It’s like a custom suit… for your face!
Next door to the Bronx Brewery in Port Morris, in a warehouse studio crammed with a vintage drafting table, antique tools and piles of water buffalo horn, Wesley Knight, 28, has created an eyebrow-raising niche-within-a-niche business: bespoke horn eyeglass frames.
A single pair of Knight’s glasses take up to six months to make and start at $2,300 (without lenses, and no, he doesn’t take insurance) — but the price goes up depending on the design, which can include precious stones and platinum. He produces just 50 frames a year for ultra-private and particular captains of industry and trendsetters alike.
“One of my clients [a prominent entertainment executive] told me to just express myself creatively,” Knight says of a customer’s initial request. “But I still needed to interpret his aesthetic: the clothes he wears, the art and architecture in his home.” The result was a pair of black-and-white horn rims with a trapezoidal bridge.
He’s based other designs on the architecture of a client’s favorite window and even the wheel of a prized, 1950s-era MG car. Fashion designer Pamella Roland, known for her red-carpet gowns worn by stars such as Eva Longoria and Viola Davis, commissioned a pair inspired by a shade of green featured in one of her collections.
“I like quality things, but I can’t afford a Rolls-Royce,” says Tennessee resident Dennis Mann, 68, who owns three pairs of Knight’s frames. “This is something that people see right away . . . I get comments everywhere I go.”
Knight’s time-consuming and intimate process includes a series of consultations, molds and measurements. It allows him to mask undesirable features, like under-eye bags, and accommodate large bridges, which can make glasses ride high and cover the brow.
“You want to highlight the brow and the cheek bones,” says Knight, a Nashville native who started his eponymous business in 2013 and moved to East Harlem six months ago. He adds that custom frames also improve vision by optimizing where exactly the lens sits in front of the eye.
Knight, who typically wears a pair of vintage-inspired horn glasses that he made for himself, crafts his specs from water buffalo horn, most of it sustainably sourced from India.
“I chose to work with horn because of the romance and the forgotten nature of the material,” he says, noting that it’s lighter than plastic, wicks oil away from the skin and is hypoallergenic.
The few firms that do make personalized eyeglasses today largely outsource the labor or rely on technology to scan the face and create a 3-D model. But Knight uses a 19th-century facial caliper. Along with basic optometry, he studied how to hone horn, create custom nose molds and make wooden prototypes.
Knight has long been obsessed with old-fashioned tailoring, as well as other, more esoteric trades.
“When I was 13, I started sewing my jeans. After that, I was consumed by crafts, like crocheting, leather-working and bookbinding,” he says.
During his time at New College Franklin, a small liberal arts college outside Nashville, Knight apprenticed under bespoke shoemakers at Carréducker in London. It was an experience, he says, that made him prize the close relationship between customer and craftsperson.
Jonathan Swygert, 26, who works for the Flatiron District-based custom suiting shop Knot Standard, found Knight on Instagram. He says that his pair of Knight-made frames are his most significant investment.
“It’s a work of art that’s handmade by this emerging artist just for you. But you also get to wear them all day, every day. They are the best of both worlds,” says Swygert.
Knight says that while he is interested in designing a ready-to-wear line of frames, his made-to-order service will likely remain the core of his business.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing when a client and a maker put their voices together to create something that wouldn’t have existed otherwise,” Knight says.
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