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Fancy a new pair of frames?

Shop like Elton at Toronto’s Rapp Optical

Mel Rapp's father-in-law models some of Rapp's frames. Credit: Edward Gajdel

Tired of your boring Ray-Ban glasses? You’re not the only one. A glasses store in Toronto has declared war on ordinary eyewear.

Rapp Optical stands out from other stores with its eye-catching and avant-garde window displays. Inside the shop at 788 College St, hundreds of frames are showcased, each more fabulous than the last.

The store’s owner, Mel Rapp, says his interest in frame design came about from his boredom with the eyewear industry.

“[When I first started] I was very excited and interested in contributing to the world of optics. To my horror, everything was straight and boring. [There was] no colour, no shape, no inventiveness, no ingenuity, no balls to try anything different . . . I realized nothing was happening,” Rapp says.

He decided to take frame design into his own hands, opening his College Street shop almost 31 years ago. His storefront is known for its striking posters, including a recent design that featured gay and lesbian couples hand-in-hand.

“The posters were created to create an awareness that the world is diversified and that people can not live in their own little bubbles,” Rapp says. “The world is a very vibrant, diverse universe. We came up with this idea . . . to show there is a universal symbol of love when two human beings touch. But I . . . was coming from a man/woman perspective . . . my wife looked at it and said, ‘Mel, why don’t you have a man with man and woman with woman?’ It was a good call.”

He says he received lots of positive feedback about the posters.

“It’s nice when you can send out a political message alongside the commercial message but without proselytizing. I hope we’ve done that. I’m not trying to convert anybody, but I am trying to illuminate that the world is grander than they think it is.”

His previous posters have featured an older man in drag, photographed by Edward Gajdel (see slideshow above).

“It’s my favourite image. I want to keep using them, but everyone tells me I can’t, that I need to keep changing,” Rapp says. “But we’re going to use him again, I think. We’ve bought some furs and some jewels. We’re going to make him a little more glamorous.”

In addition to the shop, Rapp also owns an eyewear factory in which he creates larger quantities of his products for shipping to optical stores across the globe. He currently exports to China, South Korea, Australia, Israel, France, Italy, Switzerland and the US.

Because of the success of his exports, Rapp won an Ontario Business Achievement Award. The government gives the award to Ontario manufacturers who increase exports and jobs for the province. “This is my academy award,” Rapp says.

In addition to the award, he is proud to say he’s sold glasses to Elton John.

In the mid-1990s, John shopped at LA Eyeworks, an American optical store that carries some of Rapp’s frames. He purchased five pairs of Rapp’s glasses. About a decade later, John revisited the store and bought a set of Rapp’s glasses that he wore on the cover of Rolling Stone in February 2011.

“It was quite an honour,” Rapp says.

Interestingly, he designs his eyewear without visible labels to advertise the business. “I don’t believe when a consumer is spending a lot of money on a pair of eyeglasses that the consumer should be wearing a label advertising that company. Unless that company pays them,” he says.

When it comes to his company, Rapp says he’s proud of several virtues. “We are true to the creative spirit. We want our frames made in Canada. We want to fabricate a functional, well-made, well-crafted, beautiful frame that will last for years,” he says. “Besides that, we want to have a lot of fun when we're working.”