10 questions: Johnnie Rousso, Athens

Coming from a family of opticians, Johnnie Rousso was always destined to travel down the optical career path. Since its establishment in 2016, his eponymous, bar-themed boutique has become widely regarded as one of Europe’s premier optical stores. Eyestylist speaks to the eccentric, extroverted founder and visionary following a personal visit to the store in Athens in February 2022…

1. Tell us a little about yourself, and the career path you’ve taken to where you are today? So, I’m an optometrist with a BSc from Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge, where I studied from 2001 to 2005. I worked there for a year as well, in the city centre’s Boots Opticians; that was my first experience of working as an optician and in the optical world in general. I then moved to New York in 2005 and stayed until 2010. There, I pursued an MSc from NYU in International Business while working full time as a retail salesperson, going on to become a manager in the years to follow.

This environment introduced me to the world of fashion and business at the same time and, of course, the vibrant and diverse lifestyle of New York inspired me – it continues to inspire me still. Next, I moved to Greece until 2016 when Johnnie Rousso opened its doors to the public. My team and I developed the business plan of what we wanted our store to be, and implemented the final idea of the Optical bar. Six years later, Johnnie Rousso is recognised across the industry as a bespoke optical store as well as for its services in behavioral optometry.

2. You seem like an incredibly extroverted and creative person, did you always envision yourself going into eyewear? Firstly, yes – I guess I am a people’s person! Secondly, also yes – I come from a family of opticians, my late father was an optician, so the idea of progressing within this field came naturally, but my love of retail began in New York. I realised that I loved meeting and coming into contact with people, something that has always been interesting to me, and it is very embedded in the culture of this city. Above: Johnnie Rousso wears the Drake by In Barberia – Bottega Ottica

Bespoke eyewear: Drake by In Barberia (Treviso) – available at the Athens store

3. In the store you have created an amazing opportunity for bespoke frames made in Treviso, Italy. Tell us more…In the first lockdown of 2020 I first made contact with my colleagues Marco and Antonio from In Barberia – a fantastic shop in Treviso, Italy. Even though we couldn’t meet in person at the time, our passion for eyewear and our similar business philosophies brought us together. So, we started collaborating on this very unique project. Making acetate frames from scratch and satisfying every customer’s need in sizing and colours is very important, but also very difficult to satisfy in today’s environment.

Although handmade frames are available quite easily, handcrafting eyewear from scratch is a forgotten craft due to the impossibility of satisfying today’s market.

So, the collaboration with In Barberia Treviso gave us the opportunity to offer this fantastic service to our customers who want something really unique, completely handcrafted and made to their own specified needs. It’s a really great project to be part of and I am very proud to be involved.

Johnnie Rousso’s Athens store: the main entrance

4. Your website speaks a lot of your experience in both New York and London, why did you choose to start your venture in Athens when you felt so inspired by these two cities? Athens is my hometown, it’s where I grew up and lived until I was 18 years old. It’s becoming a very cosmopolitan city and the decision to be here in the city center came naturally as a result of our need to be international, conveniently located and diverse.

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5. Your approach to social media marketing is more ‘out there’ than a lot of other companies, you tend to go down a personal / comedic route, why did you make this decision? Well, I generally find social media in our field very “sterilized”, if I can refer to it that way. We all take ourselves too seriously sometimes, and I believe in a more fun approach when it comes to marketing. I believe this is more memorable and at the same time more entertaining for people to watch and interact with. It’s also based on the fact that we are opticians and we are selling glasses, I don’t believe that’s something that sparks people’s interest enough to engage in videos on its own. To watch content that is spontaneous, though, is more intriguing, especially since we always post the first take of the video and upload it as raw as it can be.

The stylish interior of the store was designed by Darch Studio

6. In outlining your process for meeting clients and finding their perfect frame, you lean heavily on the personal aspect – an emphasis on the coffee / drink to discuss wants and needs – of the customer / salesperson relationship. Why do you think this is such an important part of your process? Customer experience is always key in selling anything, and luxury eyewear is no different. The clients have to feel comfortable first and foremost, this is why we started the design of the store with a bar. In a good, elegant bar you stay to relax, to meet people, to have a drink, chat away and enjoy. We wanted the same energy to radiate throughout our store. Even the lighting is dimmer than usual stores, the music is bar-like and of course we serve drinks and coffee as part of the experience. This relaxes the senses, takes the guard down and brings us closer to our customers. We build their trust through this process before moving on to discuss eyewear, then they can choose the best frame to suit their needs.

7. What do you look for when selecting a brand / frame to stock in store? We select labels based on their philosophy, as well as taking the people behind the brand into consideration. We don’t care about “brand names” and what is “popular” or not. We are only interested in originality and design, that’s where we find our inspiration.

8. Do you include a selection of vintage frames? We have a few collectible vintage frames in store which are not really for sale; they are part of our archive. I strongly admire the many advantages of vintage collections, and that has to do with quality and originality most of the time. Nowadays, many brands try to copy instead of being original. This bothers me, so we are very careful to avoid stocking new labels like this when we choose a contemporary brand. We need to be inspired, so that we in-turn inspire our friends and customers alike.

9. If you had to select one frame that symbolises the typical Johnnie Rousso customer what frame would that be and why? There are a few to choose from, but if I have to choose, it would be the Cazal 607. Why? Because of the history of its creator and designer Cari Zalloni alongside the entire story behind this fantastic model. I have to mention Kuboraum, though, due to the immense inspiration we are getting from our Italian friends, Livio and Sergio. Their first model A with the comet-like stones and burnt texture is massively influential to us, too.

As worn by Johnnie Rousso: Jean Paul Gaultier vintage sunglasses (left) and the 607 Cazal sunglasses (right)

10. What frames are you wearing today? I like to own many frames, but I mainly wear the Drake model from In Barberia Treviso, the Cazal 607 (of course!) and a vintage Jean Paul Gaultier Junior frame (pictured above) among many, many others. For more information about the store visit https://johnnierousso.gr/en/

An interview by Victoria G. L. Brunton exclusively for Eyestylist.com. All rights reserved.