Uncensored visions

The voices that have written the story of independent eyewear include Barbara McReynolds and Gai Gherardi, founders and designers of l.a. Eyeworks. Their creations, the expressions of two free spirits, began with the claim “Changing the face. Facing the change”, and they’ve never stopped doing it. WMIDO interviewed them.

Could you shortly tell us your story?
We met as high school students in Huntington Beach, California, and we have been best friends ever since. We both trained as opticians with superb craftspeople for many years, but we were restless with the prevailing norms of “designer eyewear” in the late 1970s. It was our shared intuition that others shared our hunger for a new paradigm, and so we began l.a.Eyeworks with the intention of changing the conversation about eyewear. Before we opened our first store in 1979, we put lettering in the windows that read “Changing the face. Facing the change.” That still feels very relevant today!

How has eyewear design developed since you began?
It seems as though eyewear design has changed a lot and very little at the same time. From communication channels to production methods, the rapid evolution of technology has opened up the dialogue about eyewear design in all its facets. That said, we still begin each of our designs as we always have, with a pencil drawing on paper. What we really hope is that the optical industry will focus on expanding its efforts to actively nurture young design talents. We must welcome new voices to the table!

Has your own vision changed?
Our mission for l.a.Eyeworks remains unchanged from the day we started. We see in eyewear the opportunity to be of service to people. Whether it’s creating the perfect lenses for someone or finding a frame that helps a person take the next step in becoming who they truly are, we are humbled to do something that we love so much. And it seems clear that we will never have enough time to bring all of the frame designs we have imagined into the world!

What inspires you?
We are inspired by the diverse landscape of faces that we see around us, as well as the natural environment and cultural life of southern California.

Could you tell us more about your ad campaign and its “claim” “A face is like a work of art. It deserves a great frame”?

Our ad campaign was born from a vision of taking a full-page ad in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. At the time in 1982, l.a.Eyeworks was a single storefront on Melrose Avenue, so truthfully, we made the first ads as a kind of outrageous act to please ourselves. As it evolved, we saw the campaign as a way to interrogate the accepted notions of beauty, celebrity, and attraction. The tag line, conceived by Gary Johns and Jeff Gorman, has become one of the most beloved parts of our vocabulary. But the campaign really belongs to the brilliant artistry of photographer Greg Gorman. His photos have reflected back to us the vast possibilities and potential of our designs, and we are grateful that this dialogue continues today.

How is your distribution worldwide organized?
With two namesake retail stores in Los Angeles, l.a.Eyeworks designs are distributed via talented sales representatives, and in some cases distributors, to a global network of independent opticians and boutique retailers.


Ph. Barbara McReynolds and Gai Gherardi