Oliver Peoples Designer Shares His Space
by wendy schmid
Larry Leight dreams up Oliver Peoples eyewear collections in his sunsoaked Sunset Strip office.
Larry Leight has a penchant for perfecting his environment as much as he does people’s vision. His corner office on the Sunset Strip is supremely neat, awash in soothing celadon hues with sunlight pouring through floor-to-ceiling windows. Even the color plates, lens books, and vintage frame catalogs on his desk—all references for his design process—are neatly organized. “I need clean, calming spaces to clear my mind,” says Leight, cofounder and creative director of the luxury eyewear brand Oliver Peoples. “It really helps me get creative.”
All the better to dream up new collections of chic OP eyeglasses and starshielding sunglasses. The latest color launch, Horizons Two-Tone, is inspired by LA’s stunning skylines—the subtle to dramatic color play that hovers above mountain, beach, and metropolis from sunset to nightfall. “It’s all about a graduated, gradient feel, from the lenses to the frames,” says Leight. “Burnt oranges, reds, soft blues—colors that look beautiful against the skin but also act as a neutral.” A born and bred Angeleno, Leight finds inspiration not just in the surrounding landscape, but in the world of high fashion. “I remember Prada did this great gradient color on handbags a few years ago. I have a lot in my head—things I’ve seen that I may reference but do in a different way.” The brand appreciation is apparently mutual.
In 1999, Prada tapped Leight to help interpret its unique design perspective into a premiere collection of eyewear. “I was very proud to be a part of it,” he says, sounding humbled and half surprised at his good fortune.
Leight’s lack of pretense in the haughty world of luxury design is as refreshing as his story is aspirational. Having built an iconic brand based on vintage Americana, he’s a self-made man now living the American dream. He shares a 5,000-square-foot hilltop home in Santa Monica with wife Brit and daughters Devon, 12, and Dylan, 10—and design clearly runs in the family. Leight’s niece, April, cofounded the California-cool fashion line LNA and his 28-year-old son, Garrett, opened A. Kinney Court in Venice two years ago, stocking the hip hybrid store with books, music, local fashion, and as of last year, his eyewear line, Garrett Leight California Optical.
Leight lost his own father when he was just 13. “I loved the beach and surfing, but I knew I needed to step up and learn a trade after high school,” he says. At 18, he studied to become an optician and later worked as a lab technician and a sales consultant, discovering along the way that he enjoyed connecting with customers. “Picking the right frames for someone is like being a stylist. You need to consider face shape and coloring,” says Leight. “I had an eye for it.”
He also saw a growing need for more fashion-focused eyewear, so in 1987, Leight, his brother, Dennis, sister, Doré, and lifelong friend Kenny Schwartz launched Oliver Peoples with a distinctive collection of vintage frames scored at an estate sale in Connecticut. The brand was an instant hit, turning up in fashion editorials, in real life on the original supermodels—Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford—and later in films including American Psycho and Fight Club, where Leight notes, “the frames helped shape the characters.” The same could be said of Fox’s current hit New Girl, where OP’s nerdy Wacks frames add to the quirky chic of Zooey Deschanel’s Jess.
photography by amy dickerson
LAC celebrates the women of its May/June 2013 issue at Palihouse in West Hollywood.