Lunettes Selection is a remarkable store for exceptional vintage eyewear, and renowned as one of the best in the world….yet vintage glasses are in many ways quite a niche product and perhaps quite a risky choice to start a shop in. So we wanted to discuss the business with respected owner, Uta Geyer, who has turned her wonderful, specialist boutique into a fantastic success with both locals and critics.
Despite stocking quite a niche product, Lunettes Selection has become so popular you now have three outlets! When did you start and are you surprised by the huge demand you have received?
“You can buy vintage clothing and vintage furniture everywhere, but not vintage glasses.”
With this sentence, and with my very own first pair of vintage glasses perched upon my nose (a 50’s original) the story of Lunettes Selection was born in 2005. My idea was to start a business around vintage glasses. There was already a boom in stores for vintage furniture, fashion and accessories, but there were no shops selling vintage glasses.
Without delay, I snapped up a shop counter and matching shop fittings dating to the 1950’s from an old optician, moved to Berlin, and started my search for a suitable storefront. I found one across the street from my favourite cafe in Marienburger Strasse – just 16 square meters in size! Doors opened in 2006, and the shelves were filled with a rich assortment of old originals and rarities from international brands like Dior, Porsche Carrera and Alain Mikli.
Trendsetters, stylists, film costumers and production designers were lined up to get in. Overnight, the little shop in Prenzlauer Berg became the go-to place for style seekers from all over the world. At that point in time, it was really the only vintage glasses shop in Germany with a truly wide assortment of stock. The vintage trend started to really take off, and with it, so did my little niche business.
What were the main challenges you faced in setting up your vintage eyewear outlet?
The biggest challenge for me at the start was finding the right place to set up shop. It had to be a place where the people living there were aware of, and open to, the idea of ‘vintage’ — and even had a passion for it. Berlin, and in particular Prenzlauer Berg was at this point (2005/2006) the right place for me to start this company. In my hometown, Frankfurt am Main, this would have just not been possible at that point in time.
© Monika Keiler
The design & presentation of your eyewear is excellent, and clearly has had a lot of thought gone into it. Who came up with the idea to stock the glasses in drawers and was this the concept before you started, or did it evolve to the way it is now?
The drawers are 1950’s era, and were used in the same way, as storage, by an optician in that time. I found the shop fittings before I opened the store. Finding these amazing pieces was really the impetus to open a shop.
You also sell your range online. Is this a large part of the business despite people not being able to try the glasses before they buy?
Running an online shop is an important part of the business of Lunettes Selection. Not only because people order from it – it’s also a resource. It is more or less a kind of shop-window for everybody who can’t drop by our locations in Berlin, and also those who can. People who come to the shop often have already browsed our online range. They come with notes on models, and names and shapes they want to try on.
How do you go about sourcing your excellent range of vintage eyewear?
This is the ‘detective-style’ part of my job, and maybe the most exciting one. But it’s also one that I’m afraid I cannot share with you. Sorry!
© Monika Keiler
Do you have any favourite models or brands you are especially proud to stock?
We stock a few rare contemporary Japanese-made brands that I know through my visits to Tokyo. At the moment we are the only shop in Berlin offering Boston Club and The Barracks. Both brands reference Japanese vintage frames, and are very well done. In Japan, handmade is still something very luxurious.
© Monika Keiler
How did you first get into vintage eyewear and what made you decide to turn your passion into a business?
Back when I was a little girl, I loved to play optician with my sister. At home, we had a big box full of old frames we’d received from relatives. These discarded glasses from our aunt provided the stock for my very first glasses shop — in the playroom! When I went to school I wanted to have glasses so badly that I actually cheated on my eye exam — but I got busted by the ophthalmologist. My glasses dream was deferred – until after my studies.
While working on my Masters of Arts degree, I stressed my eyes so much that — finally! — I was diagnosed as nearsighted. Then began the search for the perfect frame. It had to be a vintage frame, ideally from the 1950’s, a time when eyewear styles became especially expressive. In 2005, finding a delicate and subtle pair of frames was no easy task.
© Monika Keiler
Where do you like to eat, drink and socialise in Berlin?
I really like the area around Torstrasse in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood, where our flagship shop is located – even though it’s sometimes considered one of the ugliest streets in the city. Torstrasse is a noisy four-lane road with a mix of older buildings and monotone former GDR “Plattenbau” tower blocks in various shades of grey. Despite its ugliness, it is one of the most interesting places in Berlin at the moment, where many creative things are happening.
Lots of young and independent designers, shops and galleries as well as unique and hip bars, cafés and restaurants can be found east and west of Torstrasse’s main square, which is called Rosenthaler Platz. It’s a place to see and to be seen.
In summer, I love to go to Thai Park Wilmersdorf. Berlin’s Preussenpark (Prussian Park) is better known as Thai Park, at least on Saturdays and Sundays. Thai families from all over the city come to cook, chat and eat on the grass, setting up shop under colourful umbrellas, and selling their tasty treats to the curious and the hungry.
Another piece of little Asia in Berlin can be found in Lichtenberg: Dong Xuang Center is a mélange of merchants offering everything from artificial nails to authentic Phô, fake flowers to fresh fish. There’s also a full array of services – haircuts, legal help, tax advisors and travel agents – mostly aimed at aiding the city’s large Vietnamese community, but open to all. Visiting this slightly dingy shopping center is like entering another world – it was even used as the basis for an interactive theatre piece a few years ago.
Please complete the following sentence: “ For me, Berlin is….”
….. the best place in Germany to start your own business.
Be sure to head to one of Lunettes stores sometime soon – besides from the fantastic vintage glasses you’ll get to try on, you’ll find the store a very cool, visually-pleasing experience quite like no other!