If you wear glasses and you know what's up, then you're probably hip to Benjamin Eyewear. Established by Mexican-American L.A. native Benjamin Montoya, 38, his line is beloved by fashion tastemakers like designer Jenni Kayne, who even has a frame named after her. What makes his frames so special? First of all, they are extremely sleek and retro inspired—the Kayne is basically a smoothed out Wayfarer with clip-on shades, like the kind they wore on Melrose Place. They don't look like anything else you see at a department store or a Lenscrafter. "My line is a pumped version of classic designs that will be in style in for many years to come," explains Montoya. We caught up with the rock'n'roll eyeglass designer to find out what makes him tick.
How did you get started in this business?
I got a job at a local optique in Scottsdale Arizona when I was 19. Instead of just spending all my money at the local optical boutique, they offered me a job so I could help finance my obsession.
Tell us about your Latin heritage and the role that it plays in your design philosophy.
My parents, Anna Velarde Montoya and Fernando Montoya are third generation Americans of Spanish/ Mexican descent. I was born in 1969 in Long Beach, California where I was raised, along with my younger brother Arnold until the age of 9. My parents both spoke Spanish in our home. They always reminded me how proud I should be of my Latino background and to understand the honor and the responsibility that came with being a productive and honorable Latino. Then my family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. But at age 23, I felt the artistic pull of a larger city and moved back to Los Angeles to build a life with my then girlfriend Cynthia. She's now my wife and the mother of our two beautiful children, LeeLee and Criston.
What were the key influences in the development of your style?
As a young boy, I grew up being influenced by music, rock and roll trends of the '70s, '80s and '90s. The new wave and punk era shaped my idea of self-expression through my high school years. I also played guitar. I looked to iconic figures who shaped modern culture, both in music and film like Jimmy Page, Johnny Thunders, James Dean, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Jim Morrison etc. Back then, before the Internet, if you wanted to see what your idols looked like you had to seek out print images of them. When I found them, I realized that most of the time they were rockin' some killer shades. I figured I had to do more than just play guitar, I had to look edgy too, and shades are a person's most versatile asset. I have since lost the dream of rock stardom, but now I'm adapting my creative side to product design.
What will you be launching in Spring 2009 that you are excited about?
I'll be introducing my jewelery collection.
Well, we're sure that it will be as killer as your eyewear line, too!