Style

How a Millennial Is Keeping a 100-Year-Old Eyewear Brand On-Trend

Zack Moscot doubles down on new designs, brick-and-mortar stores for his family’s century-old glasses company.

Moscot uses the archives as a reference for new designs.

Photographer: Victoria Hely-Hutchinson for Bloomberg Businessweek
 

Zack Moscot was not yet 8 years old when he had a screaming tantrum about his professional future. “I don’t wanna join the business!” wailed the fifth-generation member of the family behind Moscot, the venerable New York eyewear company. His great-great-grandfather Hyman Moscot founded the shop in 1915, turning a pushcart stocked with ready-made glasses into an optical landmark known for its bright yellow sign and low-key style. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Zack says, looking back. “I always just created things.”

In middle school he spent weekends working the company phones as a customer-service rep. When he was in high school, his late uncle Kenny, who oversaw design for the brand, showed him “this other side of the business.” Zack studied industrial design at the University of Michigan and graduated in 2013.

Today the 26-year-old is the brand’s chief design officer. He’s charged with ushering the family business into its second century and continuing to charm celebrity clients such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Demi Moore, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who regularly snap up pairs of the company’s $350 shades.

The competition is stiff, well-armed, and largely cheaper: The eyewear landscape is dominated by Luxxotica Group, a maker of frames and sunglasses, and if a $53 billion merger with ophthalmic lensmaker Essilor International SA is approved, the company will control a quarter of the global market. Meanwhile, e-commerce companies such as Warby Parker—which recorded 500 percent growth in 2016—are solidifying their place in the consumer mind as hip. Moscot operates on a smaller but higher plane: Its glasses are better quality and therefore more pricey. (Warby frames start at $95; Moscot’s at $260.) The brand doesn’t chase trends, relying instead on its long history of making eyeglasses to offer the styles people want at any given moment. And while it sells online, it’s also committed to brick-and-mortar outlets despite the retail apocalypse that larger chains are facing.

Moscot’s new Chelsea Market location just north of Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.
Source: Moscot

“There’s no need to visit shops anymore,” Moscot states plainly. “You want to make it something worth taking a train to, something experiential.”

For Moscot, the brand’s key appeal lies in its city heritage. A new location, in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market, is Moscot’s fourth standalone outpost in the city and its eighth worldwide. Sitting in a conference room above the company’s Lower East Side flagship, Moscot ticks off the brick walls, tin ceilings, and other interior-design details that communicate the charm of pregentrified New York.

There are also the bells and whistles that distinguish the Moscot in-person experience. The company is the first to hire a full-time doctor—at the new location—who specializes in computer-vision syndrome, an affliction especially relevant to Moscot’s target clientele, the digitally savvy employees at the nearby offices of Google and YouTube. And a novel gizmo called a “Tint-a-Majig” falls somewhere between a display tool and a delirious toy: Step inside, turn the handle, and test 18 different colors—from denim blue to candy corn—on your face. “It’s kind of steampunk-meets-amusement-park industrial,” Moscot says.

Currently, he’s finishing designs for spring—narrowing a group of 20 frames, all designed by him and inspired by the company’s archives, down to a collection of five that can coexist with long-standing favorites such as the tortoiseshell Miltzen and the Yukel, a riff on horn-rimmed designs.

Moscot working in his office.
Photographer: Victoria Hely-Hutchinson for Bloomberg Businessweek

He also manages collaborations with downtown Manhattan brands defined by their casual approach to urban cool, including Mr Porter, Common Projects, and Freemans Sporting Club. There’s a Moscot concession at Dover Street Market New York, the avant-garde superstore operated by Comme des Garçons, where monthly exclusives include custom tint and frame color combinations.

The common denominator in all these endeavors is to sell a piece of Manhattan, whether it’s close-to-home design language or marketing that assures overseas customers “they’re truly wearing a piece of New York.” Even model names derive from old family in-jokes: The Lemtosh, a “rounder, nerdier” style, got its name from a made-up Yiddish-ism the family uses to tease one another. A new model getting attention this season is the Yente, which Moscot says was named in honor of his gossipy great-aunt Etta.

Other designs of his that are “a little more streamlined and contemporary,” as he puts it, have been unexpectedly strong sellers in middle-of-the-road American markets, where shoppers are more conservative. Europeans favor chunkier frames, whereas fashion types tend toward classics that could have come from Hyman’s pushcart a century ago. “There might be a period where more people are wearing one particular frame,” Moscot says. But the long-term goal is that a frame “doesn’t go out of style.”

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