By Emily Belfiore

Robert Marc walks into the conference room of his New York corporate office located eight floors above the commotion of Times Square, with excited strides and a welcoming smile. He sits in a leather chair directly across from some colorful samples from his new “Second Nature” collection. The vibrant frames catch Marc’s eye as he carefully examines the contents of the case. “It’s always fun to look at the collection,” he says as he admires the craftsmanship of the teal lotus leaf-inspired 919 sunglass style. “This was a great collection. I think the eyewear just keeps getting richer as it matures, and we continue to find new directions to take it in.”

A new collection isn’t the only thing Marc has to be excited about. Aug. 3 marked the 35th anniversary of the Robert Marc Eyewear brand, a milestone Marc is delighted and humbled to reach. “It’s unbelievable that it’s been 35 years,” says Marc. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but it’s quite amazing. We’re really thrilled—it’s exciting for all of us here that we’re celebrating this major milestone.”

Marc opened his first optical retail store in 1981, getting his start as one of the first high-end optical boutiques in New York City. Following the store’s success, he launched his namesake eyewear collection in 1999 and introduced the world to stylish optical and sunwear designs and the trademarked Robert Marc hinge. The Robert Marc Collection has since evolved into a globally respected eyewear brand, delivering elegant and classic-inspired frames to modern, fashion-forward men and women. “When I first opened my business, it was at a time when everything was the same,” recalls Marc. “The customers who came to us were interested in our window display because it was different than other eyewear stores; they were not the usual products that you found anywhere else. These customers were looking for something special and unique, and that’s what we’ve always been about.”

The brand remains an exclusive eyewear brand, being sold in eight Robert Marc stores in New York City and through limited dealers nationally and internationally. Though the exclusivity of the brand has led to the collection having a very controlled and careful distribution, it has allowed Marc to develop his business using industry-leading partners and materials. “Being so exclusive is a decision that was made by the way we make our eyewear, which is handmade and produced in small batches,” says Marc. “The thing that’s nice about that is it’s given us the ability to work with people who are passionate about what they do. They present the product in the right way and want to be educated about the product, which has always helped the brand.”

Marc’s successes have also been recognized by prominent members of the fashion industry. He was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in 2001 and received the Visionary Accessories Council Excellence (ACE) Award in 2011 from the Accessories Council. Marc doesn’t consider these achievements as awards for himself or the brand, but instead sees them as pivotal moments that helped shape the eyewear industry into what it is today. “These happened during a very important time because it was really early in the evolution of eyewear, when it was just beginning to be accepted as a real accessory and fashion design,” Marc explained. “I think one of my greatest accomplishments is the small part I might have played in taking eyewear from being purely a medical device to a fashion accessory.”

In his 35 years as a designer, Marc has witnessed countless optical trends and gained firsthand experience in the multifaceted world of eyewear design. He has learned the importance of embracing inspirations and explains it is essential to let his creations come naturally and organically. “I think there is a reason why things happen. There are feelings out there and movements that tell us we’re going in a certain direction,” says Marc of his design process. “A trend occurs because people who are listening and who are creating are hearing some of the same things. They’re seeing things happening on the streets; they’re seeing colors and they’re getting this sort of electricity. You better be following your own thing instead of hoping to be on trend. We at Robert Marc find that everything moves along with us.”

He continues to be inspired by New York City, keeping his eyes and mind open to new ideas that will influence his products. “I’m an incredibly visual person, now more than ever. As I’ve matured, I’ve become more receptive to the things around me that influence me and the brand, which ultimately translates into the design,” he says. “New York City is a big inspiration for me. It’s my home and it’s always been my home. It’s an incredible, vibrant city and it continues to be a major influencer for my design approach. There’s a sophistication, but also an ease that goes along with the city, and it’s definitely what inspires me.”

One trend that Marc is still getting on board with is social media and the eyewear industry’s shift toward the digital age. He plans on expanding the brand’s online presence by joining popular social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. He and his team have begun developing a plan to reach customers using these platforms and will do so, as he describes, in an “exclusive and deliberate way.” Marc foresees the brand’s social media growing exponentially in the coming years. “Things are moving and changing quite fast. We’re always very cautious, and we’re looking at the Internet to understand how we can further our brand,” says Marc. “The Internet can be messy, and we’re trying to figure out how to do it our way and keep it clean. Everyone is seeing everything at the same time, so you have to make sure you have a clear global message nowadays because everyone is going to see it. That’s a great thing because the message that used to take a year can reach people in days.”

Despite the brand’s global success, Marc is still very close to the values he created 35 years ago. The designer continues to put the customer first and factors their overall experience into every decision he makes. This deep appreciation and loyalty to his customers is what Marc credits with the brand’s long-lasting success, knowing that the customer’s passion for the eyewear is what keeps them coming back for more. “My mission statement has always been that eyewear should enhance the vision of one’s self. It’s really always been about beautiful eyewear that enhances the wearer,” explains Marc. “The eyewear works when it’s worn and used to make the woman or the man look and feel great. We’re always thinking about the customer, and we’re doing this for the customer who is going to buy, wear and love this eyewear. That’s been my belief throughout, and that doesn’t change.” ■