A lifelong love affair with playing dress-up has inspired Gregory Grist’s eyewear collection.
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.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s Summer 2023 issue. Find out more here.
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