Huge, display-free windows invite passersby to peer deep into the spacious gallery that is Black Optical’s Dallas, TX, location. Those whose tastes lean toward striking simplicity, who think more in terms of style than fashion, function or brand, find themselves drawn to the exquisitely curated selection of eyewear they see inside, arrayed unadorned on white shelves that float above dark marble floors. To owner Gary Black, fine eyewear is “an extension of our love for design,” the store itself a space to display “a small selection of culture we are inspired by.” He opened Black Optical in 2007. Initial success in Tulsa, OK, was repeated in the larger markets of Oklahoma City and Dallas. A fourth store just opened in Newport Beach, CA. He’s obviously doing something right.

A veteran of four store openings, Black seeks out “neighborhoods that lean more residential than commercial. We like being a cultural hub for our communities, and we as a team get great joy from our clients and friends visiting to talk about art, music, or films.” Dallas’ Knox neighborhood fits that bill. “It’s the perfect Dallas neighborhood. We are surrounded by an economically diverse income [group], steps away from the Katy Trail, and walkable to Highland Park, the wealthiest neighborhood in Dallas. Our co-tenants are very independently minded, including some of the best restaurants in the city.” This is retail as salon: It’s not only about connecting with a community, but also helping to create one based on shared tastes.

The store’s dark Nero and Calcutta marbles offset white gallery shelving and walls, complemented by wood and leather.  When it comes to the eyewear itself, he’s no passive collector; partnerships with designers are a hallmark. “We have collaborated with Ahlem Eyewear, Garrett Leight, and Jacques Marie Mage.” According to Stirling Barrett, founder of New Orleans-based KREWE Sunglasses, “In the art world of eyewear, Gary is one of the pinnacle curators. To have him as a friend and learn from his industry insight has meant a lot to us.”

 

“We merchandise our frames by aesthetic, not designer,” Black says. The store is devoid of P.O.P. displays; there are no brand- or lifestyle-based areas. “We barely have our own logo on display. We believe service is our best form of branding.” This is genuine “curated” retail: expert product selection combined with close attention to customer service. Without the latter, you’re simply showing off a collection. But is it really possible to merchandise purely by aesthetic? “Completely possible … Great brands do each have their own aesthetics, but there is also commonality. Various designers create aviators, oversized, petite, metals, sculptural, etc. Our expertise comes in discovering great collections and styles that will fit our clients best.” Black prizes his relationships with designers, but ultimately they are secondary. “Designers come and go; they have great collections and not-so-great collections. This is where a little ego comes into play. We make it about us. We have a deep respect for each designer we work with. But we want our clients to buy into Black Optical, not the designers……our clients simply want to look good, feel good, and see well. So, it made sense to keep similar ‘fits’ together.”

 

Black Optical’s online presence is well tended and responsive. On various platforms, you’ll find references to everything from early ’70s Stevie Wonder to the Kenyan spectacles sculptor Cyrus Kabiru. But it’s not as intimidating as all of this may sound. There are fun lines of kids’ eyewear, and the cultural references run the gamut from Ed Ruscha to the grilled cheese sandwich — American classics both.

In one posted photo, Grace Kelly, circa 1950s, pores over a book by Jacques Cousteau. “At heart, we are explorers and learners like Cousteau and Kelly,” says Black. “[She] is the perfect example of not only iconic beauty, but incredible intelligence as well.” You’ll search in vain for a logo in the interior of Black Optical Dallas, but if there had to be one, that image might serve.
 
Discreet, But Genuine, Love of Community.  There are those who see displays of “highbrow” taste as intimidating, or lacking a human component. Black’s community spirit is genuine, but it’s displayed as discreetly as his eyewear. It’s not signaled on his website, but in Oklahoma he’s been involved in distributing free prescription eyewear to the homeless.
 
Written by Heath Burslem for Invision Magazine