I met Roberto Vascellari, his wife, Luana, and his sister, Cristina, back in 1999, when I first moved over to the Rialto side of town. They owned the closest eyeglass shop, so I wandered in for an exam -- I have had problems with my vision since I was a child. I'm near-sighted, and now that I am old, far-sighted, too; plus, I see in dots, like a Seurat painting. In addition, my eyes are blue, and very sensitive to the sun, so I unless I wear good sunglasses I get a headache.
I had no idea that I was visiting the shop of expert opticians until after Roberto had thoroughly examined my eyes. I was impressed with his knowledge and his... passion for vision and eyeglasses. Only then did I discover the family had been in the optic business for generations, originating in the 1930s with Roberto's grandfather, up in Calalzo di Cadore, in the Dolomites.
We spoke about the current state of eyeglasses -- this was about nine years ago. Roberto told me he had become so frustrated with the quality of eyeglasses, which cost a fortune and constantly needed repair, that he was going to develop his own line, together with his cousin up in the Dolomites, where the family originated.
Now, lots of people say they are going to do something, but Roberto actually did it! One day, I was walking past the shop and saw a new line of eyeglasses in the window. I immediately wanted a pair. I went in and said, "Who designed those eyeglasses in the window? Who is Vascellari?" Roberto said, "Cat, I am Vascellari! Those are the eyeglasses I told you about long ago." I said, "I love them! I didn't know they were going to be so great!" And then I bought the pair that I am wearing. Apparently, so have a lot of other people in town. Once I was on the vaporetto coming back from the Lido, and I counted five people wearing Vascellari glasses -- I am not exaggerating.
This is how you pronounce Vascellari: vah-shale-LAH-ray. Run those words together quickly, and you will come close.
Cadore, where the family comes from, and where the fabbrica, or factory is located, is a magical spot in the Dolomites. I don't like to use the word "factory" because to English speakers it conjures up assembly lines. A fabbrica in Italy often consists of a handful of people working together to make a product, anywhere from eyeglasses to cheese. It is very much hands-on. So, the Vascellari fabbrica is in a rural, Alpine area, surrounded by breathtaking mountains and nature, which is the inspiration for their eyeglasses. The materials they use are derived from cotton. Wood and bees-wax are used in the last steps of production, so the glasses that are perched upon your nose are composed of natural materials. There are about 180 individual steps to create a single pair of eyeglasses; the process can take up to four months from start to finish.
I will tell you Ottica Vascellari's secret: quality -- go ahead and steal it! I wish everyone would! From the natural materials they use to create the glasses -- which are handmade by family members -- to the design, to the attitude of the folks in the shop themselves -- it is quality, concern and care every step of the way. It is rare to find people who care so much about the quality of their product, but the Vascellari family has built their reputation on that strong foundation.
Roberto keeps trying to get me to invest in one pair of uber-glasses that will completely correct all the defects with my vision, but I don't think I'm going to do it soon... I kind of like looking at the world through the eyes of a Seurat painting, wearing Vascellari sunglasses.
Ciao from Venezia,
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This post was originally published on Sunday, August 3, 2008 at 12:32 PM CET
Ruga Rialto 1030
Getting there: go to the foot of the Rialto Bridge on the San Polo side. Walk under the arcade until you get to the first large street, Ruga Rialto. Make a left. Ottica Vascellari is not more than 2 minutes on the left -- if you reach the little campo San Aponal, you've gone too far.
Vaporetto stop: San Silvestro and Rialto Mercato.