Bespoke eyewear maker Wesley Knight used an unlikely college assignment as the catalyst for starting a business that celebrated his lifelong love of artisan craft. We stopped by his temporary pop-up in Leffot to learn more.
It’s not often one meets a 25-year-old bespoke eyeglasses maker. So when we got word that Nashville-based Wesley Knight was setting up a pop-up inside Leffot’s West Village shop in New York, we made a point to have a look at his work. Although Wesley Knight Bespoke officially launched in 2013, the company was a lingering, subconscious thought in Knight’s head long before then.
For Knight, what started off as a college assignment grew into a passion project that he was eventually able to turn into a viable business. It was in the midst of completing his studies at New College Franklin that Knight settled on the unlikely thesis project that would shape his future: crafting a pair of bespoke frames. Using his advisor as his very first “client,” Knight set about researching the bespoke process, recording his journey in an online journal as he went.
That was the beginning of Knight’s all-consuming interest in eyewear, but the real story of his passion for craft began much earlier. We pulled the designer aside to get a bit of personal perspective and learned that he’d been making things for most of his life. “I started working with my hands when I was 13; I was very inspired by the act of creating. It gave me a sense of joy to see something come to life, and that feeling carried over from middle school to high school and then to college.”
In 2010, Knight finished his aesthetics project, which he says yielded a laughable pair of glasses, cut with only a dremel tool. Following this, he pursued and completed an undergraduate thesis that explored the realm of bespoke eyeglass making. But, determined to follow a long-held passion for fine footwear, he undertook the archetypal post-college European adventure. But unlike many of his peers, Knight wasn’t a random wanderer. A high school trip to London had previously exposed him to custom shoemaker John Lobb. And, according to Knight, he immediately fell in love with the St. James Street store, and more importantly the process of crafting footwear. So, it was with the hope of landing a shoemaking apprenticeship Knight traveled to London. Unfortunately, he soon found that many others shared his dream; the John Lobb apprenticeship had a wait list of at least three years. Undaunted, he continued on to Spain where he met with former lawyer-turned-artisan shoemaker Norman Vilalta. After an enlightening conversation with Vilalta over lunch, Knight began to realize that his passion for craft might not necessarily need to exist in footwear alone.
Thus, things came full circle and Knight suddenly found himself back where he had started -- with eyewear. “When I came home, I decided to start pursuing eyewear very passionately. I was particularly interested in the craft of working with horn, which turned out to be a huge learning process.”
Knight goes on to tell us that there was very little information on the best techniques for manipulating horn; much of what he learned was simply through trial and error. Even still, he was drawn to the material for its natural luxuriousness and individual character. To illustrate, he used a block of untreated horn to exhibit how something as small as a blood spot or injury can register as a unique imperfection in the final product. Similar to a tree trunk’s rings, horn grows in layers which can be seen when it is bisected. “It’s also lighter than acetate and very strong,” Knight continues, surrendering the horn block for a weight test. It is indeed much lighter than one would expect.
Seeing the horn in its undeveloped state begs the question of how its transformation occurs. Knight was happy to oblige sharing, “When a client is ready to commit, we have a face-to-face fitting. Once we meet, I take a plaster model of the nose and measurements of the height of the ears, depth from eyes to ears and the width of the head. I also take note of physical characteristics like eye color, hair color and skin tone. Another thing I do is talk to the client about their style, perception and the activities they’ll be doing in the glasses. All of those things dictate the final outcome.”
Indeed, this highly personalized and intimate process is part of what drew Knight to working in bespoke. "I fell in love with the relation making process of bespoke, I tell my new clients that the bespoke process is married to a face to face fitting. In the fitting, client and maker learn about each other in order to build a functional and beautiful product together. The unique process of bespoke births a product and relationship that would not otherwise existed."
Knight’s extraordinary journey from Tennessee to England, France and Spain and then back again is a testament to this. And, if the consistent demand for his eyewear is anything to go by, it’s safe to say he’s been learning well.
You can see more of Knight's work and inquire about getting a pair made here. Typical frames start at $1,800 and takes between four and six months to complete depending on the materials you choose.