Walking into the Shamballa Eyewear suite at Vision Expo was an experience in itself. Blocked off by a red velvet rope, we realized this eyewear was a luxury to be craved. The set-up wasn’t pretty just to be pretty. This suite was an extension not only of the Shamballa Eyewear brand, but Larry Sands himself.
We were approved to enter this exclusive suite and invited to feast on their delectable brunch. The food was better than most options available up and down the Las Vegas strip. We helped ourselves to a heaping plate of this gourmet food, and after a long weekend attending this fall’s Vision Expo, it hit the spot. We sat down at the conference table, cracked open a refreshing bottle of beer and took a deep breath, not knowing what to expect from this fashion and luxury icon.
Larry Sands walked over to where we were sitting, sat down with cigar in hand, and put us in our place for the next hour by schooling us about luxury eyewear and the industry as a whole.
The experience of meeting Larry Sands and listening to his life-long journey in this industry paralleled to what I imagine it would be like to hang out with Bob Dylan, Keith Richards or Neil Young for an interview. He carries a rock-star persona and you feel humbled in his presence. Here is a 77 year-old man who has created compelling and luxurious eyewear for years, has seen it all and couldn’t care less about what you think of him. For better or worse, he tells it like it is.
“Listen…to understand luxury eyewear, you have to understand the lifestyle.”
— Larry Sands
We commented about his luxurious suite and that seemed to almost agitate Larry. Before we proceeded with our chat, he wanted us to comprehend what luxury means and why it irks him that it is so misunderstood in the optical industry.
He gave us some insights (and some homework!) to better grasp the world of luxury. He told us to do our research on high-end luxury lifestyle magazines/websites such as: la-confidential-magazine.com, nichemediallc.com, gotham-magazine.com,oceandrive.com, bostomcommon-magazine.com, dujour.com and robbreport.com, his favorite. He also said we must research Birkin Bags and figure out why they are vital for understanding the luxury lifestyle. After completing this assignment, I must admit my incompetence with the world of luxury. It also made me aware of why he gets frustrated with industry leaders that misrepresent the the concept of luxury.
No, his idea of luxury is not equal to the “high-end” name brands that have been labeled on handbags, dress wear and eyewear. He defined luxury eyewear with words like: scarce, high-styled and uncommon design while using exotic materials. Manufacturing matters along with POP accompanying its arrival. It is also important where the eyewear is placed: high-end boutiques that discern luxury.
“F#@% THE MARGINS”
One of the reasons luxury has been watered down in our industry, according to Sands, is because of margins. He feels frame companies are finding ways to make their product cheaper to have better margins. His theory: if you make it better, people will buy it. Eyewear is the #1 fashion accessory. Why cut corners for something so important?
Larry Sands continues to make the same margin. He makes his product better and better and his pricing reflects that. Why raise the price and enhance margins when the end quality suffers? For example, Larry showed us his Shamballa eyewear case. Many companies try to save money on their cases, making them for less than 50 cents per case. The Shamballa case is breathtakingly beautiful. Always thinking about how it smells and feels, Larry makes his cases out of lamb leather. He makes luxurious eyewear (wholesaling $450 - $22,000) and his cases are a continuation of his brand. There is no skimping here.
When asked about his process for creating luxury eyewear, Larry shared about his free spirit and how it will affect the end consumer. He receives inspiration from the mountains in Aspen and along the beaches of Malibu. Creating from his experiences near majestic rock and living water has proved him well in the optical industry. Another secret to Larry’s design process? He has a journal right next to his bed where he writes down ideas and sketches concepts, mostly in the middle of the night.
THE BIG PICTURE
We pressed Larry on some “big picture” global questions. Being newbies to the world of luxury, we asked Larry if he ever felt guilty making high-end eyewear when there is so much poverty in the world. Although he stated that he sometimes feels bad about it, he was quick to share his knowledge of current events in the world. It is extremely important to him to know and understand current events happening in our world. He reads over 200 magazines per month and even shared his thoughts and insights about the refugee crisis in Europe.
His biggest non-profit passion is the Smile Train, a program that helps people surgically repair cleft pallets. His donations alone last year provided surgical repair for 25 people.
“F@#% THE INTERNET”
We couldn’t resist asking Larry about his thoughts on the internet and online eyewear sales. “F@#% the internet. I’m not on LinkedIn, twitter, or Facef@#%. People know how to get a hold of me.”
He targets rich people. The buy-in for 40 pieces of his Shamballa collection can run about $28,000. He takes care of his accounts and celebrities wearing his eyewear. Larry Sands exemplifies luxury eyewear.
We wrapped up our time with Larry. He had to get going. In two days he was meeting Karl Lagerfield for a trunk show at Colette’s in Paris. Larry Sands is f#@%*ing cool.
Written by Tim Slapnicher
Images by LocalPigeon
Special thanks to Larry