Gotta Have Soul: KREWE du optic

Take a few steps down Royal Street in the daylight, and you’re sure to see street performers, palm readers with crystal balls, or even a woman playing the baddest electric violin cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Amongst the bustle, we sought out a like-minded brand with a minimal yet impactful presence in “The Quarter.” KREWE du optic is an independent eyewear brand founded and based in New Orleans that produces handmade, iconic-inspired frames with modern panache. At the heart of their ethos is a celebration of individual style, rich with the culture ingrained in the Big Easy.

It took leaving his hometown for KREWE Founder and Creative Director Stirling Barrett to realize the uniqueness of the birthplace of jazz and Mardi Gras. Upon returning to the city in search of soul, Stirling shifted his focus from the line and perspective found in his artistic photography to the line and perspective of eyewear design. For Stirling, inspiration is synonymous with New Orleans. The brand’s name, “krewe” (krü), is representative of the diverse groups of people who come together to parade in celebration of the Carnival season leading up to Mardi Gras. Recently moving the design studio above KREWE’s Royal Street storefront has heightened the brand’s New Orleans spirit. “Now that we have the design studio in the French Quarter, being down there with the balcony windows open and hearing the sounds of the city has really reinvigorated the New Orleans design aesthetic.”

The style and quality of their frames is what first attracted us to KREWE. Each pair of frames is handmade using small, globally-sourced suppliers with the intention of being both fashion-forward and comfort-conscious. Stirling’s insight to the production process echoes the Ledbury approach:

The goal is to continue to make the most high-quality product in a small batch process. And to do that, we have to find the world leaders of small-batch acetates, German hinges or gold-plating suppliers. Quality comes from people who care about what they’re making, and those are the people who we want to find: people that care about the process and doing everything the best way possible to make the best quality product. That’s what really matters to us and that’s how we find our quality.

We had the chance to catch up with Stirling to hear what else is inspiring KREWE’s collections, which frames are must-haves and, of course, how best to spend a day in New Orleans.

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What else is influencing your collections right now? Any artists, writers or musicians inspiring you personally, or your collections?

I’ve been really digging on a lot of Delta Blues lately — that’s been on rotation in the morning —  and I’m sure that’ll find it’s way in sooner rather than later. But really, I’ve been traveling so much. I’m visiting a lot of different cities and making it a focus to go check out cool shops and coffee bars, so travel without a doubt has been part of that influence. How travel relates to home has been the overarching question I’ve been working through. Actually executing on designs is very short for me. I keep it in my head for months and then it’ll come out on paper in two days. And I don’t know if that’s normal because I don’t know other people’s design process, but traveling and those things just work their way into it through that process. I’m always churning stuff in my head.

When you are home, what’s your morning routine like? Where do you get coffee?

I try to get up so I can get 20 minutes to an hour of exercise, whether that’s a 5k or an hour of yoga or something. And then, post-exercise, it’s straight to the office. We have Merchant in the lobby, so I’ve been on a “dry double cap kick with a croissant” for breakfast. And that’s going on two weeks — I’m not sure if it’s affecting my waistline yet, but we’ll find out.

How about on the weekends?

My weekend morning ritual: still a little bit of exercise, walking or biking through the city to the store to grab a coffee in the courtyard, or heading over to HiVolt or Zola in the bywater for a coffee. If I really have a free day in the city, it’s Sunday funday on the bike, hopping from restaurant, to bar, to coffee bar and just exploring and enjoying the city. That’s my favorite way to see New Orleans.

Is the best way to see New Orleans on bike?

Oh, there’s not even another way. We’re actually working on this little guide for the store that’s a biking/walking guide to the city. I’m so stoked about it.

What are two frame styles that are must-haves for every man?

Without a doubt, Franklin. Franklin is a classic silhouette with either silver or 24k gold bridge. It is extremely comfortable with just enough funk to be noticed without being noticed – standing out while fitting in, which is why I love that frame.

And then Huey, a single-bridge aviator. That’s been my new frame of choice.

Shop KREWE du optic online or visit their Flagship Store, located at 809 Royal St., New Orleans.

Photos by the ever-talented Adam Ewing. Check out Adam’s website here and be sure to follow him on Instagram for rad motorcycles and shots behind-the-scenes on location with the Ledbury crew.

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