Wooden Specs | What Are You Wearing? | Chicago Reader

Wooden Specs 

Scott Urban, 24, fashions eyeglass frames out of wood and old records. They're available through his Web site, urbanspectacles.com. Basic designs are $400; custom work starts at $500.

You started out just making frames for yourself. Why?

Optical shops have always been really stuffy to me; I can't stand the way there's a salesman right in front of you while you're trying things on. I used to wear my dad's glasses but I kept cracking them. I was out at some bar--I pretend that I breakdance, it's really obnoxious--and my glasses went flying off my face and cracked. Then I tried contacts, but they were horrible. And for me to go out and spend, what, 200 bucks on new frames wasn't really an option. So I finally decided, all right, I'm gonna make them the way I want them to be.

What woods do you use?

Lignum vitae: it's one of the densest on earth. Tulipwood's a popular look, a really gorgeous kind of blond. People seem to be enjoying darker woods or ones with a reddish tint lately.

And the idea for the record frames came later?

I saw [Plastic Crimewave Sound front man] Steve Krakow and wanted him to wear a pair, like an advertisement, so I sorta lied to him and said I made a pair for my brother out of records, just to spark his interest. And then I was like, wow, that's a good idea--I'm gonna try that. I thought it was gonna be a little goofy, but they turned out much sleeker and cleaner than I expected. I've just been eating away at records I bought as a joke, cutting them into pieces, putting layers of epoxy between them, and clamping it. Overnight it cures and then I have a thicker piece.

Won't they melt in the heat?

If you leave them in a hot car or something, maybe.

You offer your own styles, but you also do custom designs for clients. How does that work?

I'll ask people to give me an idea of some kind of design they like, use that as a starting point, and give them options. I encourage the crazy ideas. This one guy, a yogi, he wanted goggles where no sunlight entered except through the lenses, which are made of mica. He meditates with them to get a new perception of light, a new vision of sorts.

What are some of your other customers like?

One lady in New York, she dresses up and cuts paper hats for people like Bill Gates at parties, so she wants a pair that looks like scissors. I spoke with a doctor who was really into what I was doing, but he was like, "I think my patients just wouldn't have it." It's different--you're not going to blend in. Artists have a huge interest in what I'm doing, but they can't really afford it, so I accept payment in the form of a portrait of myself.

We have to mention that you shaved the top of your head to make it look like you're bald.

I like to look goofy, I guess. I like that old-man look.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/A. Jackson.

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