“No, those are knockoffs,” says the peddler, who has been in the vintage-sunglass business for 40 years and is quite a character in her own right. “No, they aren’t,” Bernstein deadpans back matter-of-factly, calling out the peddler on her own merchandise. “They are real Persols,” he says. And just like that, Bernstein, a.k.a. the Sunglass Pimp, has let it be known that he is not to be questioned on his near-encyclopedic knowledge of vintage eyewear dating as far back as the seventeenth century. “What’s your name?” the peddler asks. “Jack,” he answers.
“I’ve heard about you,” she says, nodding her head.
BERNSTEIN RUNS JACK’S Eyewear on a block of La Brea Avenue that’s known for its cutting-edge streetwise fashions. The whole block is a hipster magnet. The store has an inconspicuous sign, and patrons must be buzzed in due to the paparazzi who often follow Jack’s high-profile clientele. Inside, the shop looks much like every other optician’s abode; rows and rows of sunglasses stare back at you as you comb the wares for a pair that won’t make you feel like a nitwit, which in Los Angeles, is a tall order for the average Joes and Janes who might want to just protect their eyes from the perils of UVA/UVB rays, not anchor the tragically hip on the bridge of their noses. But patrons here are not average. Bernstein is the go-to optician of choice -- for shades as well as for regular glasses -- for just about every celebrity who has ever graced the pages of Us Weekly.
Brad Pitt, Gwen Stefani, Beyoncé, Fergie, Matt Dillon, John Travolta, Kevin Spacey, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Paxton, Mary J. Blige, Goldie Hawn, Sharon Stone, Usher, and the boys from Maroon 5 all shop at Jack’s. They come here for vintage Diors, Cazals, Alpinas, Ray-Bans, Porsches, and Playboys (did you know they made sunglasses?), which Bernstein scours the globe for. Once he finds them, he refurbishes them with original factory parts (which he’s collected over the years), cleans them, soups up the lenses, and reshapes and/or otherwise pimps them out, turning them into one-of-a-kind works of optical art that shield the pursued from the blinding flashbulbs of the paparazzi like bulletproof Plexiglas surrounds a Louvre masterpiece. His markup depends on the glasses but can top 800 percent.