ROBERT MARC NYC CELEBRATES 40 YEARS OF INDEPENDENT EYEWEAR DESIGN WITH A FOCUSED INTENT ON SIMULTANEOUSLY LOOKING BACK AND LOOKING FORWARD. DESIGNERS JEFF PRESS AND RIYA MEHTA DELIVER THEIR THOUGHTS ON THIS DUAL CREATIVE DIRECTION WITH 20/20 EXECUTIVE EDITOR CHRISTINE YEH
If there’s eyewear symbolizing the passion and vitality of New York City, it’s Robert Marc NYC. Since 1981, this independent eyewear brand has been creating and outfitting finely handcrafted frames coveted by a loyal clientele in the city and around the world. In celebration of its 40th anniversary, Robert Marc NYC introduces RMNYC Nineteen Eighty-One, a new collection paying tribute to its heritage and launch year while honoring the city giving it life.
Anniversaries are certainly reasons to celebrate an iconic brand such as Robert Marc NYC, but this one holds a deeper special meaning for the brand, its followers and the city of New York. As the city returns to life, rebounding from a tough recent past as the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, it also provided inspiration for a forward-looking fresh start. Jeff Press, chief creative officer at Luxury Optical Holdings and head designer Riya Mehta articulate the creative vision behind the anniversary collection and what the future holds for Robert Marc NYC.
The first Robert Marc boutique opened in 1981 on Columbus Avenue in the city’s Upper West Side district. “Robert opened that store prior to having a collection but really as an independent multi-vibe opticianry. More stores then opened on Madison Avenue and throughout the city, and in 1999, he began the Robert Marc NYC collection. So this really harkens back to the beginning of the brand because the philosophy of the brand, whether it’s the other product that we’ve carried or the collection that we’ve created has always been the same. And that is beautiful handmade product and exclusive materials that you can’t find everywhere,” notes Press.
The brand currently operates seven retail locations in Manhattan and is sold at independent optical boutiques around the world. As one of the original purveyors of independent eyewear, Robert Marc has carved a path for premium handcrafted frames fans of the brand have adored for many years for the comfort, fit and timeless styling. “Robert certainly built an amazing platform as a giant in the industry, and it’s something that we carry forward and that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on the last several years,” explains Press. “We’re really excited because one of the things about Covid is that it created a time for everyone to reflect and take a moment. What we wanted to do was make sure that the brand is evolving in the right ways and that we continue to make it modern and feel fresh.” Press believes the new collection truly achieves this, citing the pandemic as the silver lining. “I would say that it was for all the worst reasons that we had to do that, but I think it gave us an opportunity to really be patient and think about how we wanted to create a new collection that shows optimism and that shows New York really coming through this in a different way. We just wrapped up to a certain extent (and it’s not over yet obviously) the worst part, the beginning portion in New York of what is the pandemic of our lifetime, and you come through it and see the optimism of the people out there. There’s a lot more energy out there, and we wanted to be a part of that. So for this collection, we paired the newness and the freshness of the collection with the history and heritage of the brand so that we were really telling a New York story.”
While the brand has enjoyed a staunch following among its clientele through the years, all the above also opened new opportunities for Robert Marc NYC to cater to a wider range of clientele. “That’s something we’ve been thinking a lot about. One of the things about New York coming through all this is that New York is back and alive, and feeling very vibrant, but it’s not necessarily the same New York that we came into the pandemic with. There are a lot more young people, there’s a lot more energy, and we wanted to make a collection that really speaks to the whole city and not just those who are a little older and more ‘Upper East Side.’” The brand’s earlier collections were geared more toward that clientele, but Press credits the open collaborative process he shares with Riya Mehta, a rising star on his design team as a contributing factor to the brand’s evolvement. “One of the great things about working with Riya on the collection is that we want to bring energy, and we want the collection to feel young, to feel fresh. That’s why using new geometric shapes and using fresh bold colors, as well as some construction choices we made, we feel we opened the door to more clients.”
Concurrently, the brand is committed to maintaining the long-time staunch supporting customers. Mehta adds: “Something Jeff always really emphasized is ‘protect and evolve,’ and that is we want to continue to cater to our customers that we’ve always had for the 40 years, but also really try to have different fits that work for a lot more people. We have different temple lengths, different built-up nosepads, as well as different styling, and we’re really trying to focus on how we can expand that so we can fit a much larger demographic and a larger customer base, and we’re talking to more people.”
The response has been extremely positive, leading to new relationships with new customers. And with the need for more diverse and inclusive fit options in eyewear design becoming a more prevalent topic, Robert Marc NYC has taken the proactive approach. “We’re seeing a lot of new clients, and that’s really important,” Press explains. “What we did to start that path is that we created the Icons in our collection in 2018, and those are really classic silhouettes in the collection that we do in colors that you would expect from Robert Marc—that’s sort of the ‘protect’ portion of the equation. But with the new collection Metropolis and our main collections in the past several seasons, what we wanted to do was expand the audience—do bridges that fit more clients, larger eye sizes, longer temples. Robert Marc has always been known to be a very tailored and classic brand. And we certainly don’t want to lose that client, but we also want to open the door to more people who should love the brand. So we feel that by changing some of the silhouettes in that way and by using bold colors and really emphasizing fit and having different fits, it opens the door to people shopping with the brand.”
To celebrate and promote the anniversary collection, Press and his creative team developed a newspaper for their customers and retail boutiques featuring shots from past brand campaigns and collections interspersed with current images photographed on location in Soho. “We wanted to speak to the optimistic and bright future that we see for New York, and we wanted to really tell the overall Robert Marc NYC story by pairing our past and our future together. It’s not that the brand is in a revolution, it’s in an evolution. It’s a great brand that we’re extremely proud of, and we feel there are big opportunities for the future, so we think about the last 40 years, but we think about the next 40 years too.”
An NYC resident for over two decades, Press lives and breathes New York. While this is indeed a main inspiration factor in designing for Robert Marc NYC, it’s his early roots with the brand that ties it all together for him. Press began his optical career back in 1998 when he took a sales position at the Robert Marc store, an opportunity that opened the door to the path of eyewear design. “When I started working for Robert Marc, I had no idea any of this was going to happen—meeting Robert and learning things from him and seeing how focused he was toward his beliefs, and how he became an icon in this industry. It all comes full circle for me working on this collection. It’s really been interesting because I’ve taken over a brand from a designer who has a long history and heritage. You have to stay true to the brand but willing to move the brand forward, and that can be tricky territory. It’s something Riya and I talk about a lot—learn from what you’ve seen but also learn from what you’re seeing.” Even as a seasoned designer with many years of experience under his belt, Press believes consistent collaboration is crucial to moving the brand forward and keeping it fresh and modern. “Before Riya joined the team, I designed the collections very differently. She brings a lot of modern techniques and a different viewpoint, and because she is of a different generation, all of those things give you a new perspective. The heritage and history of this brand is long, but we want to make sure we’re positioning it for the future. Many times, when brands hit certain age marks, they tend to grow stale. We want to go absolutely the other way.”
Born and raised in NYC, Mehta is a bona fide New Yorker as well. “I think it’s really exciting that having seen the brand my whole life and actually getting to work on it and seeing someone’s face light up when they put on a pair of glasses and being able to create something that does that—there’s nothing like it.” She feels an equal appreciation for the open collaborative process instilled by Press. “The amount of room I get to experience on different shapes and materials, and the fact that we have a very open design process, and I get to try a lot of different things; that back and forth gets us to have really great options, and we get to see where we want the collection to go. We’ve already designed this year’s collection, and we’re excited for the future.”
And what does the future hold for Robert Marc NYC? Press doesn’t hold back in sharing: “Construction with acetate has always been a big thing we think about—use of color, use of unique acetates, but really honing in on construction, making sure that we’re making unique fits and unique sizes, and making sure we’re doing things in acetates that are not necessarily seen before in the industry and in our collection and others. We want to continue to promote Robert Marc as an acetate brand you want to wear, and that goes into the combination pieces we make as well with acetate and titanium. But first and foremost, Robert Marc has always been an acetate brand, and we want to make sure we’re making the best acetate product we can and then complement that with all of the other things we’re doing in the collection.” The future looks vibrantly bright for Robert Marc NYC, and with Press and Mehta at the creative helm, we’re excited to see how the brand will continue to evolve while staying true to its independent eyewear roots. And there’s no place we’d rather do it than our beloved city that never sleeps. ■