A conversation with L.A. Eyeworks owner, Gai Gherardi, who is currently celebrating 37 years of her store being fabulous.
FC: How did you sleep last night?
GAI: I’m known for being a really good sleeper. I can just turn it off and go right to sleep. But I can also always find time for fun. Even if I have to go on a business trip or if things get hectic, I find time for fun.
FC: How many hours do you need to get per night?
GAI: I don’t need a lot, but I’m good with about seven.
FC: Do you have any recurring dreams?
GAI: I do. It’s major, and I call it an epic dream. It’s so big and so complex. It is something in the shape of a carnival ride that is the size of the Empire State building. It’s made out of a really huge person with many arms, and there are cars on it that go around and around. I walk up to this thing in a procession, and the procession is really grand. I do this pilgrimage but I realize I’m walking on the top of cows, and it goes down to a river, and I feel the river, and the river is running in between the cows. It’s really an epic, incredible dream. It’s a dream I’ll have for life. I know it. It’s a gift, and I even get chills when I say it.
FC: You’ve known Barbara McReynolds (Gai’s business partner at L.A. Eyeworks) basically forever, since you were 15 years old?
GAI: Yes, since we were sophomores. We met in Huntington Beach, and later got a job in an optical shop together. It almost never really started as a job, because it always felt like it was something else. From the minute Barbara got the job, she called me and said this is the coolest thing! You’ve got to get a job here. So I did, and I’ll tell you: the minute I put glasses on someone and looked into their eyes, I knew it was something else. I certainly didn’t know what, and I certainly didn’t know I’d be doing it for my life- I just had a feeling. Something really resonated for me, that this is really something special to touch someone’s head and look in their eyes in a public space. I knew that.
FC: It almost sounds magical
GAI: It was, it is. And not just for me: Barbara would describe precisely the same thing.
FC: Did you wear glasses as a kid?
GAI: Actually, both Barbara and I faked eye problems so that we could wear glasses. In fact, I even managed an eye patch! I rubbed and rubbed my eye and the school nurse gave me an eye-patch, and I was like, the biggest cool thing. And that way, I got to have an eye exam.
FC: Were you first pair of glasses cool?
GAI: They were great! They were round, black frames. They were FANTASTIC round black frames. At the time I was 16, so my big thing was the Free Press: that was like my bible. And so I was looking at a lot of hippies, and bands, in the folk music era, and I was taking both my fashion cues and my intellectual cues from that group. So, I was interested in those kinds of glasses, John Lennon’s glasses, etc.
FC: I read that you draw all of your designs, are you an artist?
GAI: Yes, I do draw all of my designs, but no, I am not an artist. I am probably the worst ‘drawer’ in the world. If we were to have a drawing contest I would lose for sure. But I can convey ideas through my pencil. Sometimes it’s backwards, or weird– but it just makes sense to me. I took a drafting class when I was fifteen. My dad was an architect and builder- that was his interest and he loved it. And so I also took an interest in that. I knew what things looked like. I thought it would be neat to have really straight lines with arrows and call out measurements. And so, I can do that, I visualize that.
FC: It seems like you really found your calling…
GAI: Somehow the goddesses lined up
FC: Do you remember the first person you put glasses on?
GAI: I do not know who the person was, but I remember clearly that my hands touched behind their ears, right on their mastoid, and I thought, well, this is intimate. And I am looking at them in the eyes, and I was like, am I going to get a crush on you? I had to separate all these things. It was intense.
FC: I know you travel a lot- do you speak any other languages?
GAI: No. I speak factory Italian. I could totally navigate a factory in Italy. I’ve been going there for a good 37 years, so I can completely navigate that- But if you ask me to tell you the color of the day or the content of the moisture in the clouds poetically in Italian, I couldn’t tell you. But I could use the words I know in the factory to describe that. And I guess it’s quite amusing to people.
FC: Do you travel all around Italy when you go?
GAI: We mostly stay in Northern Italy. Barbara and I have been with the same factory in Italy for 30 plus years. It’s very high up in the Dolomites. It’s in one of the highest points, almost as high as Cortina. There are mornings where you have to stop and wait for the sheep to go by.
FC: How did you hook up with the factory in Italy?
GAI: Well, Barbara was walking around the trade fair in Paris, and began a conversation with an Italian man named Leandro. She told him we had been looking for a factory, and he insisted we meet his brother who had a factory in Northern Italy. Truth be known: it wasn’t actually a factory yet, but they were going to make it a factory because of us. They just needed an excuse to begin this other phase of a life. So we made an arrangement to go and see them, which was a big deal, to come from LA and go to Italy and drive and drive and drive all the way to the top.
Basically, their factory started out as a gazillion dollar robot in a very small room. But it was the spirit of this person: Barbara and I knew when we began talking that we had a brother. So, we all learned together. The thing was, he never said no and we just kept learning together, and that’s how it all began.
FC: Is there anywhere that you haven’t traveled yet that you would like to go?
GAI: Oh yes. I have never been to Brazil. I’ve never been to Poland. I’ve never been to Israel, and I really want to go there.
FC: If you could learn a language, just have someone put that language in your head, what language would you learn?
FC: Let’s talk fashion. Have you always leaned towards a more creative fashion sensibility?
GAI: When I was 5 years old, I was given a Cinderella watch. It was pink and I hated it so much! I knew I had to be gracious about it, but I hated it so much it made me itch. I didn’t want to put it on. So I asked my mom if she could put white fur on the band and then put rhinestones on it, and she did! That was the clearest moment for me, so I would say yes, I’ve always been creative.
FC: You are known for your fabulous outfits. Where do they come from? Do you get them made for you? Do you design them?
GAI: Ugo Blake is a fantastic designer as well as a client here. One day, many years ago, I said to her, I want to wear a uniform but I also want pajamas! I basically just want to wear pajamas all day but I like the formality of being dressed, and I didn’t want it to be pajamas that were all rumpled. So she designed me these great two-piece outfits. I shop for fabric and buttons, (I have a real passion for African fabrics) and Ugo designs it. So that’s what I have been wearing since then. Plus, there are pockets! I don’t have to carry a handbag- because every thing fits in the pockets.
FC: I assume you have the same creative flair when it comes to shoes?
GAI: It’s the same with shoes. When I was a kid, White Bucks became a fashion trend for boys. The tongue was on the outside of the shoe and there was a little metal mechanism that closed them. I knew White Bucks were only meant for boys, but I really wanted a pair, and my parents were so great about it. They took me to the boy’s shoe store. When the salespeople didn’t want to sell them to us, my mom wouldn’t listen to them, so I got my White Bucks with a rubber band sole. Well, I called it a rubber band sole because they looked like rubber bands, and that’s exactly what I wanted.
FC: Didn’t you name something else Rubber-Band Red?
GAI: Yes! Rubber-band-red. That figures in. Our floors are that very color.
FC: Who makes up the names of all the glasses?
GAI: Barbara and I do it. Sometimes we bring in some of our team to help us. If you were asking Barbara right now, she’d tell you that sometimes we spend more time on the names than on the actual glasses! That’s not really true… but the names are a big deal! It comes down to all these families of glasses… who is going to live with who, and who is going to sit on the shelf next to who and maybe that’s a really great name, but you can’t name someone “Tuna Peanut” if she is going to live with that pair of glasses over there… we have to think about these things.
FC: It’s like they are people! Like you have your whole extended family on these shelves…
GAI: It can feel that way, absolutely.
FC: How many pairs of glasses do you have?
GAI: Oh, that’s so unfair… I have a lot. A LOT.
FC: Ok, fine. How many pairs of glasses do you wear?
GAI: How many do I wear? Well, right now my friends will tell me that I haven’t been out of these particular pair of glasses for a long time but I beg to differ with them—because I have this model in several sizes and you can’t see how it’s different it is- but I know it’s different.
FC: Since we are based in LA, I just want to ask, what is a perfect LA day for you?
GAI: There are so many! Here’s the thing: I gravitate towards water. So for me, the perfection would be that I saw the water, that I got some on me, that there was a great casual restaurant involved, and maybe some art or music.
FC: What’s a local restaurant that you love?
GAI: I love Sqirl. Jon & Vinny’s does a fabulous job. Night + Market Song on Sunset is unbelievable. And, Paper or Plastik Café on Pico, I just love that place.
FC: Do you own any black clothing?
GAI: Hmmm. I know I don’t own any black shoes, and I know I don’t own any black coats. Those are the things that I would consider having in the color black… Wait- I do! I have a black undershirt. You know what I call it? My William Bendix shirt. He was an actor in the 50’s and he always flopped around in his undershirt, so I call it my William Bendix.
FC: What are your feelings on Trump? In case Trump gets elected…
GAI: If that happens, I would want to meet everyone I know and have a stiff drink. No, but really, if that happens, we need to have serious conversations with each other to understand what the hell we’ve done, because we will have done it if that happens. It’s so discouraging. We end up places that we’re responsible for. And for me, if that happens the responsibility lies within those people that let it happen, and I think we have to talk about it. We have to talk about the really hard parts of race. We just have to.
FC: Let’s end by NOT talking about Trump: What’s your favorite drink?
GAI: I drink Sweet Vermouth on the rocks with a lemon peel. I first drank ‘Punt e Mes’ in Italy. It’s funny, because if you’re in France, they’ll call it a Martini and really what a Martini means is ‘Martini Rouge’, which is Sweet Vermouth. And Punt e Mes is Sweet Vermouth, but it’s much more complex than say, Martini Rossi. This is just a wonderfully bitter and herbaceous drink. It’s delicious.