Hidden Gem: Catch & Release

This is the first of a new series titled “Hidden Gems” that’ll focus on unique and independent locales in all parts of the world.

This Saturday I sat down with Lee, the owner of Catch & Release, a little boutique in Shoreditch that specializes in independent and vintage eyewear. His store mixes it up – anything from rare vintage clothing to nice English-made shoes. As Lee describes it, the store’s “a bit of this, a bit of that.” Basically, it’s a shop with tremendous taste.

Lee’s got eyewear on lock. He’s the kind of store owner who will know – as soon as you walk through the door – what’ll suit you and what won’t. His store is offering something different than everywhere else, with the emphasis on independent sellers. That’s hard, but somehow his store seems to pull it off and sell only the best of the best.

I was curious to find out what inspired Lee to open a store like this and wanted to learn a little more about vintage eyewear – a world completely foreign to me.

How did you get the idea to start Catch & Release?
Well, I worked in the eyewear business for quite a few years but then became a bit disillusioned. You see, most of the eyewear world is controlled by this one big Italian company. I wanted to offer something different. I thought I’d open a store to try and support independent companies.

Why independent?
Well, I think independent’s great because of the quality you get from the people. It’s more creative when people do it themselves. When you’re creating something independently, you look to make something different, something that will make you stand out from everything else. So independent’s where you find the most interesting products.

How do you find these independent dealers?
Well, you have to spend a lot of time doing research. I do things like read blogs, follow fashion Tumblrs, even look around Facebook. It’s social media really, but sometimes I get to travel to exhibitions. I’m just always looking for new and interesting things.

What catches your eye?
I look for real classics. It’s a mixture of design and practicality. It’s no good to have something that looks great but doesn’t fit.

Quality is definitely important, but really it’s a mix. Design, quality, comfort. I want to offer frames that are completely unique and unusual – frames that are cutting edge with regards to materials and look. I might buy up a vintage frame because it’s just unlike anything on the market. And of course there are definitely things that I just don’t do, won’t sell.

Like what?
I tend not to do high street. Because you buy that on the high street.

What role do you think eyewear plays in society?
What do I think about eyewear? Well, personally I think it’s probably one of the, if not most, important pieces of fashion you can wear. When you meet somebody, when you talk to somebody, you look at their face. You look in their eyes. How you frame your eyes really represents how you want to present your self.  Eyewear has largely become part of our identity. When you think of certain people, you don’t think of them you think of them with their eyewear. Woody Allen, for example. He’s worn the same glasses his whole life. It’s become part of him.

What sort of advice do you give to someone buying glasses in your store?
Fashion changes. You have to feel comfortable in what you buy. I take into consideration how you’re dressed, what I think will represent how you want to present yourself. But really, a lot of it’s down to the size of your head, how wide the bridge of your nose is. So many different things. Everyone’s different.

A lot of us wear glasses, so it’s pretty interesting to take a moment and realize that some merchants put a lot more thought into selling it then just “What’s hot right now?”. Styles may come and go, but classic eyewear is forever. Kinda like diamonds, minus the whole bloody European-African trade shenanigans.

You can find characteristic eyewear at Catch & Release on Redchurch St. in London or online at their website. The store’s also on Facebook and blogspot.