FrameGeek interviews Corey Shapiro about his life, his goals and his passion about eyewear.
Framegeek: Tell us about your grandfather Lionel Portigal. You’ve said that everything started with him and his iconic Cazal 951′s. How do you think things would have been different had those frames never been in your life?
Corey Shapiro: My grandfather was always known for his glasses. Growing up in the fashion world, frames were always iconic to me. He would go on travels around the world and bring back some of the largest exclusive frames I had ever seen. To me, the bigger the frame, the bigger your status.
When I was about 19, I started wearing his Vintage Cazal 951 frames and people would laugh at me. It’s funny that those are the same dudes that try any way to get into our private office.
Most people’s influences in collecting glasses come from iconic artists or actors – mine comes from my grand father and his friends. If it wasn’t for me adopting that frame, I can’t honestly say I would have chosen this path in life.
Framegeek: What other influences did you have that may have led you to your passion for vintage eyewear?
Corey Shapiro: The second thing that contributed to my sunglasses obsession was my love for sneakers. Since about the age of 12, my grandparents would travel the world on their business trips and bring me back sneakers.
It was always a joke amongst my family when I got a new pair because I never wanted to get them dirty. I was really not the most athletic kid in the world, or at least not with sports that required me to damage my shoes.
When I was about 19, sneaker collecting became a “cool thing” to do, and every asshole was trying to find wild sneakers. I thought it was time to start to find something else cool to collect, and it just happened to be frames!
The two most noticeable accessories are for sure sneakers and sunglasses. The business was actually started by teasing sneaker heads that if their frames didn’t match their sneakers, then what was on their feet, really wasn’t that dope anyway!
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Framegeek: You have a massive fan base that not only includes regular readers and other bloggers but celebrities and style icons. Building these relationships takes obvious trust and time. What makes them run to you for quality eyewear over other brand name frames?
Corey Shapiro: Relationships are what we pride ourselves on. Our company is run on hype, but not the typical hype street-wear companies try to capitalize on. The hype that we drive is based on history.
To know where you’re at, you have to know where you came from.
What we try to do is educate the community on past brands, styles, and historical info that leads them to make educated choices of their own. The frames that we sell are really “limited edition”, versus a company producing a limited number for either budgetary reasons or controlled hype.
For example, a 1970’s Playboy frame may only have 5 or 6 frames left in the world. That makes the frame really limited – nobody dictated the production numbers.
In terms of our artist clients, we treat them the same way we do anyone else. A combination of that and our historical knowledge makes us rather unique. People have grown to trust our choices for them in frames.
If I were able to afford it, I would love to have someone like me fly down to my house or studio and do a presentation of frames. How dope is that?
Framegeek: Who, out of everyone you’ve worked with, has been your absolute favorite?
Corey Shapiro: I think all my clients are equal. Obviously some of them buy more frames then others, but the experience we share together is equally as exciting from person to person.
Getting to work with an icon like Jay-Z, Pharrell, Rick Ross, Questlove or any one of that type of stature is very cool, but it is equally as satisfying to see someone come into my office and cry when we have found them the frame that their grandmother used to wear.
Framegeek: Do you prefer styling someone with vintage glasses or writing about vintage glasses? Why?
Corey Shapiro: Writing – I hate to write. Even though I update our website every day and all day, doesn’t mean it’s my passion.
Fitting someone for frames is my passion.
It is really the one-on-one meetings with our customers and seeing their confidence when walking out with our frame that I dig.
Framegeek: What do you think makes you the leader in the vintage eyewear industry?
Corey Shapiro: Well, besides the largest collection hands down, I would say our passion is what makes us the leader in this industry.
We didn’t just find a cool niche and try to capitalize on it like some other tools have started to do.
My main goal in life was to be able to look at someone in the eye, shake their hand, and be proud of what I do. It is for this reason the business has been successful.
I am not an optician. I treat the business like a fashion history archive.
There are tons of extra man-hours that go into my company allowing me to bring the lifestyle, and information for people to be confident in our frames alive. Most of the other people who attempt to step into this game base their decisions on profit margins – we do this because we love it!
Don’t get me wrong, we are here to make money as well, but at the end of the day, handing a legend like DJ Jazzy Jeff the original Neostyle frame he wore on his first album cover and seeing him speechless, means way more to us!
Framegeek: What makes your vintage eyewear stand out from the rest? Why would someone pick yours over some of the other vintage eyewear out there?
Corey Shapiro: I guess the styles that we buy. As you may have noticed, I am way more out there in appearance then most of the other people in this industry.
The styles we try to push are unique. We couldn’t give a shit where the vintage fashion movement is headed.
We provide quality vintage eyewear that nobody else has. As well, our selection is way more vast than any of these vintage eyewear stores.
As a matter of fact, 90 percent of them buy a large part of their collections from us. We usually concentrate on the funkier style frames rather then the Persol type of style. My team is constantly trying to push the limits, as am I!
Framegeek: What’s been your biggest accomplishment to date in your vintage frame career?
Corey Shapiro: I would have to say Cazal asking to collaborate on a model with us. The good people at Cazal have been rather large supporters of our movement. This week, we will unveil our limited edition Cazal 951 sunglasses.
We made a very limited run of 50 units in a special colorway. It is our 5th anniversary edition. I am super happy the way it came out!
I couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished. To put on my own Cazal model is a dream! Another cool project will be coming out in the next months with Tina Catherine Eyewear in NYC.
Framegeek: You’ve said you want to start your own line of eyewear. Any details on what this would include?
Corey Shapiro: We have been preparing a line for about three years now. We have carefully designed some very cool frames that are ready to take the industry by storm!
We are waiting for the right time to start production. We have entertained many offers from different companies for the line to be purchased and distributed, but I still feel that I haven’t found the right one.
Once the right offer is on the table, it is just a matter of time until we cause a huge wave in the optical industry!
Framegeek: What’s your advice for someone who wants to get involved with vintage eyewear?
Corey Shapiro: I don’t really. People who have tried to step into the industry have done so because of profits and that’s not the way to make it successful.
Every single person that works at my company loves what they do! They live, breath, and dream of eyewear.
Just like what happened when sneaker boutiques became popular, you had all these kids with some start up capital that entered the industry, diluted it, and closed up shop within the first year.
That’s not to say that people shouldn’t try, but it is passion and knowledge for the eyewear industry that will make you succeed.
Framegeek: What’s the most interesting vintage piece that you own?
Corey Shapiro: I am best known for my vintage Cazal collection. I have such a diverse collection of 951′s that even Cazal is impressed!
Some of the coolest pieces we sell are reject samples.
Most eyewear brands were done by licenses. Basically a production house would purchase the name, design a collection, present it to that company, and they would select styles they liked for the upcoming seasons line. All those samples that were not accepted or purchased by the brands are super rare.
They are truly one of a kind. That to me is the most interesting thing that we own.