Sebastopol couple's eyewear business provides frames for Hollywood films
Though you may not know it, you've probably seen Allyn Scura eyeglasses.
They've made appearances in Ben Affleck's film “Argo,” set in 1979, when eyewear ran the gamut from thick, dark-framed glasses to oversized plastic and aviator frames. “American Hustle,” starring Christian Bale, also made use of Allyn Scura glasses. Jon Hamm wore glasses from the Sebastopol-based niche company in “Bad Times at the El Royale.” And Hollywood stars such as Bradley Cooper and Brad Pitt have worn the frames both on screen and off.
Strolling through a storeroom piled high with boxes of vintage frames, the company's founder and eyewear visionary Allyn Scura reads off designer names like they're old friends: Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier. Ted Lapidus and Bollé.
There's an era for everyone, whether you want to look like James Dean in the '50s or Gloria Steinhem in the '70s.
“We ship every day, all over the world,” said Scura, who started the business in New York, then moved it to California. “And we have wholesale accounts all over the world, especially in Europe and Asia.”
Nowadays, Scura and husband Scott Iseyama run their vintage eyewear business out of their Sebastopol home, which includes a workspace where they store their more than 100,000 eyeglass frames. With a mix of 70% vintage eyeglasses and 30% frames Scura designed herself, the company's wares have caught on with not just celebrities, but trend-setters, renowned boutique stores and those with a taste for throwback styles.
For Scura, the path to success, from New York to Sonoma County, took a little time to come into focus.
Four decades ago, Scura was working in New York in sales and management for high-end furniture and design firms. But by 27, she had burned out.
“It was the '80s and the days of Studio 54,” the 59-year-old entrepreneur recalled while sitting in her sunny home west of Sebastopol. “Of course I'm going to burn out.”
She took a one-year job as a designer in Thomasville, North Carolina, just outside the furniture mecca of High Point. In her spare time, she started “antiquing” at local shops and discovered three pairs of vintage frames. After snapping in sunglass lenses, Scura discovered they drew an overwhelming response.
“After one year, I went back to New York,” she recalled. “Everyone would stop me in the street and ask me where I got them.”
Taking a cue from Oliver Peoples - a high-end line of vintage-inspired eyewear that opened its first shop in West Hollywood in 1987 - Scura plunked down her savings on a stash of original, unused glasses stored in the closet of a New Jersey optometrist.
“They were all vintage, from the 'teens to the 1940s,” she said. “He had 5,000 pairs in his closet, and he wanted $10 a piece. ... That put me in business.”
She launched her company in 1988. Soon she was selling her frames at optical conventions in New York and around the world. Within five months, she was in the black.
“My business was for the outliers, and it was a convergence of the perfect storm,” she said. “People wanted them, and there was a line of stores waiting to buy my products.”
Expanding the line
Fast-forward to 2020. Scura and Iseyama, who have two daughters - Ava, 20, and Parker, 16 - run the company together. They added their own line of vintage-inspired frames after it became more difficult to find antique and vintage stock.
Scura produced her first eyewear collection in the U.S. but later shifted manufacturing to Japan for a better quality product. The dozens of styles she designed are made from lightweight, hypoallergenic zyl plastic that is tumbled and hand-polished. The frames have beefy, seven-barrel hinges and temples reinforced with wire.
“Most companies won't groove out a space for the hinge, but we do,” she said. “People don't realize the quality they're getting.”
She has named her eyeglass styles after family, friends and literary icons: F. Scott after F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper after Harper Lee and Parker after Dorothy Parker (Scura wears Parkers - thick, black frames inspired by the '60s and '70s.). The Angelo glasses are named after her Italian grandfather.
The business is run in a grassroots manner. Iseyama goes to 35 flea markets and vintage shows a year, including the monthly Alameda Point Antiques Faire in the Bay Area and the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. The eyeglasses were recently on display at the annual vintage show “A Current Affair” in Richmond.
“The designers come out there and shop for inspiration,” Iseyama said. “So it's a really great place to meet resellers.”
The fashionable frames also are sold at high-end clothing stores across the country, including Taylor Stitch in San Francisco, Sid Mashburn based in Atlanta and Tuckernuck in Washington, D.C.