A Boutique for the Boys

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By Delia Paunescu: Assistant Editor


 
Van de la Plante, optician and owner.
The scene of a lady, usually in heels, strutting through a shopping center with stacks of purchases in each hand comes to mind when one imagines “shopping.” And with good reason, according to optician Van de la Plante. “Every aspect of retail in L.A. County, and around the world, is built for girls. Men experience retail as sitting on a bench and holding a purse. Every advertising pitch in consumerism seems to be targeted at girls so I thought it was interesting to have a store for dudes,” he told Vision Monday.

 
The boutique is tucked away off of Sunset Blvd.
 
A small selection of vintage tie clips, cuff links, pens and sports coats are also offered alongside the “cornucopia of glasses.”
Contrasting our collective image of the “Pretty Woman” shopper, de la Plante’s vision expanded modern-day fascination with all things distinctly male (barber shops, hunting, tailored suits) and emerged as Gentlemen’s Breakfast, a 250-square-foot vintage eyewear boutique in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood. The shop is described by its proud owner as colonial American at its foundation, with touches of Edwardian and Napoleonic design. The interior is painted “bitter chocolate” and features various hunting scenes. “It’s a bit rustic, and even though that’s cool now, it’s also timeless,” said de la Plante, who designed the location entirely on his own.

Since the eyewear offering at 2-year-old Gentlemen’s Breakfast is almost entirely vintage, timelessness is important. “Vintage glasses give my clients a distinction. They can go to a café and not see everyone wearing the exact same frame. There’s a quality and design to it,” de la Plante said, adding that there is no particular decade his customers seek out. “I would go out of business if I just sold ‘Mad Men’ styles or ‘Great Gatsby’ Art Deco frames. I sell stuff dating all the way back to the 1700s because originality is rare today.” A complete pair of Rx eyeglasses will run $300 to $400 on average at the boutique.

Initially resistant to include a contemporary line, de la Plante now stocks the Garrett Leight eyewear collection because “his stuff is handmade with a cellulose-based acetate the way the old stuff was made.”

 
 De la Plante purposely left the store “rough around the edges.”   
Though the store worked to achieve a particular ruggedness, its owner also welcomes female clients. “Girls like the fact that this is a masculine store because there’s already too much femininity being thrown at them at the mall. My store reminds them of their grandfather’s cabin or their brother not letting them into the tree fort,” de la Plante said, adding that the inventory at Gentlemen’s Breakfast is mostly unisex since “women today don’t wear very girly frames.”

De la Plante credits the store’s success to his choice of location. “Business has been great since the first day I opened my rollup door. The neighborhood wasn’t an accident. It was a carefully planned mission.

 
 Antique armoires house frames in the 250-square-foot space.
“Echo Park is cutting edge with people staying ahead of the trends because it’s still gritty, not yuppy. And it’s growing instead of plateauing. It’s turning into a really cool shopping quarter that doesn’t have the notorious tourism of a lot of other places in L.A.,” he said. Though notorious Sunset Blvd. is just around the corner, Gentlemen’s Breakfast is off to the side, on Mohawk St. to be exact. “It wouldn’t have the same ambiance or appeal if it was on a main street. This makes people feel like they discovered something and fell upon it.”

In the case of this boys’ boutique, it wasn’t all location, location. “The internet does help me because information travels so fast these days. If I were to try this concept back in 2000, I would have to settle on having a place in a major retail quarter.” Since opening two years ago, Gentlemen’s Breakfast has been featured on numerous fashion blogs, though de la Plante insists there is no PR person. “I just hang out here and talk to people. I’m the sole proprietor too, I have no business partners,” he told VM.

And now, de la Plante is taking his concept one step further, to a second Gentlemen’s Breakfast boutique in Laguna Beach, opening this month. Though de la Plante kept mum on the details, he did say the aesthetic will be changing slightly “because each neighborhood has a different feel.”

dpaunescu@jobson.com