Hans’ flair for design and technique revolutionized eyewear

| September 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

CELEBRITY OPTICIAN HANS FIEBIG at his Hans Custom Optik store on Larchmont.

Hans Fiebig once made glasses in a time-old fashion, by hand and working a foot pedal.

“Can you imagine using your feet?” the 88-year old optician asked last month at his 30-year old Larchmont institution, Hans Custom Optik.

One person who would appreciate Hans’ technical know-how, precision and artistic flair was Elvis Presley.

The two met when The King was driving down Sunset Blvd., in front of Fiebig’s old shop.

Fiebig gave him his card, and a few days later Elvis arrived with his entourage. Hans would go on to make 400 pairs of custom glasses for the megastar.

With inspiration from Elvis, Sir Elton John and a host of other celebrities, Hans would revolutionize eyewear from the boring styles of the 1950s to the fashion statements that glasses are today, said his daughter and bookkeeper Regina Fiebig Davis.

“He was the go-to man. Elton being so creative… and Elvis knew exactly what he wanted. They’d say, ‘Hans, can you do this?’”

From feathered frames to glasses sporting blinking neon lights, Hans would figure out a way. After all, “He knew the mechanics… He’s a legend in the optical industry. He’s the first optician to celebrities,” Regina added.

MASTER OPTICIAN Hans Fiebig with his grandson James Davis and daughter Regina Davis. Photos by Bill Devli

Eyeglasses were not exactly haute couture when Hans was a teen, measuring in millimeters, grinding lenses with the help of the foot pedal, and, of course, working without a computer. He would later teach these same skills to his family. His other two children and grandsons, James and Matthew (Matt) Davis, are all opticians.

Knowing the Old World technique makes all the difference, says James, who runs the Larchmont store with his brother Matthew.

Hans traces his skills to his childhood in Germany, where part of the school curriculum was building model airplanes.

“His teacher noticed that Dad had a gift for building and crafting. (I guess he had very fine motor skills and dexterity.) And he was probably quite a perfectionist even at that young age!” Regina said.

His teacher was so impressed he introduced him to an optometrist who hired Hans to begin his apprenticeship with him at the age of 14.

Hans, who grew up during World War II, attributes his skills to saving his life more than once.

“During the war, there was so much destruction and confusion — but he always felt that by being the best optician he could be, he would be able to find a job — anywhere!” said Regina.

After the war, he and his wife, Frida, and first child emigrated to Winnipeg, Canada. With two more children in tow, they would later drive southwest to a warmer climate.

“He and Mom watched the Rose Parade [on television] and packed up the car and we went to Los Angeles,” laughs Regina.

It was the 1960s, and he had a job waiting for him in downtown Los Angeles. Later, he and a partner opened Optik Boutique, a chain of 13 stores between here and Chicago, including the one on Sunset Blvd. where he met Elvis.

“He was a Southern gentleman…” recalls Regina.

Elvis walked in wearing a cheap pair of aviator-style glasses and had a large gold necklace with a lightning bolt and “TCB” on it.

Elvis asked Hans if the design “TCB” (Taking Care of Business) could be engraved on the sides and his initials on the bridge of a custom-made pair of aviators.

“I realized at that time you couldn’t ‘sell’ Elvis anything – he had very specific ideas about what he liked and what he wanted – either you could do it or you couldn’t. Of course I told him we could and I figured I would work out the details later,” Hans recalled in a 2011 book, “Cult Eyewear.”

HANS FIEBIG with Sir Elton John wearing his cloud-shaped lens design in 1973.

Hans would also befriend Sir Elton John before he was knighted and while he was still working in smaller clubs, such as the Troubadour.

“Nobody bought more than Elton John,” said Hans, who would craft hundreds of prescription glasses for him.

Steve McQueen and a bevy of other celebrity client photos grace the walls at Hans Optik, which moved to Larchmont 30 years ago.

Hans opened a store in the busy 200 block of N. Larchmont Blvd. in the 1980s and moved a few years ago to 419 ¾ N. Larchmont, when rents skyrocketed in the block to the south (where his old store is now half of the Trina Turk shop).

“I had no choice,” he says.

The move has been a blessing in disguise, offering a larger space, second-floor views and free parking. While street traffic is scarce, the regulars know where to find him.

“We have a lot of loyal customers, and we live here. He’s been here so long, it’s one big family,” says Regina.

The shop is like family, with friends and customers stopping in, waving to Hans, who’s still a workaholic.

And he’s still dapper.

“He has a different pair of glasses with every shirt. His glasses always match the shirt,” says Jeff Morse, a neighbor and customer.

After losing a home to the 1993 Malibu fire and an apartment to the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and after wife Frida passed two decades ago, Hans settled into Hancock Park Terrace and has been there ever since.

He lunches at the Wilshire Country Club on Sundays, after church, and he is always wearing a pair of stylish glasses.

“I’ve got more than one,” he quips.

Tags: , , , ,

Category: People

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *