After success at running Fashion Optical, Morgan Gianni sets his sights on a new path: Designing an eyewear line

FROM DRAWING BOARD TO YOUR FACE | Gianni started out sketching frames inspired by specific clients; two years later, the finished products are for sale at his shop, Fashion Optical.

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

If you’ve ever asked somebody local where they got their really cool eyeglasses, chances are good their response will be Fashion Optical. Already a mainstay in the gay business community, the Oak Lawn optical shop has become a favorite of some of Dallas’ best-known celebs, from TV stars to football players to fashion icons and debutantes.

Every frame in the store’s vast selection of hip and trendy eyewear is handpicked for each client from one man, who can almost instantly match a client by the perfect pair when they walk through the door.

Having a flair for fashion has always been a part of who Morgan Gianni is. As the only boy in clothing construction class in high school, he knew he was different. But he also knew he was good, and any adversity he experienced only made him stronger and more determined.

“I marched to my own drummer,” he says with a laugh.

In 2006, he and his partner, optometrist Randy Atwood, added the optical shop next door to their just-leased optometrist office and combined the two into one venture: Fashion Optical. Within five years, they amassed more than $7 million in sales, thanks to the ability of customers to see the eye doctor, pick out frames and have their complete glasses manufactured all in the same place.

Fashion Optical has become one of the top places in the city to pick up unique frames from unique and edgy designers like Alexander McQueen, Versace, Emilio Pucci, Tom Ford and Alain Mikli. But this year, a new designer line debuted that will forever change the store’s future — and the destiny of Gianni himself, who designed each and every one.

The m.GIANNI Collection is already selling fast, though the design and manufacturing process has been going on for well over a year.

The first two collections, Gianni says, will all be sunglasses, but expansion into traditional eyewear is the next logical progression. To create the line, Gianni often imagined specific friends and clients while working on the designs, even naming them after his inspirations. Utilizing the highest quality Mazzucchelli acetate, each frame is handmade in Japan. Unique color combinations and high-fashion accents like Swarovski crystals make each pair a showstopper.

“When I design, just like when I’m buying, I’m picturing in my mind who this is going to look good on,” Gianni says. “I was inspired by all these fashion shows I’ve done. I noticed that other designers’ frames were way too heavy, too wide or the bridges didn’t fit. I wanted to change that.”

Gianni started with 161 sketches that eventually became the 17 models featured in the current collection, each coming in three colors or finishes.

“It’s a really long process,” he admits. “I sketched out charcoal drawings, then I converted everything to millimeters and then I turned them into graphic illustrations for a look book to help shop for manufacturers.”

Once he had a manufacturer he trusted with his design vision, he fine-tuned his designs, keeping a few key principles in mind.

“I wanted everything to be original and I wanted everything to fit. There’s a universal fit: If you study anatomy, you realize there are averages between the brow bone and the cheekbone. Some people don’t take that into consideration,” he says.

The line features styles for women, men and a few unisex options; each can be fitted with prescription lenses.

“I know what customers like and I have the credibility to make that statement. Different facial shapes call for different frame shapes,” he says. In fact, it’s his experience working on the optical side of the business that helps him stand apart from other eyewear designers. By working day in and day out with clients to find the perfect fit, he’s able to translate that knowledge into creating designs that would flatter.

Bringing the first m.GIANNI Collection line to life is just one accomplishment of many to come. Not just a hit with customers, it’s been getting attention from some of the biggest names in fashion.

“I have been approached to design eye wear by Jean-Paul Gaultier Eyewear to be sold at the exhibit of his collection as it travels from museum to museum,” Gianni says. “As you can quite imagine, I’m very excited by this possibility.”

Spoken like somebody with a future so bright, he’s gotta wear shades. But like few others on the planet, they’ll be his own creations.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

More Miss. homophobia: ACLU sues school for barring tux-wearing girl’s photo from yearbook

Earlier this year, the ACLU stepped in when a teenage lesbian in Mississippi was told by her school that she couldn’t attend prom with her girlfriend, and the Itawamba County School District eventually agreed to shell out $35,000 to settle the lawsuit brought by Constance McMillen.

Now the ACLU has filed suit against another Mississippi school that refused to include a female student’s name and senior photo in the yearbook because she was wearing a tuxedo. The lawsuit claims Wesson Attendance Center unfairly discriminated against Ceara Sturgis based on her sex and unfair gender stereotypes.

Sturgis attended Wesson from kindergarten through 12th grade. She was an honor student and a member of several sports teams at the school. A press release from the ACLU says nothing about Sturgis’ sexual orientation, but does say that she prefers to wear “clothing that is traditionally associated with boys” both at home and at school.

According to the ACLU press release, Sturgis at first tried to wear the “drape” used in girls’ senior photos to make it look like they are wearing a dress or a blouse, but it made her extremely uncomfortable. So the student got her mother to request that she be allowed to wear a tuxedo for the portrait. And the photographer agreed.

It wasn’t until after the whole picture-taking process was all said and done that the school principal told Sturgis he wouldn’t let the photo be published in the yearbook.

According to Bear Atwood, interim legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi, the school’s actions violate Title IX, which bans discrimination based on gender and gender stereotypes in public education. Plus, he said, they were just plain old “mean-spirited.”

—  admin