Photography by Lawrence Cortez
A lifelong love affair with playing dress-up has inspired Gregory Grist’s eyewear collection.
Date May 29, 2023
Gregory Grist doesn’t need glasses. At least, not really. “My prescription is so negligible that they just prevent me from having headaches,” he laughs. So why does he currently have 200 pairs of eyewear in his Toronto apartment? It’s a long story.
Grist has always loved to play dress-up. “Growing up, there were a lot of costumes and giant foam heads in our house,” he shares. “We’ve always been a wacky family, and I think that really sparked my creativity.” After high school, the collector moved from his hometown in Nova Scotia to Southern Ontario to pursue a career in fashion design before pivoting to visual merchandising. But it wasn’t until 2011 and an impromptu job offer at Optical Outlook, an eyewear boutique in Yorkville, that his obsession truly took off, and he’s been there ever since.
At first glance, Grist’s collection looks chaotic: a mismatch of metals and plastic crammed into an antique armoire that looks about to burst. But upon closer inspection, you can see that there’s a method to the madness. Listing Princess Diana and Italian Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Simone Marchetti as his fashion inspirations, Grist describes his style as “floral, skeezy and precious” and admits to having a soft spot for aviators and Elton John-esque silhouettes from the late ’70s and early ’80s. As such, the sunnies that started his stockpile are by Betsey Johnson. “They’re white with Swarovski crystals all over — so very everyday,” Grist laughs.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have a few classics. Grist has everything from cat-eyes to clubmasters from various designers like Chanel, Dior, Kenzo and Saint Laurent and cites Emmanuelle Khanh as his go-to brand. He just prefers to be more playful. “Now that I have all the standards, I can experiment,” he explains. Of course, Grist has some sunglasses on his wish list, like a pleated pair from Issey Miyake and mechanical-inspired spectacles from Jean Paul Gaultier. But most of his purchases are based on an emotional reaction. “I’m at that point where I’m no longer looking for something specific,” he says. “I’m looking for a feeling.” A feeling he can’t put into words: “I don’t know…. It just feels right.”
The same applies to getting dressed. Grist reveals that he thinks of eyewear as the “finishing touch” to an outfit and chooses his clothing first. In the case of indecision, he says, it’s not uncommon for him to carry multiple pairs of sunglasses in his bag at any given time. He’ll even go so far as to arrive at work wearing one style and leave wearing another after a spontaneous purchase. “Once I figured out that glasses add an extra dimension and elevate an outfit, I was like, ‘OK, I need 800 of them,’” he laughs.
Besides Grist being a self-proclaimed “glutton for options,” his lifelong love of playing dress-up keeps him coming back for more. “Each one is like a different character,” he explains. “I like to keep people guessing. I like it when people don’t recognize me. It’s almost like wearing a mask. I put a pair of sunglasses on and I’m like a celebrity — no pictures, please.” [Laughs]
Click through the gallery to see more of Gregory Grist’s eyewear collection.
Brown or Bust
Grist doesn’t wear a lot of black. “I’m very fair, so I don’t want to look too severe,” he shares. Instead, he opts for lighter alternatives like brown, navy or tortoiseshell, such as this pair of floral-adorned Pradas.
“They love to chew the ends of my glasses,” Grist says of his two cats. “There are a couple in my collection that now have little nibble marks at the back, so when I get home, my eyewear immediately goes back in the cabinet.”
Tired of these wooden frames looking a bit basic, Grist decided to take matters into his own hands. “I liked the colours in one of my shirts, and I happened to have paint that matched, so I gave these glasses a little splash.”
Why have one when you can have three? Grist explains that this Emmanuelle Khanh style has become his signature look — hence the duplicates. “Good design is timeless and works with everything,” he says.
In addition to his eyewear collection, Grist has accumulated a fair amount of combs, and these Emmanuelle Khanh x Maitrepierre sunnies marry the two. “When I had my long hair, they kept it brushed back,” he shares. “They’re equal parts novelty and functional.”
The self-proclaimed “eternal consumer” purchased these heart-shaped Saint Laurent spectacles the day before the photo shoot. “As fashions change, I’m always going to need a new pair of sunglasses to wear,” he reflects.
While Grist sources most of his sunnies from Optical Outlook, he found these Dior ones in perfect condition, with their original packaging, in the back alley behind his old apartment. “Sorry, but finders keepers losers weepers,” he laughs.
Cabinet Of Curiosity
Where does one store 200 pairs of glasses? In a compact cabinet, of course. “I don’t usually keep the cases,” the collector reveals. “I have little sleeves that I’ll put them in when I’m going from point A to point B.” But for the long term, he stows his sunnies in a vintage armoire in his room.
Grist originally bought these pink Kenzo frames for his partner. However, he admits to borrowing them on more than one occasion. “They have a slight hint of skeeziness to them, which matches my style.”
Grist had a hard time finding these Chanel sunnies. After they sold out, he badgered the brand to find him another pair. What makes these aviators worth fighting for? “They have a flip-up mirror, so you can check yourself out when you take them off,” he says with a smile. “I love them!”
This article first appeared in FASHION’s Summer 2023 issue. Find out more here.
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