Article and Photos by Kerry Mack
With eyeglasses dating as far back as the mid-1700s, Fabulous Fanny’s, an East Village vintage eyewear shop, leads customers through history – beginning with the Age of Enlightenment and ending with Yoko Ono’s recent purchase. The unassuming shop on East 9th Street is owned by 68-year-old Stanton Blackmer, who says a lengthy list of high-profile and celebrity clients, from Donatella Versace to Joaquin Phoenix, frequent the store.
Blackmer originally worked in the restaurant industry, but at 45 and feeling unfulfilled, he began acquiring antique and vintage goods and selling them at the West 25th Street Flea Market in Manhattan. Although he still sells hats, women’s clothing and jewelry, eyewear has always been his main focus.
“The eyewear was sort of an evolution of things,” explained Blackmer. “It’s helping people out and making them feel better about themselves, whereas any antique just sits there for somebody to admire or brag about.”
After almost a decade of selling from a flea market tent, Blackmer decided to open a shop. He began looking for a storefront in the Theater District since he had forged so many relationships with Broadway costume designers. Landlords, however, were skeptical that a vintage eyewear business could thrive and refused to rent to him.
Fabulous Fanny’s opened in 2001 when a landlord, “took a chance,” on the future of vintage eyewear, according to Blackmer. The name, he said, derives from a scarlet macaw named Fanny owned by a previous partner. “He was a truly magnificent bird,” explained Blackmer, adding: “We would take him to some of the flea markets we worked. And that is how Fabulous Fanny’s began.”
Victoria Garcia, 29, said she had been shopping at Fabulous Fanny’s for about eight years. “Unlike other eyeglass places there is an ease when trying on different frames,” she said of the laid-back atmosphere Blackmer has created. “They don’t rush or pressure you.”
Garcia said she always heads to the back of the store, where the most outrageous frames are kept. “I always find myself trying on at least one of those pairs,” she said.
Among these outrageous glasses are some Blackmer designed himself. After he began dabbling in eyewear design, Yoko Ono urged him to create the line upon seeing a few prototypes. Many are decorated with bejeweled insects. Blackmer enjoys putting nontraditional embellishments on his glasses, particularly ones that women don’t like in real life.
Blackmer’s business model for Fabulous Fanny’s is reflected in his motto: “If you have to wear them…make it fun!” Even with fragile merchandise, the staff encourages customers to have a hands-on experience where they can dig through drawers and scour shelves.
The average price for a pair of frames is about $150. Some run as low as $50, while a diamond-encrusted gold pair, at $10,000, is the highest ticket item. Glasses of all different shapes and sizes fit for everyday use are available in Fabulous Fanny’s, from a classic pair of square black frames to a Lennon-style pair of sunglasses. Outlandish frames with bright colors and glasses shaped like a masquerade mask are on hand as well.
Many of Blackmer’s frames come from Europe, specifically Italy. He says he has built relationships with people all over the world who help him acquire vintage frames.
Blackmer doesn’t consider vintage-inspired eyewear shops like Warby Parker or Moscot competitors, he says, because his store is a one-of-a-kind. One way that it is particularly distinctive is that Fabulous Fanny’s does not sell online.
Fabulous Fanny’s did sell frames online for a few years, but Blackmer decided it a headache. He made the conscious decision not to offer customers the option to buy online anymore because he says it’s imperative to try glasses on.
Some frames from Blackmer’s vintage inspired line, Spectaculars, are pictured online, giving customers an idea of what they might find in-store.
“In our shop we try to guide people into what they seem to want. We don’t pick out a frame and say, ‘This would look great on you.’ We want to know what kind of image you want to convey, what kind of attitude you want to have,” said Blackmer. He added that with online sales, “You don’t get our personality.”
Drew Partikian, 46, an employee, said selling vintage eyewear gave the shop a competitive advantage. “We benefit from decades of creativity,” he said. ‘We’re not tasked to come up with new styles in a year. So, we’re essentially completely creative.”
Warby Parker and Moscot also replace lenses and update prescriptions, which Fabulous Fanny’s does not, referring its customers elsewhere after they’ve chosen a frame. (Moscot has its own eyecare division, Moscot Eyecare, for exams and eye health assessments.) While Warby Parker is known for its affordable frames, Blackmer said he wasn’t concerned with being the most economical.
“We were once known as the cheapest place in New York to get eyeglasses,” he said. “Big mistake. You never want to be known as the cheapest anything! They can take that niche away from me.”
After 13 years of selling from East Ninth Street, Blackmer and his team are unsure of where they will go in a year and half when their lease is up. The building in which they are located is owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, who has been stressing the importance of “progress,” whatever he means by that.