When any Australian hears the name Alex Perry, it’s rather difficult to not immediately think about his notable and downright impressive career.
Becoming one of the country’s most quintessential tastemakers in the fashion industry, Perry’s namesake brand has spent the last 30 years shaping how women see themselves through their wardrobe.
And while his internationally-acclaimed fashion label continues to blow the attire-motivated away, Perry has simultaneously spent the past 10 years working to apply those same design principles for Specsavers.
It’s easy to assume that his three decades of experience in the fashion industry was what shaped his successful foray into eyewear, but what some may not know is that so much more has gone into shaping his design ethos and the man himself.
Speaking to marie claire Australia about his limited-edition collection in celebration of his 10 years with Specsavers, he opens up about what—and more importantly who—shaped his career, his favourite A-list moments and his go-to technique for finding the perfect pair of specs in store, minus the awkward mirror moment.
Alex’s partnership with Specsavers is hardly news. In fact, after such a long reign with one of the country’s leading optical specialists, it’s difficult to imagine the brand without the fashion designer’s design touch. So, it comes as no surprise that Alex has enjoyed finding the balance between working on fashion and eyewear.
“It’s a balance between what real people want, giving them some fashionability and not making it too exclusive for that,” Alex explained about his namesake eyewear.
As for how he balances his design talents across attire and eyewear, his answer is simple.
“The principles are the same. I remember one of the first things that I noticed when we first started talking with Specsavers. I looked at the different samples and I opened them up and they creaked. It felt not nice, whereas there were other samples that we looked at in stores that felt great.”
Much like engaging in his tactile senses when sourcing fabrications for his fashion brand, he explains that all of his products need to “feel a certain way”.
“That’s what makes it feel like it’s quality and expensive and same with the glasses. Very similar process in just choosing fabrics. If they’re too light and they’re acetate, that’s not good. But if they’re titanium and they’re light, then that’s great. It’s still the same design process, just [a little] different.”
“Your prime directive is going to be the same, you know, to look beautiful, fit really well, be expensive-looking and that comes down to touch.”
Any of us who are either visually impaired or simply love sun protection (or both), know the struggle to find a pair of spectacles that suits your face perfectly. Not only does Alex relate to the struggle—and the awkward in-store try-ons—but he let us in on his go-to trick to finding your perfect pair.
“Usually the lighting is not great [in store]. When you’re looking at yourself in the mirror with the glasses, you’re not looking at the glasses. You’re looking at your skin and your hair, you feel tired, you’re not actually doing the job at hand.”
“I know that there are rules, if you’ve got a square face, you should wear this. Try it on, don’t do it with a whole heap of people, it’s too confronting. They usually just tell you what they like, not what looks good on you. Trust somebody at the store, because they’re really good at doing it.”
“My best thing is to take a selfie. Go to the front of the shop, where the light is nice, take a selfie with the pairs that you like, and then leave. Go have a coffee and have a look at them.”
“It takes the confrontation away about you looking in the mirror and looking at the lines on your face, or whatever else is going on. You can sit there and go, ‘Oh, that frame looks good on me’. It gives you objectivity about what it is. It’s such a simple thing, we’re used to taking selfies. But for this, have a look at it out of that environment and go, ‘Yep, I love these’ and go back. Works every time.”
Spending a decade committed to anything is no small feat. For Alex, that means a lot of eyewear, so naturally, we wanted to know which pair from his portfolio he still has his eye on (pun completely intended).
“I love an animal print. It’s kind of like it’s like a little black dress for me, it’s a classic. It was just part of my DNA for Specsavers,” he says.
“We’ve done things like a warm rose gold clear, see-through acetate with rose gold details. People love it when I do a little bit of a sparkle,” Alex explains, detailing the “little diamontees” that are placed strategically as little hidden details to “make the frame special”.
“There’s a pair, they’re reading glasses and they’re a black frame. And there’s a zebra pattern but it’s on the inside of the frame, you know it’s there, you see it when you’re picking up the glasses. It’s like a black evening gown but with a fuchsia lining.”
“I think it’s a really beautiful detail. I’m a maximalist and I’m always over the top. […] I feel like this is my design philosophy.”
But aesthetics aren’t all that makes his frames as special as they are, it’s their diversity-supported design that sees them appeal to the masses.
“It’s going to suit a lot of people, a lot of colourings like blondes, redheads, brunettes, fair skin, dark skin, you know.”
He continues, “It’s not like just something that’s so distinctive that only a few people can wear. It’s a huge business and it services a lot of women and a lot of men, so you got to find things that are going to look good on a lot of different people.”
“It’s like your level of confidence, and just doing things that can be worn by lots of different people in different ways.”
“We’ve got girls that buy the Alex Perry men frames, and the sunglasses [they will] put reading lenses in them. I do it all the time, my reading glasses are the Aviators that I did. So many girls buy the boys’ frames, and so many boys buy the girls’ frames, it’s getting to a really good inclusive place.”
In Alex’s impressive 30-year career, he’s seen an array of famous faces sport his work. In fact, it all started with Australian actress Noni Hazlehurst.
“She was the first person I ever dressed. When I had my first shop in [the Sydney suburb of] Kensington and she was the first celebrity I’d ever met. She was going to the Logies, I remember I made her look great,” Alex recalls.
“I love it for a minute. I’m usually sitting on the couch in my PJs, watching TV, and then somebody posts something and it’s like, you know, Hailey Bieber. I just laugh because it’s so glamorous, like they’re somewhere and I’m literally in my PJs watching Netflix. I feel like a superstar for about five minutes, and then I’m over it and like ‘Okay, who’s next?’ [laughs].”
“I watched this movie the other day, it’s called The 355, and Jessica Chastain and Fan Bingbing, and there’s this big scene where she comes out and she’s wearing one of my dresses. And I was like, literally on the couch in my pajamas.”
“She looked incredible and I internally—I don’t talk about it—but when I’m sitting on the couch, I go, ‘That’s pretty great’. I’m here and that’s happening.”
But while he’s proud of the It-crowd he’s worked with, his focus has always been to make women feel great.
“That has always been my prime directive to make you feel great, especially when it counts. I have always tried to do that, make women feel great, feel confident—not empowered, it’s such an overused word.”
He continues, “When you feel great, your confidence levels go up, you are far more engaging, your energy is up and it attracts really good other energy from people.”
Naturally, many would put Alex’s success down to talent and personal determination. But for the designer, he admits that his work ethic is what shaped his career—and it’s all thanks to his parents.
“My parents gave me an insane work ethic. Mum was born here of immigrant parents, my dad immigrated here. He had literally 20 pounds, a suitcase and he built a life, he found a woman he loved and he had the family.”
“Both of my parents are my absolute heroes because they did everything for us and I watched how hard they’d work. Like we needed a new fridge and mum and dad couldn’t afford it. So, mum went and got a night job packing boxes at Johnson and Johnson until there was enough money to buy the fridge.”
“I have this insane work ethic that has shaped everything. You just got to get in there and do it and that gives you longevity, as well.”
Looking back on his career, it’s difficult to see if he’s ever put a foot wrong. However, Alex explained that not everyone has been supportive of his choices, but listening to his gut-instinct made all the difference.
“I’ve never had a business plan. If something is presented to me, I’ll either have a good feeling or a bad feeling about it. It’s just the way it works with me. People will give me an idea and as they’re saying it to me, I’ll go ‘Yeah, no, this is not for me’, or ‘Yep. This is good’.”
“Everybody was saying to me, ‘Oh my God, you can’t’, [about Specsavers]. They’re brutal, especially in Sydney. Like ‘You can’t make cheap glasses and you’re going to put your name on that?’. And it’s like, ‘No, no, I don’t think that you’re right. I’ve got a good feeling about this’.”
Ultimately, what most Australians (with a penchant for fashion) are eager to know is exactly where Alex sees his namesake brand heading next. And thankfully, he’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. In fact, he’s never been more content with where the brand is now.
“I’m going to sound really egotistical now, but it’s everywhere that I want it to be. I’ve just hit every luxury department store worldwide that I’ve ever wanted to be in. The validation has come as a fashion brand from everywhere else in the world.”
“Getting into Bergdorf Goodman was my bucket list of like, ‘God, I just, I want to be hanging there one day’. Neiman Marcus has been incredible, Selfridges, Net-A-Porter, we are kicking it a lot of those platforms.”
When it comes to the fashion industry, Alex is a seasoned professional. So, in a time when ‘girlbossing’ and launching side hustles are all the rage, the designer believes that those “jumping on the bandwagon” should rethink whether it’s the right career move for them.
“I think the challenge is for a lot of people that don’t know what to do. They’re trying to do other stuff rather than, [staying] in your lane. All these people all of a sudden, ‘I’m doing like activewear’ […] You just want to jump on that bandwagon and do something that P.E Nation is literally doing so incredibly well, and you think, ‘Oh, let me go and do that as well’.”
“I can do it too, [but] I don’t live and breathe those, I don’t know the philosophy that Pip [Edwards] has, which is brilliant. It’s her thing, you know?”
He continues, “Same with people trying to jump into my categories, but I got 30 years on this, it’s what I love and what I’m really good at doing. Stay in your lane, work hard, whatever your core values are, grab onto those.”
“If you’re doing okay, you’ll weather it, you’ll get through it.”
The Alex Perry Limited Edition collection is available in Specsavers online or in stores nationally now, with prices starting from $199 for two pairs single vision.