How Geek-Chic Glasses Pioneer Moscot’s Lemtosh Frames Became So Cool

With help from Johnny Depp and a slew of celebs

A few years ago, a customer walked into the Moscot eyeglasses shop on West 14th Street in New York with an interesting story. The man had just returned from St. Tropez, where he'd spotted Johnny Depp in a cafe, and (somewhat rudely) approached the star to ask what glasses he was wearing. Depp, annoyed, took off his frames and tossed them on the table. 

Nick Ferrari

And there it was, printed right on the inside of the acetate arm: Lemtosh.

When Moscot's chief designer Zachary Moscot heard this story, he wasn't surprised—though he was amused. As the fifth generation Moscot to helm the legendary New York eyewear brand and store, Zack will tell you that these frames have been a best-seller for over half a century. That said, however, "Lemtosh has been renowned ever since Johnny Depp started wearing them," Moscot added.

Storefront and Zachary Moscot: Courtesy Moscot; Depp: Antony Jones/Getty Images

In  fact, it's not an exaggeration to say that Moscot's Lemtosh—a pioneer of geek chic—might just be the coolest pair of frames ever created. Its famous Hollywood fans include Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiefer Sutherland, Josh Hartnett, Paul Rudd, 50 Cent and Jeff Goldblum (to name a few); and its less-famous fans include the fans of those fans. It doesn't take a marketing degree to understand that multiplier effect. Yet Lemtoshes are also big with people with a distinctive personal style who don't give a damn about celebrities at all. "The silhouette is a perfect combination of round and square," Moscot said. "You can wear it with a suit or a white T-shirt. It's never gotten old, but it's not trendy. It's just stable—like wingtip shoes." 

 

Lemtosh frames have a lineage just as rich as wingtips, too. Shortly after passing through Ellis Island in 1899, Hyman Moscot began selling eyeglasses from a pushcart on the Lower East Side. Moscot opened his first store in 1915. Lemtosh frames appeared in Moscot's offerings after WWII, when Buddy Holly and James Dean popularized the cat's-eye style. And what's the deal with that name? It's Yiddish, and has no literal translation. "My great-grandfather would pick on my father, and call him a lemtosh," Moscot said.

Moscot wasn't then (and isn't today) the only brand that made frames that look like this, but the brand's New York lineage gives it an authenticity that, over time, has made it the brand of choice for artists, writers, musicians and actors.

Which is where Depp enters the picture. In 2004, the stylist for the film Secret Window contacted Moscot to procure frames for Depp's character Mort Rainey. After the shoot wrapped, Depp never took his Lemtoshes off. Zack Moscot's very happy to have customers like Depp, but—as befits any craftsman with famous clients—he's pretty casual about it. Celebrities, he says, "are just people who like our brand. We don't treat them any differently from anyone."

This story first appeared in the October 10, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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