Barton Perreira: A Kansas City Native Redefines Eyewear Design
Bill Barton could only stand unemployment for four months. Back in 2006, the Kansas City native had just completed his four-year tenure as president of high-end eyewear brand Oliver Peoples when the company sold to industry giant Oakley. Barton was restless, and in need of a passion project. This time, he wanted to accomplish something he never could while working for someone else: craft the best eyewear in the world. But first, he had to make a phone call.
He needed a partner for his next endeavor—an ambitious and artful collaborator who would raise the standard for the eyewear industry writ large. He called Patty Perreira, a former colleague and designer for Oliver Peoples and the creative force behind what would eventually become luxury eyewear brand Barton Perreira. “I’m her biggest fan,” says Barton. “She’s a fantastic designer. The best work starts with talent.”
Perreira had also decided to leave Oliver Peoples because of the new ownership. However, she also considered leaving eyewear altogether.
“I was done,” says Perreira. “I wanted to do something new, like jewelry. I’d never done that before, and I
wanted to feel challenged again.” Then Barton called.
“I was on vacation when I got the call,” says Perreira. “He was excited—very energetic—and said he wanted to collaborate. When I told him about my jewelry project, he said, ‘Work with me and your voice can be heard,’” she recalls. Barton knew he had to offer Perreira something she couldn’t resist.
“With talent, you’ve got to blow them up—never hold them back,” says Barton. So he asked Perreira a simple question: “What would you design if you had your own collection?”
“That’s when I got excited,” says Perreira. “Suddenly, my brain was like a faucet I couldn’t turn off. I was constantly thinking of the color combinations, textures and techniques that I wanted to explore in jewelry, and wondering how to apply them to glasses.”
Perreira came up with more than 1,000 designs in the six weeks before their first official meeting. “Bill hadn’t seen anything yet, so when I showed him the designs he got really excited.”
“It was like the floodgates had opened for Patty,” says Barton. Among these first designs were the Emmanuelle frame, which later became the basis for the brand’s first collection and their top seller in sunglasses.
“Designers hadn’t used those kinds of details in a long time, so it felt fresh,” Perreira says of her butterfly-shaped designs.
To this day, that’s how Barton and Perreira’s creative process starts: with exhaustive collaboration. They divide each upcoming season by category—whether to introduce new ones, or revive those from seasons past. Barton, whose skills lend themselves to the business side of the operation, doesn’t design himself, but still has creative input on Perreira’s designs.
“Bill jokes that I could take three years off and we’d still have enough designs to keep working,” says Perreira. From the original sketches, Perreira edits down to 50 or 60 drawings per collection. After further editing, they manufacture around 18 to 20, of which only a handful make it to retail.
In the first season, Perreira created a new category of metal frames with inlaid snake, leopard and zebra patterns that went down the temple. “It was a very difficult, expensive technique,” says Barton. “To this day, no one else in the industry does it. When I saw them, I thought ‘Ok, we’re really doing our own thing.’ It was so different from anything else at the time.” Customers and industry experts agreed.
“Eyewear is an oversaturated market,” says Paul Frederick, accessories expert and fashion market director for Du Jour Magazine. “Barton Perreira’s frames were refreshingly clean and modern, while maintaining classic shapes. And just like fine jewelry, they focus on quality and design, not logos or marketing gimmicks.”
Upon its debut in 2008, the brand opened in 150 stores. In its first two months, it brought in $2 million in business with help from its impressive list of retailers, which includes Neiman Marcus, Barneys, Opening Ceremony, Bergdorf Goodman and Jeffrey, among others.
“Eyewear brands don’t usually get to launch in those stores,” says Perreira. “But we had relationships, and they knew the level of our work. Some even bought from the lookbook without samples. That’s really rare.”
Today, the brand also has its own stores in Nashville, Aspen, New York and Kansas City.
Despite selling his product in such upscale boutiques, Barton is a humble, easygoing person who surrounds himself with employees who share his work ethic and passion. A childhood friend of his runs the Kansas City store, located in The Plaza.
“Bill’s never trying to be the cool guy. He has no ego. He’ll pull product and run invoices if need be,” says Perreira, a California native. “That’s very Midwestern to me.”
Barton and his team weren’t the only people excited about this new brand. Within a few years, celebrities like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Lenny Kravitz, Orlando Bloom, Chrissy Teigen, Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga were spotted in Barton Perreira frames, garnering plenty of attention and new business.
Perreira attributes that to Barton’s commitment to making a superior product.
“He said in the first meeting, ‘We’re going to be the best in the world,’” she recalls.
Barton’s entire career has culminated in that decision. With connections from his first job at luxury retailer Optical Shop of Aspen, and his time at Oliver Peoples, he had the connections to start this new line with only the best. The brand’s frames have always been handmade in Japan, where Barton says the highest quality of work can be achieved. He and Perreira always agreed never to release a frame until it was perfect, sometimes taking up to two years to unveil a style.
His Japanese manufacturers—the same ones he’s been using for 30 years—bring Perreira’s complex designs to life using leather detailing, intricate metal inlays and colorful enamels. Many of these were new techniques for Perreira, inspired by her love for jewelry.
Even though Barton successfully tapped into a luxury market, he wanted to be cutting edge in terms of technology, too. It wasn’t enough to just have polarized, scratch-resistant lenses or high-quality acetate and titanium for his frames. Through a newer, more-technical sister brand, Allied Metal Works, the duo wanted to revolutionize eyewear construction, too. They created screwless frames—a closure system that connects the temples to the frame without the weak points that screws create.
“As there are no screws holding the plastic and metal in place, the engineering has to be just right and
done entirely by hand,” says Barton.
These finer details are what get customers excited about the brands, spreading the word and coming back for more. “In a smaller market like Kansas City, you have to give people an amazing experience,” says Barton, a graduate of Pembroke-Country Day—now The Pembroke Hill School—in his hometown. “It’s tougher there with luxury products. You really have to earn your stripes, but I hope we continue to do well there because I love The Plaza. I grew up eight blocks from there.”
Barton attributes his work ethic and attention to detail to his upbringing in Kansas City. He says that although he’s revolutionizing eyewear, he never forgets his origins or the people who inspired him to do his best.
“I left Kansas City at 19, but I still go back to visit family and friends,” he says. “I still feel a strong connection to the Midwest, in general. That’s why that store and that city are so special to me.”
Photography by Attilio D’Agostino
This story originally appeared in ALIVE Issue 3, 2017. Purchase Issue 3 and become an ALIVE member.