By Jillian Urcelay
Patty Perreira seems to be one of those people who was born with an instinctual eye for design. Her career in eyewear and her role as a designer fell into place in a wonderfully, unexpected way. When given the opportunity for her ability and artistry to be nurtured, cultivated and cherished over time—she took it head on. For Perreira, co-founder and designer of Barton Perreira, it all began with a blind date, a passion for vintage shopping and a ton of creative ability.
Perreira’s story begins in sunny Southern California. Raised in Downey, southeast of downtown Los Angeles, she was born into a family with deep Hawaiian roots. Both of her parents are originally from Maui, and she spent many childhood summers visiting the island. Perreira always had that certain spunk and charisma that leaves you feeling comfortable from just a quick conversation. In kindergarten, when all of the other kids wanted to be a doctor, firefighter or police officer, Perreira wanted to be a go-go dancer in a cage. In high school, she shined as a cheerleader and president of her class. Growing older she became infatuated with the world around her and other cultures. She had a dream that one day she’d find a job that would allow her to travel. Flash forward to today—while she still loves dancing and visiting her beloved Jamaica, her other passions have grown to include collecting artwork, searching for beautiful vintage pieces and of course—designing eyewear.
Known in the eyewear and fashion industry for her namesake Barton Perreira, it would be remiss not to mention Perreira’s long, rich history at Oliver Peoples, where she got her start and worked for 18 years. Right around the time the brand was launching in 1986, she happened to be set up on a blind date with one of the original owners. She began helping out on the weekends and at night with whatever was needed. Typing invoices, putting shrink tubing on clips, pulling orders—Perreira did it all. Eventually, it became clear she was a vital asset needed full time, and so she joined the team of six other employees.
By happenstance, Perreira’s office was the only one that had enough room for a fax machine. She began answering the faxes and orders coming in from international customers and quickly familiarized herself with those clients. Soon they began requesting to see her at trade shows, allowing Perreira the chance she was looking for to travel. This fully introduced her to the sales side of the business.
While out on the road, Perreira collected feedback from customers on what they liked and what they felt was missing from the collection. Once she returned, she went straight to the design team with this information, also adding in her own input. She began bringing in her vintage eyewear pieces, which she grew up collecting, to share with the designers—offering them new ideas and ways to modify her thrift finds. Eventually she realized this was where her passion was most intense, and the team at Oliver Peoples recognized it, allowing her to take on the design department. She spent her last 11 years there working in design until the brand was bought by Oakley, and she decided to call it quits.
Around this time another Oliver Peoples vet, former president Bill Barton, also left the company. A few months later while on vacation in Hawaii, Perreira received an unexpected call, setting in motion a chain of events that would change both of their lives. He presented the idea of working together and starting their own company—one where she would fully be recognized for her designs. “At the time, I thought I was burnt out from eyewear, but I hadn’t even really scratched the surface,” remembers Perreira. “It wasn’t until I got off the phone with Bill that I started to think about what it’d look like if my name was attached to or associated with my work. And that was it, I just couldn’t turn it off.”
She got home and began sketching out what ended up being around 250 drawings to present to Barton. She said, “If we were going to do eyewear, I think it would be something like this.” His response? “Holy s---, we are doing it!” They signed their contract together, and a year later in December 2007, they launched the first eyewear under the Barton Perreira brand.
The catalyst of events that took place next were simply unheard of. Luxury department stores and boutiques including Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman and Opening Ceremony all committed to orders just from seeing drawings of the collection. “It was amazing. It is so hard to get into those stores, especially as an independent eyewear brand. There are very few of us in there with all the big brands—the Chanels, the Guccis of the world. But to say that we launched in those stores was really huge. It was unbelievable,” says Perreira.
Of course, there were challenges starting out. While things were relatively stable in 2007, the following year the stock market crashed, leading to one of the most serious financial crises since the Great Depression. “It was really hard because we were a new brand, and we were scared people were going to stick to what they knew,” she says. “But at the same time, we were the new guys and we were fresh. We had great support from the optical community and our customers.” Another stroke of amazing luck? Right out of the gate, Angelina Jolie was photographed wearing a pair of Barton Perreira sunglasses out in public, splashing the brand all over the pages of the big weekly lifestyle magazines, creating a strong following from the start.
Out of those first 200-plus designs Perreira sketched up, she launched the original collection with 42 different styles in about five to six colorways each. “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but at that point we not only wanted to come out with a bang, but also let people know that we didn’t just have one look,” she says. “We are servicing optical accounts, but we are also servicing the fashion world and the department stores, so there were optical and sunglasses for both men and women. We wanted the world to know we’re strong in all categories.”
Barton Perreira collections are still extremely vast, yet still very universal. For instance, sunglass style Dalziel has been worn by Kylie Jenner to Coachella and also by Michelle Obama to her husband’s birthday when he was president. While Perreira’s personal style is an eclectic mix—she describes it as funky and enjoys mixing new pieces with vintage—the Barton Perreira designs are classic from an optical perspective with the sunwear collection being a little more fashion forward.
While inspiration is constantly changing when she’s designing a frame, there are many things that are always influential such as jewelry, architecture and furniture. “When I’m designing for men I like to look at cars, motorcycles and watches. Basically things that men are drawn and attracted to, to get a feeling of what they would like in their eyewear,” she explains. For color, she uses shades that are generally found in nature and tries to stay away from synthetic man-made hues. “I like more natural colors, I think they look better on the face, and they seem to blend more with what you’re wearing.”
When asked what details are the most important during the design process, she replies, “It really varies by frame. Sometimes it’s the shape, sometimes it’s the color, sometimes it’s the lens shape, and sometimes it’s the way the plastic is cut or the finish of the metal. But the most important things for me are always fit, comfort and weight.” She doesn’t understand how anyone can enjoy wearing a heavy frame and refuses to put one on her face. (She won’t wear uncomfortable shoes, either.) If she’s creating a thicker, bigger look, she finds ways to thin it out and make it as comfortable as possible. “I think that’s what makes Barton Perreira stand out and what makes us different from other brands. They can design some beautiful frames, but a lot of times they’re missing that very important detail.”
While there has been an evolution of designs over time, Barton Perreira’s DNA has remained true to what the co-founders believe is beautiful eyewear. “I’m not into super trendy frames,” says Perreira. “I don’t want to jump on that bandwagon of following trends. My design process takes a year from conception to bringing a frame to market, so if I’m trying to jump on a trend it’s going to be on the tail end of it. I just try to do my own thing and what I feel is right for Barton Perreira.”
And doing her own thing works. Her friends and fellow designers joke that she’s the eyewear sorceress because she can make any frame look good on anybody. Her response? “I laugh. It’s just the balance. There’s a balance to designing that’s hard to describe because I wasn’t taught. I didn’t learn this at school, and I think for me it’s just instinct.” While Perreira enjoys designing sunglasses more (because she can have so much more fun with lens colors), many of the Barton Perreira designs are offered in both optical and sunwear styles. “When a frame is well designed, meaning when the fit and balance are both right, chances are it can go both ways. And that’s when you really have a winner—when it works both ways.”
Barton Perreira prides itself on being a luxury product. All of the frames are 100 percent handmade in Japan. They use the finest materials. They produce limited quantities. Frames aren’t mass produced. They are all designed by Perreira. “We hand sketch and submit every drawing with technical measurements for fit,” she explains. “It’s not left up to the factory or anyone else, and I think that’s the luxury. There aren’t many people out there that do it that way anymore. If you talk to the eyewear manufacturers that work with us, they will tell you we use over 120 different types of hinges. We don’t have a standard bridge size or a standard endpiece size. Everything is custom—exactly to that specific design. And for me that’s luxury, it’s not about the price.”
While co-founders Barton and Perreira are similar in a lot of ways, (their birthdays are just a day apart), their strengths lie in their differences. “Bill is definitely more in control of the business side of things. He handles the operations, he oversees sales and relationships with distributors. I’m the creative. I handle all of the design so we have very distinct roles within the company, and I think that’s why it works,” says Perreira.
In the beginning of this year, Barton Perreira signed an exclusive multi-year global distribution agreement with Marcolin Group. “We want to expand our distribution on an international level,” she explains. “Right now we are in 57 countries, but in many of them we are only in one or two doors. It’s really a limited distribution, and we want to make sure we can share our eyewear point of view with the world. With Marcolin’s distribution strategy, they can really help us grow that side of our business.”
That seems to be the main focus for the brand right now along with some exciting new collaborations. Earlier this year, Barton Perreira launched a sunglass collaboration with luxury jewelry company Spinelli Kilcollin. They also designed a limited edition collection with Barneys and artist Kenton Parker. “We have a lot of irons in the fire right now,” she says. “Once we opened ourselves up to the idea of doing collaborations, some really awesome opportunities have come our way. It’s just really fun bouncing ideas off of other creatives.”
As for the future? “We hope to expand our retail part of the business,” says Perreira. “I definitely think that’s an area we are working on growing. We may or may not do another brand. With all of those extra drawings and prototypes that I have, there are some really beautiful things that need to come to life at some point.”
Barton Perreira fans will have to wait and see what’s to come, but for now they can enjoy the impeccable designs and craftsmanship come to life under Patty Perreira’s eye. ■