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Sebastopol couple's eyewear business provides frames for Hollywood films

Back To The Future

What: Allyn Scura Eyewear will be at the Head West at The Barlow Event from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 4 in Sebastopol. The event brings together makers, merchants and mavericks. For more information, visit headwestmarketplace.com.

What: Allyn Scura Eyewear will be TreasureFest, a market featuring crafts, vintage and indie design, on May 29-31 at the Marin Center in San Rafael. For more information, visit treasurefest.com.

For more information on ASE: allynscura.com

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.”

Cross-country path

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.

Back To The Future

What: Allyn Scura Eyewear will be at the Head West at The Barlow Event from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 4 in Sebastopol. The event brings together makers, merchants and mavericks. For more information, visit headwestmarketplace.com.

What: Allyn Scura Eyewear will be TreasureFest, a market featuring crafts, vintage and indie design, on May 29-31 at the Marin Center in San Rafael. For more information, visit treasurefest.com.

For more information on ASE: allynscura.com

“Most people see us selling at the flea market,” Iseyama said. “But when they see us in stores like Sid Mashburn and Tuckernuck, it helps because it gives us a little bit of credibility.”

Trend-setter Mashburn has exclusively worn the Legend style eyeglasses from Alynn Scura, in all hues, for the past decade.

“The Legend is my favorite, and it has been a bestseller,” Scura said. “We fashioned it after the off-screen glasses of James Dean.”

The 54-year-old Iseyama is also loyal to the Legend style, which draws its inspiration from the early '50s.

“I have 100,000 frames to pick from,” he said. “But I really only wear one frame, and I've worn it for 18 years.”

Rose-colored romance

Iseyama was working in advertising in New York - a financial guy interfacing with creative types - when he bought a pair of glasses from Scura at a flea market.

“I was a suit, but I wore weird glasses because I thought maybe the creatives will trust me,” he said. “I came to it from a personal love. ... I only wear old watches and ride old motorcycles.”

After the purchase, he took Scura's card, then called her up to ask her out. The rest is history.

“I still wonder, did he marry me for the glasses?” she joked.

By the time the couple's first daughter was born in 1999, they had moved from the East Coast to Laguna Beach to be closer to family members - Scura grew up in Newport Beach and Santa Monica in a large family with seven kids. Iseyama grew up in the East Bay.

“I came out kicking and screaming to California,” he said. “But things change when you have a kid.”

The couple moved to Sebastopol in 2007 after visiting Scura's brother and vacationing at the Russian River. Like many younger families living in Sebastopol, they were attracted to the area's Waldorf schools, based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner.

After renting for a few years, the couple bought a 1970s-era house in the west county and did a major remodel, with a design by Scura, that turned it into a modern home with floor-to-ceiling windows facing west toward the sunset. Under the first-floor living space, they built the large workspace where they store and work on their massive collection of eyeglass frames.

“The nice thing is that there are 9-foot-high ceilings downstairs with a workshop and studio,” Scura said. “A staff person has a workbench there where she revives all the frames. Some have sat in the box for 60 to 70 years.”

A few of the '70s and '80s sunglasses already have lenses, but most frames are sold without lenses to people who need corrective lenses, Scura said. They will take measurements and fill prescriptions, then send them to one of two opticians they've worked with for 20 years.

If customers want to use the frames as sunglasses, they can pick from a dozen different tints or ask for a custom tint. They can also order prescription sunglass lenses.

When he goes to shows, Iseyama typically displays around 1,500 eyeglass frames, both men and women's styles. In the retail world, the Allyn Scura Eyewear line is carried by menswear shops because the men's designs tend to be unisex.

“Women shop from the men's shop, but men don't want to shop from the women's side,” he said. “The vintage ones are cat eyes and rhinestones, so they're pretty over the top, even for women. “

Some customers prefer to choose a frame in person, then buy replacement frames online after they know what they like. However, in these days of easy delivery, it appears more people are willing to buy glasses off the Internet.

“Even with something as touchy-feely as eyewear, they are a little bit better at guessing how it's going to fit,” Iseyama said. “But there is no substitute for putting it on. So we have to be flexible for returns and exchanges.”

The division of labor

To divide and conquer, Scura oversees the big picture - the business finances, the designs and special projects. Iseyama focuses on the shows, the Internet and wholesale businesses and requests from the film industry, which tend to have tight deadlines.

“We do a lot of biopic stuff, so they will send us pictures from history,” he said. “We are trying to identify the frame, find it and recreate history. That can be tricky.”

The business is also quite labor-intensive, he said, since the supply of vintage pieces is limited. That keeps most of the competition at bay.

“It's hard to find the product, and it's hard to work with it,” he said. “You only get one at a time. You sell it, and then you start all over. Even if it was mass produced at the time, you can't find it under one roof.”

On a positive note, their business has gotten a boost from modern fashion mavericks who want to support upcycling and recycling and appreciate that Allyn Scura Eyewear runs on solar panels and has been carbon neutral since 2007.

“There is a large customer base that likes that we have an environmental policy and the fact that the product is being saved from the landfill,” Iseyama said. “They're getting a good price, a good product, a good quality and it's guilt-free.”

The business originally appealed to the Rockabilly crowd interested in turning back the clock to the early 1950s, he said. It's still a big part of their business - in April, they'll go to the Viva Las Vegas Car Show highlighting '50s cars, music and fashion. But over the years, they have broadened their stock to appeal to folks who are also into eras like the '70s, '80s and '90s.

“With the advent of the Internet, people are not told what to wear anymore,” Scura said. “We ourselves have access to every decade. Early on, I got a lot of ugly '80s glasses, and I'm glad I kept them. The '80s have been big for a long time.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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