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Capital Eyewear Makes A Spectacle Out of Handcrafted Frames

Photograph by Jen Siska 

Blessed with perfect eyesight, Steven Kilzer is the sole member of his family unburdened by spectacles, and yet, in a grass-is-greener twist of fate, he’s made a living out of handcrafting eyeglass frames. “I’ve always had a fascination with glasses,” says the 27-year-old, who founded his SoMa-based sunglasses studio, Capital Eyewear, four years ago. “Specs are this weird thing between jewelry and medical device.” Fueled by his extensive research into the history of unusual frame materials (bone, leather, and even real tortoiseshell—officially banned in the 1970s), Kilzer, a formerly computer-enslaved video editor, embarked on this path as a “way to do something more physical.” He originally sought to create wooden rims simply because “you can go to the hardware store and easily find woodworking tools.”

Capital’s current line of iconic silhouettes emerged from an epic trial-and-error process. To remind himself of this arduous experimental phase (“actually, it never ends,” he says), the Montana native keeps a large moving box brimming with thousands of failed frames—some broken, some chipped, some just an undetectable hair off perfection. But for all his diligence, Kilzer, who claims that it takes at least a week to handcraft each pair, has assembled a timeless line of cherry and walnut frames inspired by such silver screen characters as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man, and the Great Depression’s most infamous twosome, Bonnie and Clyde. (To the untrained eye, the last model bears a striking resemblance to the classic Wayfarer, which would also qualify as a tribute to Risky Business’s briefs-baring air guitarist, Joel Goodsen.)

This month, Kilzer is launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new collection of acetate frames. Made from cotton and wood pulp, acetate is prized for its warmth, depth, and flexibility—the very antitheses of injection-molded plastic (aka the stuff of gas station shades). Come summer, the new masterpieces will be perched on the noses of Capital disciples, a discerning group that includes Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey. “Once, I almost got into a car wreck when I saw someone wearing my glasses in the real world,” says Kilzer. “That feeling never gets old.” 

This article was published in 7x7's May 2014 issue. Click here to subscribe.