“A lot of the imagery we use is from family vacations and it looks a lot better than it may have ever really been,” says Chris Friel.
For a guy from sunny California, which often gets a bad rap for its head-in-the-clouds attitude, Wonderland Sunglasses owner Friel is realistic about the way his memories of road trips and blue-collar childhood color his aesthetic. During the contemporary menswear tradeshow Agenda, which showed last week in Soho, Friel came over from the west coast and set up shop in two small cubicles, repping his sunglasses brands. Though Wonderland Sunglasses is the newer of the two lines — he also designs Sabre — it holds a deeply personal, newfound place in his heart.
Wonderland takes the bittersweet concept of nostalgia and morphs it into a brand that Friel says he could never have started ten years ago. He and his partner Mark Powell have been in the retail and fashion business for years, Friel on merchandising, Powell on the design side. Only last July did the two dream up Wonderland, which they launched with seven classic styles.
“I think that 10 years ago, Matt and I would not have been comfortable enough we who we are as people to start this line. We’d always wanted to go with that nostalgic theme. We’re both getting to our mid 30s and we feel like, you start to look through the past in rose-colored lenses. We really held onto that. In fact, our first frame had a rose colored lens,” said Friel.
Friel whipped around in his sparsely decorated booth to grab the first pair. With his California tan and chambray shirt, the glasses looked decidedly cool, and not at all feminine despite their unisex appeal.
“I think our customer is looking for timeless styles and subtle updates. We wanted the line to be very wearable.” Wearable with a reasonable price tag, too. Wonderland sells for $120 to $165 per pair.
The glasses are made in Italy, a sacrifice for American craftsmanship that Friel said they forfeited in order to keep prices reasonable. Each pair is handcut acetate of a surprising weight that feels substantial in-hand. All glasses are 100% UVA/UVB, and certain styles are polarized. As Friel emphasized, the styles are easy: Slightly upending cat-eyes on a thicker frame, a traditional wayfarer shape, a pair with a flatline upper frame. A few designs have metalware worked in, but most consist of a single pair of sturdy, one-piece frames. The variation, and hence the fun, arrives in matte versus glossy frames and a colorwheel of lenses from light blue to grey to the trademark pink.
Carried in 40 stores in six countries, including the razor-sharp fashion streets of Japan, Friel seems surprised at their global success so early, but simultaneously wants to keep things scaled down. “This is more of a passion project I suppose,” he admitted. “We had secured trademarks in the key areas that we thought we’d maybe one day grow into, but we started getting approached really early on,” he says on the sudden international interest. The glasses have quite a following on the west coast, where they are sold in tony boutiques like American Rag and Fred Segal. At Agenda, Friel hopes to garner a broader base on both coasts.