For the largest collection of vintage frames, look no further than Caserta Eye in New York City.
Nestled on a strip of 8th Avenue in Manhattan that can’t decide wheth-er it’s Chelsea or the Meatpacking District, sits a narrow shop that is a window into a bygone era. To say that Caserta Eye is unlike any other optical is an understatement; it’s a veritable eyeglass museum.
Paul Battiste, a licensed New York state optician, opened the store in the spring of 2011, but his tenure in the optical industry dates back to the 1990s when he worked at Shades of Key West and Sunglass Hut. Soon after, he joined Colors in Optics and was a key player in their Versace launch in the mid-1990s. At first he started collecting frames one at a time, but eventually he graduated to buying out whole inventories of closing stores.
“I started collecting vintage when vintage wasn’t so sought after,” said Battiste. “I like to call it ‘the new, old stuff.’ Factories are all replicating these historic pieces now. There’s a huge market for vintage.” A quick scan on eBay and Etsy shows prices inching upwards of $1,000 for classic frames. The market is lucrative, indeed.
His collection—which now runs into the thousands—has many one-of-a-kind or virtually impossible to find glasses, including vintage 1970s Christian Dior (pictured on Battiste above), vintage Cartier and Oliver Peoples. The store is also well stocked with Persol, Modo, Tom Ford and Philippe Starck, just to name a few. His clientele runs the gamut from collectors and West Village locals to rap artists and magazine stylists.
The shop’s décor harkens back in time, too. Exposed brick on one wall is offset by old European travel posters from the 1920s and 1930s and celebrity photos of Peter Fonda, Elton John and Marilyn Monroe as well as Audrey Hepburn stills from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
As a courtesy to his regular customers he employs a part-time, appointment-only OD, and he sends out Rx lenses to a local lab, using only free-form lenses.
But as brick and mortar becomes a caché for people with resources, Battiste is already considering his next career move. “I may get back into the wholesale end or branch out and open a specialty sunglass store,” he said. “Or I may get into eyeglass design—it’s a natural extension for me since I already customize my vintage pieces with new lenses and treatments.”
Anthony Floreno is editor of Vision Care Venture.