Vision’s Visionary

By
By Deirdre Carroll: Senior Editor

  
 Robert Marc.
NEW YORK—For many, the debate of medical necessity or fashion accessory when it comes to eyewear wages on, but for longtime optical luminary Robert Marc there was never any real question.

“When I opened my first store on the Upper West Side in 1981, it was really the first ‘eyewear boutique’ in New York,” said Marc. “All the optical stores at the time treated eyewear just as a prosthetic device but I really wanted to do things differently. I only showed six pairs of glasses in the window and I put them on pedestals to elevate the eyewear to its rightful place as a fashion accessory.”

Even if that meant using some creative methods to ensure his frame selection stood out. “I wanted to carry frames that were different, new and fashion-forward,” Marc continued. “So I would dye frames on my kitchen stove, sandblast them and tint lenses in a rainbow of colors. My distinct approach was recognized by fashion editors, costume designers and stylists, and these relationships helped to increase the visibility and reputation of the Robert Marc brand.”

 
The Robert Marc Collection RM265 for fall.
Retail isn’t the only place Robert Marc decided to place his stamp. Twelve years after opening his own boutique and stocking it with fashionable eyewear from around the world, he launched his wholesale company, Robi, Ltd., in 1993 to distribute some of that eyewear in North America, beginning with the German brand, Lunor. In fact, Marc is the optician responsible for another visionary’s look—former Microsoft CEO Steve Job’s signature Lunor Classic frames with custom round lenses—which he first designed for the tech leader in 1998.

But being a retailer and distributor was still not enough for Marc, and in 1999, after years of consulting on many of the world’s most successful eyewear lines—Calvin Klein among them—he launched his own luxury eyewear line, the Robert Marc Collection.

“My philosophy is to promote eyewear that looks and feels great,” explained Marc. “It’s much easier to make a name for yourself with crazy, avant-garde designs but I find it more challenging and rewarding to make products that are unique in their beauty and quality and enhances one’s vision of oneself. For me, my goal is always about creating eyewear that serves its intended function while making the wearer feel beautiful and special.”

All of these things have taken Robert Marc from a well-known New York brand to a globally recognized name regularly mentioned by international press. Today, there are nine Robert Marc stores in New York and Boston and the Robert Marc Collection is now sold in over 22 countries, including France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan.

   
The Robert Marc boutique at 782 Madison Ave.
And his conviction that eyewear should be treated as a true fashion necessity has been validated by some of the most prestigious organizations in the business. In 2001, he was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and just this past November he received the ACE Visionary Award from the Accessories Council. “Being honored by the CFDA and the Accessories Council have been incredibly meaningful to me because they are true indications that eyewear is being recognized as an important fashion accessory,” he confirmed.

One would think that Marc has earned the right to slow down and enjoy all the fruits of his labor, but he and his team are still hard at work. “We’ve seen strong growth this year, both domestically and abroad. The brand is also expanding in major international luxury markets, both in Europe and Asia, through exclusive luxury retail partnerships,” he said.

“We recently renovated our flagship Madison Avenue shop to reflect our new retail concept and will roll this out to our other eight stores next year. Being a privately owned company has allowed us to stay true to ourselves and focus on the principles that have defined our brand from the beginning: quality, authenticity, craftsmanship and beauty.”

When asked about his plans for the future, he brings the same amount of passion to the idea that he has demonstrated throughout his career. “From its inception, our company has enjoyed a steady, deliberate and controlled growth. Over the years, we have expanded our manufacturing capabilities to accommodate increased demand without compromising the quality of our product and distribution. Our growth strategy for the future will be no different. We will continue to nurture the relationships we have with existing accounts while opening new ones in emerging luxury markets.”

dcarroll@jobson.com