something to try on and at first they’ll give us a look like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And then they put it on and they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I never would have picked that up on my own!’”

As for Kubsch’s direction to her staff, it’s the same as what she strives to do herself: “just listen to people.” She says, “What we do is not rocket science. Unfortunately Illinois is not a licensed state, so to find anybody that has any background or training is really, really far and few between. I’ve really lucked out [with my employees].”

“We don’t want to overwhelm people,” she says. “If you have somebody new here they’re overwhelmed to begin with. And then if you immediately say, ‘We can make you a pair of glasses! You just have to pick from those 8,000 different colors and decide if you want them matte or polished,’ you can lose someone really fast. You’ve got to get to know who you’re working with.”

On the marketing front, Specs Around Town keeps in touch with clients — current and potential — through the use of several social media platforms. “We are Instagrammers and on Twitter and Facebook,” Kubsch says. Last winter, the shop also did a new commercial, which can be found on the boutique’s website.

From making coffee, to cleaning floors, at Specs Around Town, “Everybody does everything,” Kubsch says. “I feel very lucky that everybody in the crew I’ve had over the years pretty much gets that and is willing to all row the boat in the same direction.” And that would clearly be the right direction.

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Five Cool Things About Specs Around Town

going mobile: When Kubsch first considered starting her own business, she pondered getting an ice cream truck— Good Humor style. As the plan became more real, her eighth grade daughter suggested a Volkswagen Beetle and the plan evolved into a mobile optical in 1998. “I haven’t had a Beetle since 2008, and two weeks ago, a guy told us he knew about us because, he said, ‘I always saw that Beetle driving around.’”

A True Community Garden:  Specs Around Town participates in Bloomington’s Adopt-a-Pot program, wherein they oversee a large flower pot near their location. “We have a huge tomato plant, it’s like killer size,” says Kubsch, who grew up gardening and established this year’s pot as a community garden. “We’ve got green beans, green peppers, basil, oregano. If you’re cooking tonight and want any [vegetables], take some.”

Eyz on The Road: The original Specs Around Town Beetle featured vanity plates, BUGEYZ4, and Kubsch still uses the plates on her current, non-opticianry vehicle. She says, “People have a hard time with it. We get Bug Easy, Buggies. I’m like, ‘It’s bug eyes!’”

Holiday, Celebrate! Each winter in downtown Bloomington, local businesses participate in an event called Live Holiday Windows. “I must say, feather in our cap, we probably have the most creative [display] every year,” Kubsch says.

All Ears: When they come into the shop, clients often take notice of the nine-foot-tall corn cob with many big eyeballs. It’s affectionately named Cornea Ears Looking at You, and lives in a large flower pot.

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What the Judges Say

ANDREA HILL: Your back story of direct delivery is terrific. Using your clients in your ads is so smart, but getting them to come sit in your window suggests some kind of crazy loyalty.

COLLEEN GALANTI: The shop has an awesome eclectic feel to it. The community charity work is fabulous and important.

Mike Karlsrud: This place is just sassy! The exterior reminds you of walking into a storybook. I love the detail devoted to play and creating an environment that is family focused.

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

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America's Finest

This Ontario OD Is Off to a Flying Start

When her hometown’s original fire hall went on the market, she knew it was time to open a business.

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EYES – Dr. Abby Jakob, Kingsville, ON, Canada

OWNER: Abby Jakob, OD; URL:abbyjakobeyes.com ; FOUNDED: 2017; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Helena Ventrella Design Limited, LaSalle Millwork Patrick Michaud, Maurice Michaud; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 1 part-time ; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Oliver Peoples, Kate Spade, Tiffany, Tom Ford, Swarovski; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/abbyjakobeyes; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/abbyjakobeyes; BUILDOUT COST: $300,000


After working as an associate at a private practice and several commercial offices, Dr. Abby Jakob took the leap and opened her own practice in her hometown of Kingsville, Ontario in 2017. She hadn’t expected to make such a major move so early in her career — it had only been three years since her graduation from the Illinois College of Optometry — but when the town’s original fire hall went on the market, the choice was all but made for her. “My experience was serendipitous, as I wasn’t even searching for a location — I didn’t think I’d be starting my own practice yet — and this historic building went up for sale. It’s right on Main Street, where traffic is the busiest. I called my dad right away to come see it with me, and as soon as we both saw the potential, I put in an offer the next day,” she says. Jakob had saved a lot in her first two years of practicing, and was able to come up with a 20-percent down payment, so financing wasn’t an issue. Also, the building has one other commercial unit, and two residential units upstairs, which already had paying tenants, so that covers her mortgage each month. “I’d definitely recommend owning your building if you have the opportunity,” she says.

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After being away at school for eight years, Jakob was ready to come home to Kingsville, Canada’s southernmost town. She describes it as “small, ‘boutiquey’ … with lots of cute shops and restaurants, and I wanted my office to have that same character and charm.”

Jakob renovated the site to look bright and airy with lots of natural light, but with warming touches such as three sparkling crystal chandeliers above the optical and a barnwood wall in the front desk area. “I love the shabby chic look, so I added a touch of rustic charm” with the wall, she says.

When Kingsville, Ontario’s original fire hall went on the market, Jakob knew it was time to open her own practice.

Her main challenge was making design decisions. “I am not a natural at picturing the ‘after’ while looking at the ‘before,’” she admits. For this reason, she’s a strong advocate of getting outside help. Jakob says the first person she called after buying the building was Ohio-based optometric practice consultant Dr. Richard S. Kattouf. He helped with the design and layout of the office, and offered advice on hiring and running the business. “For anyone overwhelmed at the thought of opening a practice cold, but who knows that it’s their dream, I’d highly recommend hiring a consultant … A quote that has stuck with me is ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’”

Jakob doesn’t target a specific clientele, but says she sees a lot of women between the ages of 20 and 40, and believes this has to do with the big role that social media plays in her advertising. “My optical caters to much more than this specific demographic, but I would say these patients are the ones that spread the word on my pretty boutique optical, and offer a lot of support on my social media platforms.”

Jakob does all her own social media. She devotes a considerable amount of time to it, posting something “cute, clever or informative” on Instagram and FB daily, something she’s quite sure has attracted many new patients. She had Cowlick Studios design her website and logo, but since then has done all of her own branding and advertising, including POP, gift certificates, thank you cards and social media posts.

Frames are merchandised as male, female or unisex, as well as by brand. Her favorites are Oliver Peoples, Maui Jim, Tom Ford, Swarovski and Kate Spade, but Jakob is interested in private label and hopes someday to design a house brand.
EYES has its own edger, and “amazing staff member Pauline makes all of our glasses in house.” The practice does not currently have an inventory of lenses, but the labs Jakob uses are quick and most jobs are done in a week or sooner.

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Jakob prides herself on keeping up with the latest technology. However, she keeps the patient’s perspective in mind when it comes to tech. “One thing I’m proud of is that patients always tell me how much they appreciate how thorough I am and that I explain everything I am doing and why.” She believes this has helped grow her practice quickly. “Patients don’t care how much you know,” Jakob says, “until they know how much you care.”

PHOTO GALLERY (19 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About EYES – Dr. Abby Jakob

1. AWARD WINNER. Dr. Jakob received the Young Professional of the Year Award from the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce at the 28th Annual Business Excellence Awards in April last year.

2. BLOOMING FRIENDSHIP. Every woman who has an exam at EYES is given a flower afterward.

3. FAMILY TIES. The optical at EYES is adorned by an eyeglasses-themed table made by Jakob’s “amazing” father-in-law, with help from her “awesome” husband.

4. A GOOD SIGN. EYES’ distinctive exterior sign was made by local metal company, Bailey Inc. “Since opening, I’ve actually had several friends ask for his information and he even made a logo for another OD in Connecticut.”

5. FULL SERVICE. Jakob performs a screening OCT on all adults, and retinal photos “on any patient old enough to sit still long enough for it.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • “Patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!” Hello all ECPs? Read it. Learn it. Be it!!! Congrats, Dr. Jakob, That’s the ballgame. You move to the front of the class with that one! To be just starting out, like this, tells me we have an optometric superstar retailer on our hands. Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
  • The logo and awning have a lot of impact. Natalie Taylor, Artisan Eyewear, Meredith, NH
  • What a great little boutique practice! It has a nice, modern, fresh look to it that is very inviting. I like the energy of the owner and her eye for details in design. Jennifer Coppel, TURA, Inc., New York, NY

 

Fine Story

Jakob has some interesting ideas on the best way to use social media. “Don’t just post the usual ‘eye’ and ‘glasses’ stuff you can search for on Pinterest, that you didn’t make. Think about what’s on your mind that day and then search for clever quotes about it … Then if you want to make it your own, create it in an app like WordSwag. It doesn’t always have to be about the eyes!” Jakob says she always gets more likes when she posts a picture of herself, her staff, her pets or her patients (with their permission), “because everyone loves to get to know people, and people love supporting people. I recently got married, and so many of my patients are so supportive and interested, so for those of you that have big events going on in your life, patients love getting a glimpse into that, and I believe it makes their connection to you stronger.”

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America's Finest

A Florida Optical That Offers A Slice of European Style

Along with an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity.

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OPTIK! European Eyewear, St. Petersburg, FL

OWNERS: Anja and Edin Jakupovic; URL: optikstpete.com; FOUNDED: 2016; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 1 part-time; AREA: 1,500 square feet; FACEBOOK:facebook.com/optikstpete; YELP: yelp.com/biz/optik-european-eyewear-saint-petersburg-2; INSTAGRAM:@optikstpete; BLOG:optikstpete.com/blogs/blog; TOP BRANDS: Wissing – OPTIK! bespoke line; Etnia Barcelona; Lafont; FHone; Dutz


QUALITY,” BELIEVES ANJA JAKUPOVIC, co-owner with husband Edin of OPTIK! European Eyewear in St. Petersburg, FL, “does not know a competitor.” In its confidence and sense of commitment, the statement says a lot about how the couple overcame adversity to establish a proudly high-end optical catering to the Tampa Bay area’s mix of the youthful and the seasoned, from tourists and artists to retirees.

Anja and Edin’s families fled war in Bosnia in the 1990s and lived in Germany as refugees before migrating to the U.S. After working in the optical field for 12 years, from big box stores to luxury boutiques (including a stint in which Anja returned to Germany to learn the ropes as an optician), she and Edin established OPTIK! in 2016, achieving a goal she had set years earlier — to open her own optical before she turned 30.

“As refugees we truly understand what staying strong means and bouncing back from hardship. We had to start life again not once but twice, and that experience … gave us the determination to do bigger and better things in life in order to have a better future,” she says.

OPTIK! is located in a high-rise condominium on centrally located Beach Drive. Anja describes the clientele as “Upper-class Baby Boomers that are in that stage of their life where they do not want to look the same as everyone else … We also cater to a lot of local artists that truly enjoy being ‘different.’” Almost as soon as the store opened, it began to attract VIP customers including members of the Tampa Bay Rowdies professional soccer team and IndyCar drivers.

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She designed and furnished the store herself; renovations were done with the help of Edin’s friends and family. Inspiration for the modern rustic floors, mid-century modern chairs and chandeliers came from fashion and home design magazines, and intensive online research. The frames are displayed on white floating shelves, “and we will soon feature a custom pegboard accessory section that we are in the process of building,” Anja says.

The store’s focus is independent European eyewear and accessories, and its best-selling line is its own bespoke OPTIK! frames from Germany. Customers can have these customized in any of thousands of color combinations via the online store. “No frame will ever appear twice on our shelves because we believe everyone should have their own individual look,” she says. The store works with independent labs to source advanced lenses.

OPTIK! didn’t waste any time establishing a presence in the neighborhood; among other community-based activities, it collaborated in a women’s book club, then held a trunk show exclusively for its members. At the end of its first year, the business held an exclusive party for residents of the Parkshore Condominium Plaza, which houses the store. “The event was a wonderful way to establish a ‘meet and greet’ with the residents that live above the store and introduce the brand to the community,” says Anja. In a move that typifies its marketing, OPTIK! even fitted out the local mailman (see Fine Story, page 63). The Jakupovics also give all their customers several business cards to hand out to friends or anyone who approaches them about their glasses.

Anja believes consistency in branding and service equates to quality in customers’ minds. “We keep our ads consistent … The same goes for our branding in store.” Every visit to OPTIK! starts with a ‘Welcome!’ and ends with “Please refer us to your friends and family,” she says, adding that consultations are never rushed and always come with a complimentary latte, macchiato or espresso from the mini coffee bar. “We walk our clients to the door, as if they were guests visiting our home.”

OPTIK!’s e-commerce shop is a logical fit for an optical with a private label, though Anja says it functions primarily as a “brand-recognition tool,” allowing for “heavier content on our website and therefore driving more traffic to the shop. It has helped people get an idea of who we are.” Additionally, it also features OPTIK!’s smart, nicely illustrated blog, which is strong on eyewear-related fashion posts and updates on the latest accessories.

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The resourcefulness and determination that were once necessities for survival have translated into business success for the Jakupovics. Says Anja, “As businesspeople, we have embedded this strength into our blood, and that is the only way we know how to operate now. If you want to do great things in life, you must take risks.”

PHOTO GALLERY (26 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About OPTIK!

1. GOT POLYGLOT? Anja and Edin Jakupovic both speak English, Bosnian and German; the latter in particular comes in handy in St. Petersburg’s tourist market.
2. GIRL BOSS! A self-taught entrepreneur, Anja draws inspiration from people like Sophia Amoruso, who also established her first business in her late 20s with no professional help and very little money.
3. SHOW TIME. OPTIK! always schedules a pickup time for eyewear, says Anja, “to ensure we prepare the final product on a presentation tray.”
4. GIFT WITH PURCHASE. All clients get a small thank you gift (it could be a box of European chocolates or a complimentary OYOBox for their eyewear collection) and a personal handwritten thank you card.
5. WEATHER REPORT. As far as sunglasses go, it’s hard to beat St. Petersburg, FL, as a location for an optical. The town holds the Guinness World Record for logging the most consecutive days of sunshine (768 days).

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Location, location, location! Very smart to be part of the retail community at one of the most desirable buildings in the area. There is a deep passion here. They’ve certainly put in the years learning the biz from the ground up to realize their dream. Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
  • The business cards, logo and sandwich board are lovely. The blog is very interesting, definitely original content. The accessory board display is charming. Online presence channels pure love of eyewear. Natalie Taylor, Artisan Eyewear, Meredith, NH
  • I love the spaciousness. It feels organized which makes it easy to shop. A unique experience that any customer will enjoy. Smart to use locals as brand ambassadors. Jennifer Coppel, TURA, Inc., New York, NY

 

Fine Story: A Word of Mouth Brainstorm

Taking word-of-mouth marketing to new heights, OPTIK! decided to look around for local individuals they felt could benefit from a new pair of quality glasses. They found the perfect candidate in the local mailman, who wore over-the-counter readers for years. “We invited him in and educated him on our eyewear and lenses,” says Anja. “As a thank you for his daily service and to help him look and see his best, we offered him our state-of-the-art digital progressive lenses with all the necessary treatments and coatings completely complimentary.” The mailman later purchased a beautiful Lafont frame from OPTIK!; he gets daily compliments and has spread the word around town. “Not only does his new look change the way he sees and feels, but it has also drastically increased our client-referral base,” says Anja.

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America's Finest

This NYC Eyewear Boutique is Simultaneously Fashion-Forward and Enamored with the Past

Bond 07 by Selima is a magnet for eyewear fanatics.

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Bond 07 by Selima, New York

OWNER: Selima Salaun; URL: selimaoptique.com; FOUNDED: 1993; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1998; EMPLOYEES: 18 full-time, 2 part-time; AREA: 1,600 square feet; TOP BRANDS: Selima Optique, Ottomila 8000, Megane & Me, Groover Spectacles, Smoke & Mirrors;FACEBOOK: facebook.com/Bond07bySelima; INSTAGRAM: @selimaoptique; YELP: yelp.com/biz/bond-07-new-york


A NATIVE OF THE French Riviera, Selima Salaun began her career working for luxury frame designers in Europe before moving to New York to manage the Alain Mikli boutique. She opened her first retail boutique in New York’s SoHo district in 1993, and quickly established it as a hot spot for creative personalities, who were drawn to the handmade craftsmanship of her Selima Optique frames. Her ability to customize frames into unique pieces, and her equally unique personality (anyone who has had the opportunity to interact with Salaun knows she’s one of the great personalities of the optical world), have become highly valued and made her, among other things, something of an ECP-to-the-stars.

Both a trained OD and a licensed optician, Salaun credits much of what she’s achieved to her French schooling. Going to school in Morez, the “optical capital of France,” she was required to learn “everything from design to doing eye exams, lens cutting, soldering — I really mean everything.”

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When she moved to Manhattan, she soon developed an obsession for SoHo, which was then the epicenter of art and culture. “Walking around I found this stunning store for rent. It was derelict but my husband Jean-Marie totally renovated it and made it the jewel it is today.” The keys to a good location, she says, are “Atmosphere, ambiance, fun neighbors. It’s about a feeling.” So far, she’s found that feeling in six locations: four in NYC, one in Santa Monica, CA, and one in the Place des Vosges in Paris. It was in 1998 that she ventured north of Houston St. to open Bond 07 by Selima. This is a true NoHo boutique, with the eyewear displayed largely by aesthetic, color or theme, much of it in small brightly hued trunk cases stacked on antique wooden tables, and in retro glass cabinets. Fun, colorful eyewear-related artwork adorns the walls and thoughtfully curated window displays.

Bond 07 is a key outlet for Salaun’s passion for vintage styles. (This goes beyond the eyewear: In among the Marc Jacobs shoes, Balenciaga dresses and even brightly colored tableware, advertised on the store’s Facebook page recently were a vintage Gucci leather jacket and a vintage Christian Dior set once worn by Gladys Knight.) The store holds a large vintage eyewear archive along with contemporary lines. Her own brand, Selima Optique, is largely inspired by styles originating from sources in fashion and cinema, but she says her greatest source of inspiration has always been her daily interaction with clients.

Rounding out the service is a part-time OD in Salaun’s SoHo store; Selima also has her own lab.

Entering Bond 07, a customer can be in little doubt that the eyewear selection is going to be part of a broader fashion experience, though Salaun acknowledges that most of the store’s clients are already, in her words, “eyewear fanatics” who are looking for a new, unique pair of frames. “When working with customers,” she says, “you start to develop a psychological understanding of their character and personality. It almost turns you into a therapist in some ways, as you grow closer with them and they start to feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts. This is a very important and valuable characteristic of developing strong relationships that last beyond the store itself.”

Illustrating this, most of the frames created for the Selima Optique brand are named after Salaun’s friends, colleagues, and clients. “Every frame has a history,” she says. “Most employees who have worked at Selima Optique have a frame named after them.” Salaun’s fashion cred is part of her brand; the possibility that a trip to Bond 07 could get you styled by Salaun herself is held out as a genuine selling point.

Selima Optique’s online store is, unsurprisingly, a prominent feature of the website, but Salaun is still a firm believer in the idea that online plays a supporting role. Asked if she sees online sales as a must, she says, “As a designer, absolutely, but as an ECP, not really. Bricks and mortar are very important.”

Ultimately, Bond 07 is a celebration of creativity, but Salaun sees this as a two-way process: “Many times, our customers inspire us as much as we hope our creativity inspires them!”

PHOTO GALLERY (14 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Bond 07 by Selima

1. WHO LET THE…? “We have seven dogs running around to entertain our customers and clients,” Salaun boasts.

2. MAKEOVER Bond 07 has its own hair salon, located inside the store — Suite 303.

3. MODEL NEIGHBOR Salaun occasionally has to wade through the paparazzi scrum outside the home of Gigi Hadid, who lives directly opposite. Though her frames have appeared in so many fashion editorials, they may very well be there for her.

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4. MONEY SPINNER During a recent holiday season, Bond 07 put out a spinning wheel; with every sale, the customers got a spin of the wheel, determining a free gift ranging from a free tote bag to a frame.

5. MUSIC TO MY EYES Selima Optique, Salaun’s eyewear brand, has its very own entry in Gagapedia, the “free online encyclopedia on everything Gaga.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • A masterful blend of chic narrative elements and objects that extend the conversation and context of eyewear. An environment of stylish discovery! Brent Zerger, l.a. Eyeworks, Los Angeles, CA
  • Selima has some really unique, creative fashion ideas. She does a great job with adding color to a vintage, New York look. Very nice brand. Michael Kling, OD, Invision Optometry, San Diego, CA
  • The window display has enough contrast and visibility to draw in a passerby. The custom website illustrations are charming. Instagram is meticulously curated. Natalie Taylor, Artisan Eyewear, Meredith, NH

 

FINE STORY

Salaun has crafted custom frames for stars including Bono, Liv Tyler, Madonna and many others. Lady Gaga is frequently photographed in Selima Optique frames. Some celebrities come in knowing exactly what they want, while others are happy to let Salaun style them. “Michael Jackson, for instance, wanted something based on a vintage Dior brooch. It was very labor intensive but fun creatively. Bono was like, ‘What do you see me wearing?’”

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