Modern technology and the current economic climate have created new expectations from consumers and thus, new requirements for retailers.
The world of eyewear dispensing now includes many more community and cultural involvements. An ever-increasing number of retailers and ECPs are partnering with the art community both because of the cultural ties the collaboration brings to their business and the wide marketability of such events.
In an age when consumers are looking for enhanced meaning in their purchases, retailers host gallery-style shows within their stores to bring attention to the artwork as well as to their product. Actual works of art—whether traditional paintings, photographs, sculptures and even non-traditional forms such as puppetry and performance art—are created as a means of expressing an alternate point of view. Alongside the artwork, customers look at the eyewear collections inside the display cases with a fresh perspective. By creating art collaborations, boutiques are bringing a new dimension to their brand and reaching out to new constituents, Vision Monday has learned.
From creation and design to selection and fitting, it is easy to see why the connection is often made that eyewear itself is an art form. “The great thing about eyeglasses is that they are a piece of art already,” said Sophie Raubiet, vice president of U.S. retail for Alain Mikli, which has been incorporating art from neighboring Madison Avenue galleries into the designer’s New York boutiques.
“We’ve always wanted to emphasize a very large and expansive concept of vision that is beyond the frame. And artists teach us to look at the world differently,” explained Brent Zerger, director of communications and retail operations for l.a.Eyeworks. The California brand has been entwined with the art community since their first store opened on Melrose Ave. in 1979. “That’s part of the journey that we want to take our clients on,” he said.
“By showcasing art, you also have the opportunity to showcase the more artful frames,” explained Brad Bodkin, OD, owner of The Vision Center at Seaside Farms in Mount Pleasant, S.C. His single-location practice recently incorporated paintings and jewelry from local artists as part of their one-year anniversary celebration. Bodkin related that the positive response from customers inspired him to consider more art shows.
Vision Monday spoke to retailers and ECPs throughout the country who have incorporated artistic projects and special events into their businesses. Among those, some have long-established art series, so popular that they describe the eyewear as competing for attention with the works of art which draw customers into the shop. Others are just starting out, feeling their way around the unfamiliar world of in-store art installation.
Regardless of the history behind various art affiliations, it’s becoming clear that optical retailers throughout the country are opening their shop doors for more than just eyeglasses. Following are a few examples of how some ECPs have incorporated art into their business.
Blog-Inspired Pastel Series
When Gogosha Optique opened in March 2008, owner and optician Julia Gogosha-Clark knew her shop would eventually become involved with the local art community. “It was something we’d wanted to do but we wanted the first one to be very personal,” she said.
It was around that time that painter Linsley Lambert visited the eyewear shop looking for a pair of glasses (Gogosha-Clark described Lambert as being a fan of Theo frames). Having done various paint series in the past, Lambert became interested in the “Frame of the Day” feature on Gogosha’s blog, through which Gogosha posts a photo of one customer and their respective eyewear.
For the collaboration, Lambert created a series of portraits using Gogosha’s past “Frame of the Day” entries as inspiration. “It was a pretty fluid conversation. She’s obsessed with glasses herself so it made sense for her to draw people with glasses,” Gogosha-Clark said. As opposed to her usual oil paintings, Lambert instead made the series in pastel, which Gogosha-Clark noted, brought the artwork to a more affordable price point for Gogosha customers.
The artist’s series debuted at the Sunset Blvd. boutique with an opening party on Aug. 26 and the works are scheduled to remain on sale there through September. All proceeds will go to the artist, minus 10 percent the store will retain to cover credit card charges and costs. Gogosha-Clark said the nature of the art event enabled her store to reach people “who were waiting for an excuse to come in.” “We had people come back for the next three days to buy glasses that they saw at the art opening,” she added.
The 800-square-foot boutique specializes in frames by what Gogosha-Clark describes as “more creative, playful companies” with independent designers—“no licenses, no labels, no logos,” she remarked, adding that she believes her shop will continue to attract members of the West Hollywood art community. “They make art and buy cool glasses, we sell cool glasses and buy art. It’s a natural relationship,” she said.
For the boutique’s second art collaboration, Heather Louise Bennett, creator of The Doll Farm, has been tapped to make a series of her plush sculptures to be shown in November. “Because it’s a utilitarian item, eyewear has always been put into that medical bracket. So we want what’s on the walls to be just as inspired as the exciting frames we work with. It’s a common message that we’re looking to explore and promote creativity,” Gogosha-Clark said.
Presently, she is not worried she will have trouble finding artists for future endeavors. “I think most things lend themselves to a partnership with the art community. I don’t think it’s special to eyewear. Either you’re inspired by things you see or you’re not. It’s how we connect with objects and ideas. We have lots of customers who are artists. It’s really integrated into our daily lives… like finding a friend. You just find them, hit it off and it evolves from there,” she said.
Finding Art In The Neighborhood
For Alain Mikli, finding art inspiration was as simple as looking down the street. The company’s two New York boutiques incorporated art from nearby Madison Avenue galleries into window displays.
“The idea is to attract more customers or even more awareness of the brand,” explained Sophie Raubiet, vice president of U.S. retail for Alain Mikli boutiques. While most people, she noted, usually only notice an eyeglass store when they need glasses, Mikli’s group tries to stand out. “We’re trying to make them turn their heads toward our window in a way that they wouldn’t do if we only had eyeglasses in the window. We want customers to notice us in an unexpected way and attract a clientele that we never did before,” she said.
Raubiet added that the company uses the eye-popping windows not only to lure in passersby but also educate them about Alain Mikli frames. “Once inside, they look around and see glasses and we can make them aware of what we do. It’s about branding more than marketing,” she explained.
More recently, Alain Mikli’s art focus has expanded to its New Jersey location (their third in the U.S.), where The Mall at Short Hills also houses several art galleries.
For now, each boutique does an art collaboration every six months and keeps the window display up for a month after the opening night party. “You always want something going on in your store,” Raubiet said.
Raubiet pointed out Alain Mikli’s long-term collaborations with a range of designers and creators. In the past, Alain Mikli teamed with Hugh Millard, whose paintings were used to showcase Alain Mikli’s red frames, and Pierre-Henry Guerard, who supplied ceramic sculptures of heads on which Alain Mikli frames were displayed.
Building Art Partnerships On A Foundation Of Creativity
l.a. Eyeworks’ connection with the art community was established from the beginning, according to co-owner and co-designer Gai Gherardi. She remembered opening the company’s “mothership” store with the distinct desire to strip away all that she considered “typical optical accoutrements” in order to give the new store a gallery setting. “We wanted the eyewear to be the artwork,” she said.
As a result, l.a.Eyeworks is no stranger to the art world. Gherardi, with partner Barbara McReynolds, began to host Friday night art gallery-style parties immediately after opening their first location on Melrose Ave. in 1979. The company has since opened a second store on Beverly Blvd.
“We would take the glasses out and put them behind some incredible display, like a gauzy curtain with lights or inside an aquarium,” Gherardi said. “Every fifth Friday night we’d throw open the doors and have a big party and there were always a couple hundred people waiting to get in.”
In doing so, l.a. Eyeworks’ connection with the art community expanded and their gallery attendees quickly became the company’s customer base—something Gherardi said happened “organically.”
“Things always present themselves as opportunities and we’ve been willing to go in a lot of different directions.” Gherardi named singers, magicians, sculptors and painters among the company’s list of artist partnerships. “We’ve left the door open to what those collaborations can be,” she added.
Over the years, their art connection evolved into, among others, an award-winning 30-year ad campaign shot by celebrity photographer Greg Gorman; window displays with David Dunbacher; cleaning cloths imprinted with designs by Barbara Kruger; and a permanent sculpture by Jim Isermann within the Beverly Blvd. retail store.
A series of more than 100 artist and designer-made frames, created with l.a. Eyeworks glasses as their foundation, comprise the “Face It!” collection. The company’s designs have even made it to the Los Angeles Philharmonic for whom l.a. Eyeworks recently designed a 3D frame. “The entire audience wore it so you can imagine that it was a magnificent moment for an eyewear designer,” Gherardi admitted.
“There are so many trajectories to our interactions with artists and the ways that we connect with them,” said Brent Zerger, l.a. Eyeworks’ director of communications and retail operations. “Our situation is unique in that Gai and Barbara are designers of frames that bear our name, so that brings us in connection with other opportunities.”
Gherardi said, “One of the things art does is it completely invigorates us internally. All of the staff is invigorated and it reflects in the business. For customers, I hope that it reflects for them the spirit of collaboration, inclusion, humor, the possibilities; and the knowledge that we wanted to share something with them,” she added.
Having cast such a wide net with their art profile over the years, it seems that every part of l.a. Eyeworks’ business has an artistic touch. According to marketing director Angela Gee, there is no telling where the collaborations will go next. “We’re not sitting around a table thinking about ‘what are we going to do next,’” she said. “The projects just come. It’s an organic progression that is a truly authentic connection with the arts in every way.”
SCCO Shared Visions
Inspirational Sights At ‘Shared Visions’ Exhibit
For the Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO) exhibiting art is more than just a means of decoration.
The school features the work of low vision and legally blind artists from around the world as part of its “Shared Visions” project for the past six years. The most recent installment of the exhibition opened on Sept. 21.
Rebecca Kammer, OD, FAAO, assistant professor and chief of low vision studies at SCCO, explained that the gallery-style show started in 2004 after the Eye Care Center had just renovated. “I had a patient, Kurt Weston, who was a photographer and painted. He brought me some catalogues and we put together a volunteer team,” she said. Kammer added that Weston helped put out the word and the college’s advancement department contributed the necessary funds for the first event.
“As optometrists, we are trained about vision and how it’s connected to the brain. When you look at vision and art, it’s physical but it’s about the mind’s eye, too,” Kammer explained. “Quite a bit of what our artists do is more about holistic vision. Even if they don’t have great sight anatomically, they have excellent vision as artists. It’s about the whole person,” she added.
In the past six years, SCCO has teamed up with OcuSource.com, a website for visually impaired patients, to solicit submissions. Because of the site’s international audience, the Shared Vision Exhibit has received work from around the world. Kammer also credits Arlene Kay, director of marketing for SCCO, for securing sponsors for the event. “Arlene brought in polish and commitment to excellence,” Kammer said.
Once submissions have been received, in June, a panel of four art professors along with the art director from the Braille Institute of America evaluate the art and pick the 90 top-scoring pieces—what Kaye said is usually half of the entries. During this time, the previous year’s show is taken down and the current exhibit is installed along the walls of the Eye Care Center, where it will remain for just under 11 months.
“It’s really an inspiring night and it really emphasizes the abilities of these folks,” Kaye said, adding that last year’s reception had almost 500 attendees. For the show’s opening night, artists, patients, sponsors and guests tour the new exhibit, discussing the art and making purchases. Kaye said that around 80 percent of the show’s sales happen on opening night. Though some artists choose not to sell their artwork, Kaye said all proceeds from those pieces sold go directly to the respective artists. New this year, the exhibit is building an audio version of the informative art tags for legally blind visitors using the Pen Friend recorder.
“We help patients with permanent vision loss who also need help living life and regaining independence. The exhibit is really highlighting upon the beauty of life and expanding on their possibilities,” Kammer said. “We’re not seeing the patient as disabled but rather, focusing on their talents. Everyone who comes out is much more enriched than they expected.”
Fine-Tuning The Art+Vision Synergy
Early in 2008, Spex, a 14-unit retailer based here, began its “Art+Vision” series, which has evolved from a small cocktail party into what Spex describes as “a platform for local artists to show their work in a retail environment with diverse public exposure.”
Marketing director Marilyn Frank said the idea originated at Spex’s Highland Park location when that store’s manager requested to change the 10-year-old artwork in the space. “I thought, ‘What if we had a local artist come in, put up their stuff and throw a party?’” In the past two years, Frank said a total of 30 Art+Vision partnerships have taken place at Spex’s 14 Chicago-area locations. The show has evolved to include trunk show pairings.
For their program, Spex allows the invited artists—who have included Kate Friedman, Angie Garbot and Tom Blandford—to determine how their art should be featured in the store. Once arranged, a gallery-style opening night is planned and guests are invited via in-store flier and e-mail alert. The reception often involves cross-marketing with local restaurants. According to Frank, the art remains on display for four to six weeks during which time customers can purchase it.
However, Frank insisted that Spex is not involved in selling the art. “We refer the purchaser to the artist,” she said, adding that artists are encouraged to leave promotional material which Spex staff distributes to interested parties.
Frank admitted her original expectation was to increase business. “You can’t do something like this and have people respond in a negative way. I don’t think that anybody could walk in and scoff that we’re supporting local art. It’s a good thing,” she said. However, she added that the series has gone far past that in increasing awareness of the Spex brand, bringing in new customers and generating loyalty. “I didn’t realize that things would snowball by word-of-mouth or that people would be so enthusiastic. That was a nice surprise,” she said.
“Spex is civically minded, culturally aware and conscious of the importance of creativity. We understand the necessity of extending creative pursuits in our communities,” she said. As an artist herself, Frank said it’s important to let Spex clients know that the company is in touch with their customers beyond the “run-of-mill optical sale.”
Spex recently partnered with the Chicago Loop Alliance for their largest art collaboration (both in size and exposure) to bring the public art project, “Eye” from visual artist Tony Tasset (a past Art+Vision participant), in the city’s Pritzker Park. The collaboration was promoted through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and was featured on local television stations. Frank said Spex will continue their involvement in community art with Pop-Up Art Loop, a project which finds empty businesses in downtown Chicago and uses their space to house the work of local artists.
Frame of Mind, The Art of Eyewear
Tapping Into Local Resources
When Mark Plessinger opened his optical boutique Frame of Mind, The Art of Eyewear (FOM) here three years ago, his goal was to impact people’s lives through eyewear. “This isn’t about putting glasses on the masses, but about affecting people on a much smaller level that makes them feel better when they walk out the door,” he said.
After six months of “figuring out how to get the name out and people in the door,” Plessinger, an optician, decided to use the store’s loft space upstairs to showcase art. He tapped into Columbus’ art community for the first show and has done so ever since.
Today, the monthly FOM series spills out of his 1,000 square foot location and onto the sidewalks of Main Street, Columbus, where, over the years, Plessinger has convinced neighboring businesses to host their own art events on the first Thursday of every month.
“I’m putting on events that maybe cost me $200 and I’m getting a minimum of 50 people in the door who never knew I existed,” Plessinger said.
As for the series he created, Plessinger said: “It has defined who we are and what we are. It’s given us way more brand recognition than we ever could have imagined. Now when you say ‘FOM’ people think of art. The series has brought us to the forefront of people’s mind.”
The Vision Center at Seaside Farms
Showcasing More Than Frames
The Vision Center at Seaside Farms first incorporated art into its location as part of the practices’ one-year anniversary. Brad Bodkin, OD, Vision Center’s owner and president, invited artist Laura Martindale to display her paintings during the day-long celebration. The event was advertised on the practice’s website and Facebook page.
“By showcasing art, you also have the opportunity to showcase the more artful frames,” Bodkin said. “We’re definitely seeing a trend in people being more artistic with the frames—more colors, more characteristics.”
Bodkin said having the artwork enhanced the office and generally made the walls look better, giving the public another reason to come in. According to him, Vision Center is in the process of starting a more regular art series.
“We want to drive a new customer base to the office. If word gets out and [the events] become a success, hopefully we can also show our office secondary to the art and it’ll bring these art visitors in as customers later,” he said. “We want people to think of us as a culturally relevant place that showcases beautiful things as opposed to somewhere they just get their glasses.”
by Delia Paunescu: Assistant Editor