I don’t remember when I first saw them, but I knew they were meant for me. Vintage sunglasses that looked like they’d been carved out of a dark, tropical wood and worn down to a dull shine by some starlet with a wool bathing suit and too many teeth. They screamed of sun and sand, and in true California fashion, had priced themselves out of even Hollywood. But I never forgot them, and as the years went by and I continued to shim and jimmy my favorite pair of shades, I often joked about re-creating that dream pair. I mean, what would be cooler than having a pair of wooden sunglasses?
Then it happened again. A couple weeks ago I ducked into Voyager on Valencia Street and saw my dreams made real. Wooden sunglasses! Handmade in San Francisco! And I could lift them, price tag and all. While my handmade version would probably have included a few gouge marks from an unwieldy pocketknife (in my dream this was still a DIY affair), these were as smooth as that first pair and seemed to contradict their “handmade” designation. So what’s a girl supposed to do but run down her dream?
It’s gray and dreary outside when I roll up to the Capital Eyewear studio in SOMA to meet its founder and creator Steven Kilzer. Inside, however, the space is bright, spacious, and just sawdusty enough to remind you that there’s work to be done. Tools hang in orderly rows, sanders sit waiting for action, and a giant American flag hangs over it all, emphasizing Capital’s stance that good things are made right here in the U.S. of A.
In fact, I am to learn that Capital Eyewear takes the concepts of handmade and locally made very seriously. All the wooden frames are laser cut and shaped here in the studio, while the acetate frames are poured and molded just across the bay. Even the plastic that’s used is mixed in the factory.
Steven explains that much of his inspiration for Capital came from his father, who insisted on buying and supporting American-made products. While most of us would love to keep similar practices, there’s almost always something calling our name out there with its irresistible charm – “Made in China” tag be damned. For Steven, sticking to this mantra was simply a challenge to create something beautiful that people want, right here at home. While production has gotten a bit more pro since Capital’s first workshop (a garage in Missoula, Montana), the basics remain the same.
Wooden frames are cut from cherry or walnut (Capital is a stickler for American hardwoods), then steam-bent and clamped to give them the proper contour. Rough edges are sanded smooth. Hinges are attached. Even those little pieces that fit the bridge of your nose are sanded down and glued into place. Rejects are tossed into a pile; some have splintered, some have weird glue marks or problems with hinges. Steven roots through and finds a pair that, to my eyes, looks pretty damn perfect, but hasn’t made the cut. It becomes even more apparent that Capital is bent on making a quality product that’ll last.
Another key in its commitment to keeping things awesome, Capital uses only Carl Zeiss Vision lenses (the same Zeiss that makes lenses for Rollei and Hasselblad cameras). Each lens is cut to fit the specific style of glasses, then ground down by hand so it’ll fit into the frame without gapping. No small feat if you’ve ever tried to grind down a square peg to fit in a round hole.
Finally, the frames are treated and sealed so the wood won’t be affected by outside changes in moisture. Because who wants to worry about keeping their sunglasses dry when they’re splashing in the surf? Not to mention the waves of fog.
Boxed up and ready to go, Capital’s glasses may be the epitome of California cool, but I’m left with the awareness that they’re so much more. Each pair is truly unique, touched and crafted by careful hands and cared for in their creation like a work of art, which they really are. Handmade sunglasses, made quite literally by hand right here in San Francisco? C’mon, what’s cooler than that?
What, you want a pair, too? Capital will also be in The Bold Italic’s pop-up shop inside of Marion & Rose in Oakland starting on November 20th. The Bold Italic also has four of their styles in their online shop:
If you don’t mind a bit of photo stalking, you can follow Capital Eyewear on Instagram or capitaleyewear.com and peep their California inspiration. With a recent pop-up shop inside of The Curiosity Shoppe and a product this good, it’s only a matter of time before Capital goes from temporary to permanent display.
* Sunglasses prices reflect polarized lenses upgrade.