Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen and Alan Ng
Photography by Jenkin Au
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hi, my name is Jag Dhillon and I am the owner of Spectacle, a luxury eyewear retailer, in Toronto. We have been in business for ten years now and have been well received by the community and by a lot of people who consider themselves astute retailers and shoppers.
What got you into the eyewear business and what led to the opening of Spectacle?
I am a trained optician and when I worked in that field I noticed that a lot of people were approaching eyewear from a more clinical perspective and from less of a fashion point of view. Drawing from my inspirations while traveling and from my appreciation of interior and industrial design, I began to put together ideas for how I thought things could be done a little better in the eyewear retail business. I met an industrial designer, who happened to be a customer of mine, and then we started sharing ideas about lighting and the presentation of products. Before long, he encouraged me to explore my ideas further and he actually offered to help build some prototypes. Next thing you know, we were collaborating on opening the flagship store at the Queen Street West location and throughout our combined efforts we were really able to do something special.
Can you tell us how you came up with your store name?
Spectacle was a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek name choice. True, we are selling spectacles, but we are also turning you, the customer, into a spectacle by what you are wearing and we encourage you to explore yourself through eye wear. I don’t think people realize that eyewear can really bring out your inner character. Different styles of eyewear can accentuate the innate qualities of people, like their artistic side, their flamboyance, or their conservatism, and really convey that through their eyewear. Here at Spectacle, we want you to bring out your personality through what you wear.
What do you think sunglasses contribute to fashion?
I think that people who wear sunglasses have always been associated with a kind of mystique. They are presenting an attitude and a style and are making a bit of a statement. By wearing sunglasses and tearing them off, you are purveying a mysterious element to your character and that is what people associate sunglasses with and that is why they are so attractive. When people can’t see your eyes they begin to wonder what you are looking at and what you are thinking about because it is second nature to size someone up by looking them directly in the eyes. I think that because of the attitude and character that the look allows you to carry, it will always be in the mainstream of style and a go-to style or fashion accessory. Also, sunglasses and eyewear in general is usually the first thing people see on your face and people will identify with what you are wearing on your face first. If you are wearing something that is complimentary, people are going to identify with someone who looks like they have a sense of fashion and sense of self.
Fashion is cyclical. Right now, we are seeing the resurgence of older and classic frames. Where do you see the trend in glasses going heading?
Well, what we have seen this year are a lot of chunky, thick, and plastic heavy looks. It’s been quite fashionable for some time now. I feel that we are going to be seeing thinner eyewear again, but there are going to be a lot of retro shapes as well and we will see a lot of rounds, semi-rounds, and combination round frames. The modified oval is becoming very popular and cat eyes are becoming really popular for women. Material wise, there are going to be a lot of plastic, acetate, and metal and plastic-metal combinations. I am actually seeing a revival of the clip-on as well.
Can you tell us about your flagship store on Queen Street West and what sets it apart from other stores?
The Queen Street West store is 1400 to 1500 square feet and we carry about 2000 styles there. We are dedicated to representing collections well by going deep into collections and offering a wide range of color options. A lot of times when you go shopping you will only find one style and maybe two colors. We like to go four or five colours deep and do true justice to what the designer is trying to achieve. A red colour or a black colour can look drastically different on someone’s face. There is such a big difference in the different statements that a mere difference in colour can make. Also, while carrying a wide range of colors may be more risqué and might not appeal to everybody, it allows people the option to explore the shapes and colors that will best represent them and how they want to carry themselves in public.
How do your associates in the store help customers how to select frames?
We are lengthy and thorough in training our staff and we try to make them understand that our clients are our best form of advertising. The face that walks out wearing our product is the face that we want people to notice and go like, “Wow, that looks great on you! Where did you get it?” We pride ourselves on investing time with each client, respecting their needs and wants, and tying those desires into the products that we carry. Basically, we spend the time to train our associates to spend time with our clients one-on-one in order to really bring out their needs and wants.
Since you have been in business for well over ten years, a lot of the ideas that you wanted to carry out have been carried out. Where does innovation exist for you within the next few years?
When we first opened up the Queen Street West location we sent a message to the industry about how things can be done differently and better. Since then, we have been flattered to see other optical stores trying to do similar concepts. It’s great to see the elevation of the eyewear retail business as a whole. What I am always doing is trying to constantly push the boundaries and to go further. There are things that I am working on, without giving away my trade secrets, that aim to continue the elevation of eyewear shopping and to make it an experience where people can enjoy, have fun, and not be afraid to explore.
Talk about your various collaborations and partnerships throughout the years and what effects these have.
Collaborations are a key to our business actually. Due to the fact that we have such strong relationships within the industry, we are able to share certain production runs and people come to us first, wanting to do something special with us. We did a collaboration with Oliver Peoples recently that took off and was amazing. A piece went out to Rick Ross and we have a few other celebrities wearing it as well. It’s quite flattering when you think about a Toronto optician teaming up with a Los Angeles designer for Oliver Peoples and coming up with a model together. We are excited to say that there are other projects on the way and as we roll them out we will get notice out. We are always excited to work with other partners in these endeavours. We did one with ic! berlin as well and it was a twist on an existing model. We introduced some new colors to the model, including a combination frame of black and gold. It was a really nice piece.
If you were to open up another store, where in Toronto or Canada would that be?
The West Coast, definitely. I have been out there a few times and I have been looking around and it’s a great community. I like the people, the fashion sense, and I think it would be a great marriage. There is a lot of development out there and while it would be challenging being so far away from our home base, we definitely want to duplicate our success on the West Coast while we work on our business model here at home.
What is HYPE?
I like risk takers and the people who are on the streets trying to invent fashion. I get my inspiration from them. Whenever I travel, which is when I get most of my inspiration, I don’t try to go to touristy destinations. Instead, I try to go to places that are growing and it is at those places that I usually see things that make me go, “That’s HYPE, that’s great, that’s amazing!” For example, when I am in New York and in the Lower Eastside, I saw these people wearing eyewear and street fashion and combining it with stuff that I grew up with in the 1980’s. They have the courage and strength of personality to say, “I am going to wear this and it’s not going to be affected by what people say about me.” That’s HYPE!