California style meets Scandinavian craftsmanship
At first sight, LA-based eyewear brand Entourage of 7 is the living epitome of California style. Sleek without coming across as pretentious, progressive with a strong sense of heritage and cool without trying too hard, the upcoming label has been turning heads in the US eyewear business since 2007. Blending proven classics and state-of-the-art materials into a new status quo, their glasses have become design staples in the land of sunshine, beach culture and Hollywood.
Behind the scenes, Entourage of 7 has its roots far beyond the Golden State – in Denmark, to be exact. And perhaps this unique perspective, their fresh, European take on California’s treasured aesthetic legacy, is the secret to their success.
When Danish eyewear enthusiasts Rikke Brogaard and Jakob Talbo cooked up the idea for launching their own eyewear brand in 2004, they soon agreed that “the West is the best” (to quote Jim Morrison of The Doors for a second) and chose the bohemian surf town digs of Venice Beach as the right place to set up shop.
Next to the perfect weather and sunny California vibes, the American ideal of free enterprise and making it on your own proved a strong inspiration to the European transplants.
“If you want to do something in the US – just do it. Nobody will question if it’s the right idea or not, or if you have the right education. It’s your dream – reach for it!” says co-founder Jakob Talbo, who started Entourage of 7 after conducting sales for Danish eyewear behemoth Lindberg for ten years from 1997 onwards, including a long stint in the U.S. to generate traction for Lindberg on the North American market.
Ever since starting their own brand, Talbo and cohorts never looked back, while every new line brought new experiences and learnings. For instance, who would have thought that working with fine leathers and animal skins (more on that later) is harder than it sounds?
Along the way, Entourage of 7 built a reputation with collections that emphasize an eye for detail, quality and fit over visible brand decals and flashy logos. Early standouts included the bold aviator-shaped Compton model, as well as imaginative titanium frames such as the The Whittier and PCH 2 models. Through it all, the brand has proven a sure hand for stylish frames with their own signature style while cultivating clean lines and a no-nonsense design approach. It’s what Jakob Talbo calls: “No funny angles, twists and turns.”
The brand’s trajectory has also been rather untwisted and straightforward – in an upward direction. Entourage of 7 eyewear has grown into a hot ticket item, sought out by tastemakers and celebrities all over Los Angeles. But they’re not letting it get to their heads. “I don’t think we should take ourselves too seriously – I don’t!” says Jakob Talbo, who after a recent merger now also co-owns the new home of Entourage of 7, the Bellinger House network of eyewear brands.
For this brand profile, EYEWEAR magazine caught Jakob Talbo freshly returned from a trip to Europe at Vision Expo East tradeshow. During the interview and photo shoot, we touched on Entourage of 7’s unique blend of Cali style and Scandinavian craftsmanship, the many facets and inspiring moments of life in Los Angeles, and the constant drive to keep things moving, to reinvent yourself and stay ahead of the curve. After all, that’s what Los Angeles is all about…
Jakob, thanks for taking the time to talk to us about eyewear today despite your busy schedule. The New York tradeshow is alive with energy and new impulses today. Does that get you going and where do you personally draw inspiration from?
Most inspiration comes to me on an everyday level and from the smaller things in life. When riding my motorcycle through LA traffic, sitting on the beach with a cold beer after work watching the sunset or just going for a walk in Venice Beach.
That sounds pretty laid back. What’s your philosophy, the mission statement behind your life and work?
My life and my work are the same. There is not one or the other for me and I like it that way. My philosophy is to have no fear of failure. I always tell myself, what is the worst thing that can happen if I fail? Ninety-nine percent of the time, the consequences of failing are not that dire. It helps me putting things into perspective and taking paths in both work and life where I haven’t gone before.
Speaking of taking a new path, what attracted you to get involved with eyewear?
I landed in the eyewear business by coincident. I read an ad from a company that was looking for an agent to sell eyewear and I thought it sounded interesting after spending years in the army and in event production. I had no idea the job I landed was with one of the best companies in the industry: Lindberg. I worked for them for over a decade before starting [a company] on my own.
This path also led you to the United States. I mean, you initially came to the US to bring Lindberg over here, is that correct?
Yes. After working in Austria, Belgium and Holland for Lindberg, my final stop was the U.S..
Working for someone else is all very well and many people find it enough. When did you decide for yourself to start your own eyewear company?
I had played with the thought for a couple of years before starting. But it wasn’t until I came to LA and felt “the good old” American spirit of entrepreneurship that I dared to take the first steps. Still to this day, the feeling of “you can achieve it if you work hard and believe in it” runs deep in American society.
Who are the main people behind Entourage of 7 and what are their backgrounds?
Today I am the only one left of the original three people. We had a great run together for five years but everybody wanted to try something new and pursue other dreams and goals.
So there were three co-founders of Entourage of 7. Did the “Lucky Number 7″ inspire the company name, or what happened?
Yes and no. When creating the brand we didn’t want something with the designers’ name on it – everybody does that. We had not seen anyone using a number before and what better than the global number of luck… 7?! Furthermore, we were seven people involved from the beginning and so, our Entourage of 7 was created.
Going into business for yourself is easier said than done. Were there any unexpected challenges when you first started working on Entourage of 7?
Where do I even begin… Everything! I think that is the true beauty of entrepreneurship – you have no idea what awaits you. Had you known you would probably never have started it in the first place!
Producing set quantities of products for an international customer base can also have its challenges. How about the difficulties of getting the products up to par for release on the market?
To give you one example, the very first collection was a sunglasses line with exotic skins and leathers on the temples. We found the most incredible skins but did not know that we had to have hour-long meetings with American Nature and Wildlife [services] representatives every time we wanted to make a shipment, documenting every single piece. It was crazy! At the same time, we were sitting in our tiny office working with leather bonds and glue to make everything stick together and look nice. Every frame took about 30 minutes to make – we had totally underestimated how long it took to fulfill every order! But it was definitely a great learning experience and it makes me laugh just thinking about it.
According to your website, you made Los Angeles your home of choice for launching the brand. Quite a long way from your Scandinavian roots…
Like I mentioned earlier, it was the American spirit that came alive in me… I don’t think I would have ever done something like this back in Scandinavia.
Did your time with Lindberg teach you important lessons for what you are doing in LA now?
A lot! Their professionalism and focus on the small details inspired me to stand on my own.
Was there a certain moment when you fell in love with Los Angeles, or was it a long-time passion?
Even when I was a kid, I wanted to go to LA without ever having been there. I just knew I would like it and was not disappointed.
At what point in your life did you make your first visit to LA?
The very first time I went to LA was during college with a friend of mine from Denmark. We took the Greyhound bus all the way from New York to save money. When we finally stood on the beach in Santa Monica, I knew I was home…
What attracted to you to Venice Beach as a location for Entourage of 7? My wife and I are actually thinking about moving there as well in June.
You should move here – it’s amazing! Most people think of Venice Beach as the beach and boardwalk area. Cheap sunglasses, T-shirts, hustlers and tourists. But as soon as you walk a couple of blocks further, a whole new world opens up. Canals, funky stores, great restaurants and art studios. A melting pot of people from all over the world chilling under the LA sun… That is true Venice to me and what I love about it.
Speaking of a melting pot, is the trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice a convenient place to go trend spotting these days?
Six or seven years ago I really think it was. Today it is almost Uber-hip and attracts a lot of “the right” people and tourists. I think it lost some of its charm and the roughness that I liked initially. Don’t get me wrong, there are great shops and amazing restaurants but now the guys on their skateboards are zigzagging between Bentleys and Porsches and no longer old VW busses with surfboards on the roof. These days, a lot of awesome things are happening in the Abbot Kinney neighborhood. Places like Rose Ave are cool if you want to check out the latest trends.
Next to new trends, there is also a strong tradition of eyewear craftsmanship in Los Angeles. How does this influence your work and how do you put yourself in perspective?
There are many great brands in LA with beautiful histories. Much like these brands, we are of course influenced by the heritage and allure of the city and old Hollywood. We are proud of that – but it’s also a curse! When people think of an “LA brand,” they very often think vintage and retro and that sticks to all of us. We are trying to break out of that shadow and show that we can do so much more. Just as LA always changes – so do we!
Here’s a random question for you, Jakob: Do people ever ask you about a possible connection between your brand and the LA-based TV series – and soon to be a movie – Entourage?
Today no, but when we launched, it was right when Season 1 of Entourage came out and many people asked if we were connected. I used to say that the show was a spin-off from our frames… (laughs)
Who are your customers, Jakob, or let’s say: Who do you have in mind when you’re designing new pieces of eyewear?
I look at myself and think, “What would I like to wear myself if I only had one frame and had to wear it every day?” That helps me put things into perspective and not go too crazy.
Well, some things considered crazy elsewhere are perfectly normal in California. Would you say there is something distinctly Californian about the stylistics of Entourage of 7?
The colors! Tortoise variations, cool crystals and matted finishes. Very Cali!
Where does the inspiration for the names of models like the LAX, the Downey, the Crenshaw and Huntington come from? All of these really sound like places in Southern California.
Many of our glasses have names from Southland locales. Once we have designed a new piece, the name comes pretty easily. For example with the LAX frame, I thought of a guy just arriving at LAX in his summer suit ready to check in at a nice Santa Monica beach hotel – thus the name LAX. All the frames have a little LA inspiration and history to their name.
What sets your glasses apart from the rest of the world?
It’s the small things… but we try to put passion, style, quality and a bit of LA into every frame we make. If people can feel that, then our mission is accomplished.
A quick question about your line-up: What’s the spread between prescription glasses and sunglasses in your offering right now?
At the moment 60% RX and 40% sun, but the sun portion is growing.
Must be the LA sun. Where do you see the Scandinavian angle fit in? In what way do you look at eyewear design with different eyes than fellow LA designers?
Definitely in terms of SIZE! We Scandinavians like to have big sizes in our frames. Even when we make a classic “American look” frame, we go up in size compared to our colleagues. It’s in the blood! Also, we like to keep clean lines – no funny angles, twists and turns.
So no funny stuff. How many E7 collections are out on the market right now?
At the moment, we have three different collections out. Our Japanese zyl acetates, our sunglasses and titanium frames.
Over the years, you have built quite the portfolio of successful eyewear lines. What has been your favorite project to work on at Entourage of 7?
I think that every project is special and every time we start up something new that becomes my baby. That said, I always enjoy making acetate sunglasses! There is just something fun and exciting about making something that gets all your friends excited and that everyone wants to wear right away.
Your glasses seem all about letting the design speak for itself, as opposed to working with large, overbearing logos. What’s the idea behind that?
We actually take it a step further: In our acetate frames, we engrave with laser and don’t use printing. This way, we can make sure that no logos and frame information can take the focus away from the beautiful acetate plate and finish. This may make it hard to read, but [the results are] looking clean and beautiful.
That sounds almost like a very purist approach.
A beautiful frame should be enjoyed by the craftsmanship in it. Then we also trust the consumer to make the right choice by judging the quality and fit, not the message inside.
Making the right choices is crucial. You’ve recently chosen to join forces with Bellinger House. How did this happen?
I have known Claus Bellinger for many years and always had a lot of respect for the business he and Malene built. It sounds strange but the merger came [about] really easy – it was just a natural fit. We saw a lot of advantages without too many overlaps in collections, markets and personalities. Once we started talking about it, we were all sold on the idea and never looked back since.
What are the advantages of being part of the Bellinger House network?
We stand stronger! We are using each other’s advantages in every market: Customers, sales, organization and marketing. It is easier standing up to the big guys in the industry.
What’s changed since then for you? Are you also involved with other brands under the same umbrella, such as Bellinger, Blac and so on?
The merger means that Entourage of 7 is now part of the Bellinger House. It’s a brand of its own under the umbrella of Bellinger House – just like Blac and Bellinger. I am now a co-owner of Bellinger House instead of the sole owner of Entourage of 7 and therefore involved in the other brands as well.
Let’s talk a bit more about Los Angeles and specifically, Hollywood. Who are some celebrities that can be seen wearing Entourage of 7 these days?
I guess that being an LA company, there is no way around all the celebrity stuff. But yes, we have people like Christina Hendricks, Sasha Baron Cohen, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman wearing our frames, to mention a few.
While we’re talking names, which other brands and designers do you look up to right now, not necessarily in the eyewear business?
There are many small cool labels out there. I will not necessary say that I look up to them but often, I see something and wish I would have come up with that idea.
That not only applies to eyewear but everything – from furniture to houses and cars.
On the subject of new ideas, where do you see the eyewear industry headed in the future?
On the retail side it will be more chain-driven, like in other industries. We have already seen that all across Europe. Therefore, the wholesale side of the industry has to follow as well and go bigger or head in the opposite direction and be very small.
And where do you see E7 headed in the future?
Staying on the same path we are on right now, but with even more focus on our classic acetate frames and sunglasses. That also fits into the growth strategy and portfolio of Bellinger House.
Thanks so much for taking the time, Jakob.
You are welcome. When you move to Venice I will show you some cool bars…