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Freeway Eyewear serves up four lanes of 'street style'

June 3, 2010 |  8:28 pm

Rage_Freeway

I admit it: At first we were totally fished in just by the clever conceit of Freeway Eyewear, a new line of sunglasses with styles named for (and ostensibly inspired by) the various freeways that crisscross Southern California.

But clever can get you only so far by itself, and by any reckoning it's a mile marker that falls far short of the shelves at the legendary Maxfield boutique. So when we heard the shop was among the handful of stockists to carry the barely 2-month-old eyewear line, it was worth a closer look.

Freeway Eyewear is the creation of Angeleno Alex Israel, a 27-year-old writer-artist who just earned his MFA degree ("As of a couple of Fridays ago," as he puts it) from USC's Roski School of Fine Arts.

Israel, who has no background in the eyewear business, explained that the idea sprung from thinking about how to take artwork out of a gallery setting. "I approached it like sculpture ... like art that literally changes the way you see."

Go ahead, roll your eyes. Sunglasses as wearable sculpture do seem a little bit hyperbolic until you hold ...

... a pair of Israel's zyl acetate frames in your hands. Solid, bordering on chunky, they boast sinuous frame fronts and temples that taper to a generous width at the hinge, and they have the same kind of heft a Montblanc pen or a Rolex wristwatch have in comparison with a Bic pen or a Swatch watch.

Israel, who was raised in Southern California, said he hit on the idea of using the freeway as a framing device because he noticed that the freeways themselves literally frame the landscape of Los Angeles. Five of Rage_freeway_405 the six styles he launched with in early April are named after the freeways and highways: the 1, the 10, the 15, the 110 and the 405. (Israel explains that the sixth, a style called "L.A. Rays," was the name of a defunct Laguna Beach brand from the 1990s.)

We asked him to explain how some of the city's well-traveled stretches of asphalt could be inspiration for something the cool kids would want to wear, by describing a few of the styles.

The 405: "It's a freeway that goes through both San Diego and Brentwood," Israel said. "It connects the San Diego punk kids with the Brentwood housewives. So I designed something that could've been worn by both Kurt Cobain and Jackie Kennedy."

The 10: "It goes through downtown so it's kind of 'gangstery,' " he explained. "I was inspired by the classic Wayfarer [silhouette] but gave it a wider temple."

The 1: "Since the 1 goes along the ocean, I looked to [Greek shipping magnate] Aristotle Onassis."

Rage_freeway_10 And the new brand's art world connections run deeper than Israel's MFA. The label's green freeway sign logo design was created by graphic designer John Van Hamersveld (whose other creations include the movie poster for "The Endless Summer" and the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" album cover), and its inaugural ad campaign was shot by renowned photographer Anthony Friedkin.

Freeway Eyewear's current offerings retail for about $100 a pair, and can be found locally at Maxfield boutiques in Los Angeles and Malibu. (He just shipped his first order to Barneys New York.) And whether you ultimately buy a pair of the sunglasses or not, once you've had a chance to give them a test drive, it's a safe bet you'll see the freeways of Los Angeles in a whole new light.

-- Adam Tschorn

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Photos: At top, a picture from the Freeway Eyewear look book featuring a model wearing a pair of sunglasses named after and inspired by Highway 1, left, and another sporting a pair named after the 15 Freeway. Credit: Anthony Friedkin. Center, a design inspired by the 405 style and, bottom, a pair named after the 10. Credit: Freeway Eyewear.

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