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Victory Optical wins with eyewear based on vintage designs

Vintage photographs suggest that eyewear from the Victory Optical Collection may well have been worn by the likes of Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, Connie Francis and Dean Martin. But Cristina Marfuggi, the company’s director of operations, can’t say for certain.

Cristina (left) and William Marfuggi at Vision Quest
Cristina (left) and William Marfuggi at Vision Quest
Jim Bessman

“There’s no hard evidence, because a lot of our archives went up in flames during a fire at the old factory in 1989,” Marfuggi said last week at the Vision Expo trade show at the Javits Center.

“But we have stories passed down through the family, and since the revitalization of the line, we’ve had customers who were Buddy Holly fanatics also tell us that he wore our frames.”

One such custumer submitted a photo of Holly and Jennings—who played bass in Holly’s band--from a series taken in a photo booth at Grand Central Station shortly before Holly’s death in the 1959 plane crash that also killed J.P. Richardson—The Big Bopper—whom Jennings famously gave up his seat to and took the bus instead.

“Jennings is wearing what we now call the Palm Beach,” said Marfuggi . “We know that Buddy Holly wore a very similar frame that was made in Mexico, but it is our understanding that he also wore our Palm Beach as an eyeglass frame--the one he wears in the series looks exactly like the model we produced.”

Marfuggi’s father William Marfuggi, who is president of the Victory Collection’s parent EagleEyewear Inc. in Whitehouse, N.J., held up a picture of lounge music legend Esquivel!, also wearing what looked like the Palm Beach.

“There was a great picture I remember of Jerry Lewis wearing them with the frames tilted, and we know for sure that Ansel Adams wore them, because he was wearing them on the cover of Time Magazine,” said William. “But the others—Dean, Connie, Phil Silvers—I can’t say 100 percent for certain—or if our frames came first or were inspired by the ones they were wearing. Everyone from that time is dead, and all the photographs were destroyed.”

William’s grandfather Vincent Salierno founded Victory and began production out of the Newark plant in 1941.

“He was an Italian immigrant and self-made man, and knew Connie Francis,” recalled William. “When I was in high school, I went to his house and went Christmas caroling with my buddies—and Connie!”

He remembered that Salierno would make frames during the day, then take them on the road.

“He couldn’t read or write, so he’d go by bus and stay at the YMCA,” said William. “I have his original sample bag: There’s a platform in it, and under it he’d keep a clean shirt and toothbrush, with the sample trays on top of it.”

This was back in the ‘30s, prior to Victory’s founding. The company eventually employed over 300 workers at the Newark plant.

“The early designs launched the company's reputation for innovation, quality and a design sense that appealed to individuals like Buddy and Connie and others in politics, entertainment and fashion,” said Cristina. Noted William: “My grandfather had a photographer who followed him around. But they didn’t care back then. He gave away frames like crazy!”

“Back in the day,” he noted, “we didn’t know who wore them. But I’ve seen photos of people wearing them on my grandfather’s wall.”

So ever since the factory fire, William has been buying up photographs and samples “like a fool” on eBay and Etsy.

“I never get outbid!” he said, by way of explaining how Victory is managing to revive the “lost” designs dating back to the ‘40s that have been in the family now for four generations.

“Dad saw the trend for retro-styling, and we’re replicating optical and sunglass frames created by our prolific founder, as well as introducing new designs inspired by the originals,” said Cristina.

To this end, Victory has three pertinent collections: Heritage, which is comprised of original frame designs; Inspired, which includes frames inspired by the originals: and Suntimers sunglasses. The Palm Beach is a Suntimers Collection model: The first version had more of a ‘60s look, while a second one, which came out a year ago, harks back to the ‘50s.

“Danny Houston wears the Palm Beach, and Ryan Lewis wears The Plaza,” notes Christina, citing current celebrity customers.

The Plaza is also a Suntimers Collection piece.

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