by RYAN BOLTON, originally published by CONTRA magazine
Welcome to Corey Shapiro’s world. A realm comprised of rubbing shoulders with Rick Ross, Pharrell Williams and Gaga with a bounty of endless vintage eyewear in tow. Shapiro, with his distinct shaved head oft-capped with a fitted ball cap, full beard and an ever-changing selection of shades perched atop his nose is the “head maniac” of Vintage Frames Company.
Boasting the largest collection of vintage eyewear in the world (they’re based out of Montreal), and a clientele chock-full of stars that have Shapiro on speed dial, Vintage Frames has a lot going on. And a damn impressive selection of shades including brands like Cazal, Dior, Gucci and Ray-Ban. But more than this, Shapiro is into the art and fashion history of the shades. Where they came from. Why they were originally designed. In a word, their significance. He prides himself in schooling each of his clients – young or old, celebrity or collector – on the history of each frame he sells. Part of their success, aside from their sheer determination and due diligence in the world of traditional eyewear, is to come at it head-on from a fashion history perspective.
We recently caught up with Shapiro (somewhat illegally) as he was driving around Montreal. Here’s our discussion around Rick Ross, elitism and the art and history of vintage eyewear.
This is Corey Shapiro’s world, oversized shades and all.
You are driving right now, right? So are you using Bluetooth or are you going to get arrested?
No, I can get arrested, man. With Shapiro as a last name, well, it’s a pretty lawyer-friendly last name when the police stop you. And what’s a $160 ticket for CONTRA magazine, you know.
You got it. Next question. What’s Rick Ross like?
He’s the boss, man. He runs the family like a successful cartel. He’s not only concerned about his own well-being, but the well-being of all the people around him, which is rather rare when you’re dealing with artists because most of them want a lot of people around, but don’t really care for them to eat. But he cares a great deal about the people he chooses to have around him.
And what’s a guy like Rick Ross and his process like when he’s picking out his shades?
When it comes to Ross, he wants everything to come to him. Versus other artists that come to us, most often I go to him. Most often I fly out to Atlanta, Miami or go on tour with him. Ross wants the best and rarest frames. He doesn’t necessarily care about them being iconic for a certain reason; he wants to make the frame iconic. He’s going to make it the Rick Ross frame.
Is it the same with Gaga? You know, with like the whole cigarettes-on-fire-glasses?
Gaga is the only person I’ll make a whole collection for and I’ll probably be wrong most of the time. Everything that I think she’ll wear changes from day to day. She’s inventing fashion. She sees her outfits on many different levels. She is one of the only celebrities that I will curate a large selection instead of it being more specific, because she’ll kind of go all over the place with it. She is like a modern day Elton John with her eyewear.
We will jump back to the celebs in a bit, but quickly, why shades? Why the whole vintage glasses niche in the first place?
I used to have a vintage sneaker store. I’m very skilled in digging for vintage products and the way it has to be purchased. From a business standpoint, it’s a lot easier to fit someone with glasses than it is to with a pair of vintage shoes. And in our case, we are fitting the attitude, not the person. Glasses are some of the most iconic accessories, or however you want to classify them, that you could possibly wear. By putting on a different pair of glasses, you can almost change the persona or the mood or the attitude of that person even before they talk to you. Eyewear was almost a forgotten art, so from a fashion history perspective, there was not a lot of documentation going on.
With eyewear, I thought it would be interesting to specialize in something that was art and fashion related in a medical world. I don’t give a shit how the glasses work prescription-wise, not that we don’t do prescriptions, but our main focus is the fashion history of it.
Why do the rock stars and rap stars come to you?
I mean, we give the best handjobs in town. Well, they come to us because we have by far the largest selection in the world, the best service in the world and we are amongst that community of people. When people are shopping with us, we’re not just trying to sell them glasses, we’re trying to push the boundaries on what they’re doing and working in conjunction with them. And when you get frames from us, it’s a whole history lesson that is included. So it’s not just buying a frame, wearing it on Vogue and then someone looking at you and you’re wearing a blah-blah-blah, but why? If my artists are ever called on why they’re wearing a certain frame, the reporter better be prepared to hear the most direct, historic answer they’ve ever heard. And the whole experience with us is different. We’re not an eyewear shop per se, we’re fashion historians and that’s a very different approach to go at an artist.
So, why then are glasses important in today’s over-saturated fashion world?
A lot of people wear glasses because it really changes the mood of what that person is feeling. You really see from far away what that person is trying to portray by the glasses they are wearing. As well as, if they want to step out of their comfort zone, there’s a barrier between their eyes and the other person they are about to talk to. So it gives people almost a sense of comfort to try something that’s a bit different.
Why vintage eyewear is important is because 90% of what is coming out these days are just copies of all the vintage stuff. Why would you want to wear the same pair of glasses that everyone can attain? They are made shitty in comparison to the vintage ones. Eyewear is important to a lot of my clients because of that barrier; that really is one of the largest reasons why we chose to specialize in eyewear.
Right, there really is that exclusiveness with vintage eyewear. Not necessarily elitism, but artists want that quality eyewear with history to showcase who they are, right?
Yeah, exactly. I mean, there’s a certain elite nature dealing with us in general. There’s an elite nature to the eyewear. We are the eyewear specialists to the stars. Not only do our products have huge weight in terms of quality and exclusivity, but so does our team.
And quickly to conclude, who rocks your glasses the best? Be honest.
My son. Because not only does he rock them the best, he likes them the best, he sticks them in his nose the best and he pukes on them best.
And that’s the way to rock shades like a true rock star the best.
Yeah, like a rock star. How many people can chew and puke on their own glasses?
I don’t know. Maybe like Iggly Pop or something?
Well, I have the Iggy Pop of babies.