Tarek al-Sallab, 27, appears from afar, easily noticeable as he walks gingerly, gently cradling three large black boxes. He's wearing a pair of vintage shades. What we don’t know yet is that the boxes are filled to the top with more vintage sunglasses coming directly from the wardrobe of the rich and famous.
The collection is revealed, piece by piece, on the table. Pieces worn by pop sensation Lady Gaga, Oscar Nominee Brad Pitt and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak–to name a few–are presented. Fashion-talking, Hollywood-gossiping and treasure-hunting stories follow during the morning's interview with the half-Egyptian, half-French entrepreneur of sunglasses.
Al-Sallab sounds almost romantic when describing the process of recreating vintage sunglasses and hunting down originals. Al-Sallab's new company, Vintage by TS, is not just collecting and reselling, but also bringing back to life classic models. “We are partnering up with some old companies like Cazal, which is one of the oldest companies there is, and we are reproducing old sunglass models they used to make,” he says.
“We are going to use the same mold, the same design and the same factory they used to create the original sunglasses, which are now rare,” he adds. “We are reproducing them for the people who cannot find them and offering them at affordable prices.”
But the collections are vast. “We have 25,000 pieces of original vintage sunglasses from the 40s to the 90s,” al-Sallab says. He used to work for his father, who collects antique cars and instilled the passion for collecting in his son.
Although Tarek has collected vintage sunglasses for the past five years, he turned his hobby into a business only nine months ago. “I started selling privately from home,” he says, “but we are now in two shops in Zamalek–KDS and Lulies, who sell for us–and we also wholesale to New York, California and Miami.”
Tarek’s father quickly took interest in his son's new trade. “He owns a store in Maadi on Road 9, and told me I should open up the shop to sell my collection,” Tarek explains, saying that the shop will soon open.
“In Egypt, the market isn’t the same [as in other markets]," he adds. "People won't be interested in coming to the shop and paying one thousand dollars for a pair of sunglasses, so we are starting a website in four languages: English, Arabic, Russian and Japanese.” The Japanese, according to al-Sallab, are collectors of vintage sunglasses, very into fashion, and prefer handcrafted glasses over mass-produced products that dominate the market today. "Russia, on the other hand, is a new emerging market that none of my competitors are thinking of at the moment,” he says.
Al-Sallab believes he is the only one in Egypt to sell unused vintage sunglasses. “They are called new-old stock,” Tarek says. “They are sunglasses that went out of fashion back in their day, and now we are using them again. I find them stored, and I buy them myself.” Some of the pieces are badly stored or used before, but Tarek doesn’t like to buy these pieces.
“This one, for example, was made in West Germany,” Tarek opens a Cazel box and pulls out a beautiful leather-covered pair of sunglasses, “so you would know they were made before the destruction of the Berlin Wall.”
Finding vintage sunglasses involves a lot of work, says al-Sallab, who travels to Lebanon, the US, Italy and India to search for new pairs to add to the collection. “I don’t like it when I go to a place looking for vintage sunglasses and it’s really clean; I like it when it’s a dirty place with spiderwebs. I want to be digging for my sunglasses.”
Tarek enjoys telling the numerous stories he has about his ongoing hunt. “When I went to India it was really the biggest surprise of my life,” he says, sipping from hot chocolate as a cigarette dangled from his fingers. “I went into a warehouse and the owner really didn't know what he had. He was just opening boxes and asking me if I liked anything from the 100,000 pieces there. It was like a treasure hunt, almost–finding lost treasures… Some of these models retail for two thousand dollars.”
In Lebanon, Tarek searched for agents selling vintage sunglasses, but was out of luck for a while. “I kept asking people for places where they sell vintage sunglasses, until I found this guy, who later on became a great friend of mine,” Tarek remembers. “I went to his shop and I bought some pairs, and suddenly, while I’m leaving, he tells me that he has two extra pairs somewhere, and he pulls out the holy grail of sunglasses. My heart stopped because this Cazel pair had a very limited run and even Cazel themselves don’t have a pair in their archive.”
Tarek spends the next hour pulling pairs of sunglasses out of huge boxes, placing them on the table and recounting their history. He shows me a pair that Lady Gaga wore in her LoveGames Video. “This one is in the style of Jay-Z,” Tarek says, displaying the pair of huge sunglasses that the rapper famously sports. Other names like Usher (the rapper), singer Fergie, and Hollywood star Angelina Jolie pop up during the conversation.
But vintage sunglasses are not only for the elite. Tarek hopes to target his business at anybody who would appreciate them. “In the beginning they were targeted toward people who have a lot of money, but now I’m trying to make them more affordable. I have, for example, the full collection of Christan Dior from the 80s, and I’m selling them for 1200LE, which is US$200. Go find me a pair of Christian Dior in any shop for US$200!”