Oliver Peoples - The Makings of Retro Sunglasses Icon

Oliver Peoples - The Makings of Retro Sunglasses Icon

From humble beginnings and taking off through word-of-mouth, Oliver Peoples sunglasses have been seen on just about everyone, from movie stars to politicians. Encompassing the classic Hollywood style with a modern twist, this prestigious eyewear brand has contributed to the eyewear industry immensely with its technology and design. 

 In this article, we break down the history, step-by-step craft process and iconic designs of Oliver Peoples. 

Brand History

The multimillion-dollar eyewear empire started off with three people, brothers Dennis and Larry Leight along with friend Kenny Schwartz. The trio met while they were students at Los Angeles Community College in 1970, and were all opticians who had worked for various optical shops around Los Angeles. They decided to go into business for themselves in 1986.

 Larry was the one that thought of re-embracing American classic styles from the 1920s to the 1950s from brands like American Optical, Bausch & Lomb and Chiron. As they were searching for vintage frames, they found a liquidator in Connecticut selling a room in an estate filled with antique eyewear including eyewear parts, machinery lenses, rimless frames and clip-ons. As they were sifting through the boxes, Dennis came upon a receipt that had the name of the original owner of this cache: Oliver Peoples. 


The trio decided that it would be fitting to name the brand after the original treasures that they purchased in the estate sale as these items were crucial in redefining the industry and creating a distinct style for their brand.

The brand opened a retail store in West Hollywood on the legendary Sunset Blvd, with the first collection focusing on the vintage aesthetic — the polar opposite of the trendy style in the 1980s of geometric shapes, bold colours and futuristic styles. 

Oliver Peoples continue to grow in popularity through word of mouth, being seen in movies and fashion publications like Vogue, the New York Times and Elle. The company’s headquarters today is just a few hundred feet away from its original store on Sunset Blvd, with over 30 boutique stores worldwide including the US, Canada, Italy, Japan and Korea.  


The brand prides itself in crafting superior eyewear using the finest materials and paying the utmost attention to detail. Each frame is handcrafted in two factories in Japan and Italy, “following a process that combines both technological advancements and the human touch.” 


 All of Oliver Peoples products are handcrafted to perfection, from material sourcing and sculpting to refining final touches. After approval of the prototype, tooling is engineered to industrialise the manufacturing process so that every frame is consistent. 

The front of the frame is carved out of a single block of acetate, which is then warmed and pressed to create the bend for the face curve.

It is afterward filed in and around the bridge to sculpt the nose pads. For prototypes, the hinge is warmed so it can be fused into the acetate and held in place. 

The pins connecting the hinges and temples are inserted by hand into the frame. 

To insert the hinges, a manual depression machine is used to crush the metal of the pins to create rivets. 


The final touch is inserting the Oliver Peoples metal logo plaque into the temple tip and securing it with resin.


During the four-day tumbling process — of which the continuous tumbling barrel motion creates a gentle abrasion with a small piece of wood coated with oil, paste and other natural materials — the surface of the raw acetate smoothens.


As for the finishing, meticulous quality control checks by a dedicated team of highly trained technicians will fix even the slightest of imperfections. The fully assembled frame is heated and adjusted, checking every temple alignment and face curve.


One of the aspects that made Oliver Peoples as big as it is today is the design, which is done in-house in Hollywood. The brand has everything from vintage and minimalistic to bold and extravagant. One thing in common in all the designs is that there won’t be any big branding on any of the frames. Part of the brand’s concept is to create eyewear that would speak for itself through design and details rather than brand names and logos.


The designs of Oliver Peoples eyewear are usually influenced by vintage aesthetics with a modern twist, creating timeless styles with an array of natural finishes and subtle details. One interesting design feature is its customisation of hues, like specific shades of tortoises that have become iconic to the brand. 


The brand is known for its exclusive selection of polarised lenses. The Oliver Peoples Proprietary prescription lens offers a bespoke lens crafted with the finest materials and careful attention to detail to pair with one’s frame. It is created with the finest materials and advanced technology that offer the best optical precision. To provide sharper vision with improved colour definition and contrast, rare earth elements are fused into the lenses that create a selective sunlight filter.


The Oliver Peoples Proprietary lens come in both clear and sun prescription lenses, with multiple coatings like anti-reflective to reduce eye strain, oil and water repellants to facilitate easy cleaning, enhanced scratch resistance and greater protection from UV rays. For the Oliver Peoples Proprietary Sun Prescription lenses, they are produced by the famous Barberini factory in Silvi, Italy.


A significant feature of the lens is the breath logo, which “is a discreet signature which assures authenticity and is a product detail for those ‘In The Know’.”

Top Oliver Peoples Designs

The first collections of the brand remain as some of the most popular designs to this day. In the past three something decades, there are some Oliver Peoples designs that are more popular than others.


An iconic popular design is the Cary Grant, both the optical and the sun versions. The Cary Grant frame is a beautiful acetate model inspired by its namesake in the 1959 Hollywood classic North by Northwest. The model also marks the first-ever authorised collaboration with the actor’s estate as well as the first time his name and likeness have been loaned to any brand. Wife Barbara Grant Jaynes said, “Cary wore glasses that were simple, sophisticated and of great quality. We realized that this was Oliver Peoples mantra.”


This bold style frame features a few custom details designed to preserve the integrity of the style worn in the film. There are six colourways including a product-exclusive Grant tortoise acetate, and an 18k gold-plated style. The Cary Grant Sun is similar to the optical version, with more unique colour combinations of frame and lens tint. 


The Gregory Peck is one in collaboration with the Peck Estate and is a popular frame of Oliver Peoples. It was inspired by the signature style worn by its namesake in the 1962 film To Kill A Mockingbird and comes in optical, clip-ons and sun. The frame is a P3-style frame, also known as a “keyhole” frame,  featuring a narrow fitting with small lenses, a high bridge fit and a recognisable Gregory Peck functional plaque on the frame front and temples. 


Another popular frame is Benedict, which is a simple and classic aviator-style frame. This model features a double bridge Aviator bar and a straight brow bar, adding a bit of zest to the design. The little details like silicone nose pads and temples are what puts this frame above others of a similar style.


A great frame for both men and women is the Oliver Sun. This is an acetate frame in a classic square-shaped style that fits most face shapes. It has a regular fit with a medium lens front, designed for those who are looking to cover an average portion of the face. The filigree is custom mid-century modern-inspired, featured on both sides of the metal core wire. 


Boudreau L.A is another bold design that is popular. This acetate model has a thick front view and a thin top view, making it a sleek and edgy design. It’s a fun, quirky choice compared to the others on this list because of its wide range of colours including custom tortoise and translucent hues, and it suits most face shapes due to its universal fit. There are three functional pins on the frame front and temples that offer additional strength and durability.


A popular optical frame is the Coleridge, an understated optical design with clean lines featuring a classic, vintage-inspired look. Everything about the design is nostalgic, including the vintage-style nose pads and filigree detailing throughout the temples. Customers can also purchase the Coleridge Clip, a new sunglass clip for the classic look.


Other Iconic Collaborations

Oliver Peoples have collaborated with many brands, designers and celebrities in the past few decades, including Isabel Marant, Byredo, The Row by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Frère, Brunello Cucinelli, Khaite and Madhappy. Some of these collaborations on designs have stuck to become some of the most popular styles of the brand, like the Cary Grant and the Gregory Peck. 


Its collaboration with Elton John in 1994 is a memorable and iconic one. The collaboration was to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation with the release of a series of frames. The first of them is the Oliver Peoples EJ1 sunglasses, decorated with custom AIDS Ribbon filigree and lenses in deep blood red colour, often seen on Elton John himself. Elton John said, “Eyewear has been something of a trademark of mine over the past fifty years of my career, and I've collected Oliver Peoples since the early days of the company starting up.”


Another significant collaboration is with Zooey Deschanel in 2009 to create the Zooey frame that is retro in style and evokes old Hollywood glamour. Part of the proceeds went to her charity, the Jenesse Center. In the 2009 Oliver Peoples Eyewear campaign, which features the viral video “To Catch a Tuesday”, Deschanel was featured in the Zooey frame that she co-designed and integrated a ‘kissing lips’ print on the lens which can only be seen when the lens fog.


Deschanel said, “Doing the Oliver Peoples campaign was amazing because I would never want to be involved with a product unless I actually loved it. Doing the Oliver Peoples campaign was amazing because I would never want to be involved with a product unless I actually loved it. And I love their glasses! I wanted to make a sunglass that was classic and timeless that could be worn by a man or a woman. And it was really fun designing them.”

The most recent collaboration is with Roger Federer for a sunglasses line to launch in spring 2024. The recently-retired, 20-time Grand Slam champion said that the line is inspired by his own style of “sporty, athleisure, classic” as well as by Tom Cruise’s iconic sunglasses scene in Mission Impossible II. Federer mentioned to GQ that it was “iconic. That moment has stuck with me.”

Federer also emphasised on functionality: “These frames have to be solid around the head, and not fall off with, you know, the first flick of the neck.”

Celebrities Wearing Oliver Peoples

The list of celebrities wearing Oliver Peoples is long. Because of the likes of celebrities like Elton John, John Singleton, Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt were spotted wearing a pair or two, it fuelled interest in the brand. Larry himself line said that “it’s a status thing. When someone sees a musician or a model or an actor wearing a particular frame, they want it themselves… It makes them feel more in the know, more happening. It’s through celebrities that most people find out what’s hot and what’s not.”

Below is a list of celebrities seen wearing Oliver Peoples:

Scott Disick in O’Malley Sun


Gwen Stefani in Faded Dusk


Justin Timberlake in Deacon


Robert Downey Jr. In RS15 style “Stone”


Adam Levine in NDG with custom Rose lenses


Beyoncé in Jaide


Robert Pattinson in Special Edition XXV-RX


Jennifer Aniston in Sheldrake 

Zooey Deschanel in Sheldrake and Sabina


Jake Gyllenhaal in Cary Grant Sun Honey VSB April 2023


Robert De Niro in Nilos Pilot


Emma Watson in Khaite 1983C


Roger Federer in Lachlan Sun at Met Gala 2023


From starting out by expanding through word-of-mouth only to now featuring on TV screens and red carpets, Oliver Peoples eyewear has loyal customers just about everywhere. The brand’s vintage-inspired, timeless designs constantly keep them at the top of the game, and it doesn’t seem like they’re ready to give up that spot. 

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