Optician, designer and visionary Robert Marc, who reimagined creating and selling eyewear, celebrates 35 years of elevating a prosthetic device to a couture accessory.
On a stretch of Columbus Avenue in New York City, a long-time resident of the Upper West Side points out the few retail establishments that have remained in business since the early ’80s. Robert Marc is one of them. His brand has not only had staying power, it has also expanded beyond his wildest dreams. 35 years. Eight stores. More than one million frames crafted.
A NIGHT WITH THE GUEST OF HONOR
An intimate group of industry friends has gathered at Marc’s first retail location, 190 Columbus Avenue, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of his brand. Marc begins to address the crowd with his contagious optimism and enthusiasm and gets everyone laughing. He then recounts the story of his very first customer, in this very space, and he is suddenly overcome with emotion. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” he says, wiping tears from his eyes. “That feeling of excitement. What I didn’t know is that I would have that same feeling of excitement hundreds and thousands of times.”
His words immediately cause many of the guests to wipe away their own tears. They know his passion and his hard work. A quick meet-and-greet with his sales team makes it very clear that Marc surrounds himself with people who exude the same warmth, caring and professionalism that has led to his enduring place in the optical world.
VCPN spoke with Marc about his milestone and the role that his brand has played in establishing eyewear as a fashion accessory.
MICHELE SILVER: Describe your first
ROBERT MARC: I opened my first store in 1981 on Columbus Avenue, which was a new trendy shopping area. I used everything I had, including my Bar Mitzvah money! It was a time when eyeglass stores offered very little variety or style. I created unique products by reconditioning antique frames, dying and sandblasting frames with custom colors and finishes, and adding unique fashion tinted lenses to classic styles.
SILVER:Why did you start your own line of luxury eyewear in 1999?
MARC: I have always loved beautiful things where the skill of the worker is important and evident, and I think there are a lot of consumers who appreciate the look and feel of a handcrafted frame.
SILVER: How and why did you come up with the Robert Marc signature hinge?
MARC: The Robert Marc Collection is identified by our hinge, which was inspired by historical design and construction. While traveling in Europe I discovered genuine tortoiseshell frames from the early 1900s that had a similar technical feature and gave strength to the very thin and fragile material. The ‘two bars and dot’ hinge is a registered trademark and has its own design patent.
SILVER: How will you be celebrating the 35th anniversary of the brand?
MARC: We’re planning a series of events over the next few months in key markets in North America, Europe and Asia.
SILVER: How did your approach to retail elevate eyewear to its current position as a couture accessory?
MARC: When I opened my first shop in 1981, it was considered to be one of the very first high-end boutiques to bring eyeglasses to the forefront of fashion. I established a strong reputation by presenting eyewear with exquisite displays.
Instead of displaying all product in the window, I created pedestals to showcase individual frames, so our eyewear was displayed like haute couture clothing. I curated our store with brands from all over the world that were not readily available at other retailers. It helped me educate our customers that eyewear could be more than a medical device-it could be a fashion accessory that accented their individual personalities.