When Old Is the Latest By ERIC DASH Published: August 15, 2004 LOS ANGELES ALONG West Hollywood's boulevards, scores of shops offer vintage luxury items and the latest trend to wear — handbags, jewelry, watches. But tucked away on Melrose Place, a leafy offshoot of boutique-lined Melrose Avenue, is the showroom of a small company that has been taking another unlikely accessory from the flea market bins for the fashion pages: old glasses. Advertisement RetroSpecs & Company, which custom-fits the gold wire-rims your grandfather used to wear, has assembled about 100,000 frames from the mid-1920's to the early 70's in what is perhaps the world's largest vintage collection. "Lots of times when you are selling people glasses, it is about the style or design," Jay Owens, the owner of RetroSpecs, said the other day. "These are really conversation pieces." The conversation, however, comes at a steep price. The 1925 Shuron Optical wire-rims he sells for $8,000 marked the beginning, Mr. Owens said, of modern eyewear. It was the first frame to use nose pads, and an optician was no longer needed to customize the bridge piece. Several pairs of flat and oval 1870 X-Bridge spectacles, from France, run about $1,200. "Nietzsche used to wear ones like these," Mr. Owens said. Now wealthy men and women in about equal measure wear them, retailers say. RetroSpecs stands out perhaps because it has attracted a celebrity following, including Marc Anthony, Michael J. Fox and P. Diddy, who owns about 50 pairs. Tom Cruise wore 1940's RetroSpecs shades, custom-fitted to his nose bridge, to the Los Angeles premiere of his movie "Collateral" this month. And Jennifer Aniston has bought 1940's gold Ray-Ban aviators. The sunglasses, once inexpensive fashion frames, now sell for around $1,395. Opticians say their clients do not seem scared off by the price tags, though many pairs cost from $400 to $1,100. Today, they said, frames are as much about fashion as function, and RetroSpecs fans are willing to pay for a distinctive look. Steven Yee, an AOL executive who lives in New York, said that he originally updated a pair of vintage frames from RetroSpecs's Midcentury collection — bridgeless and semirimless frames from the 1930's and 40's — with modern lens shapes, and then he gave his glasses another makeover. "You can create new lives for them," he said. "I had a pair that were pale green and put a brown lens on them and changed them to more of an aviator shape." Mr. Owens, 38, began assembling the RetroSpecs collection about 12 years ago. Today, more than 250 pickers nationally scour flea market bins and raid old optician stocks to help the company fill a warehouse with 500,000 frames and component pieces like temples, bridges and nose pads. The glasses are sold in the West Hollywood showroom and at 120 optical shops worldwide. RetroSpecs is hardly alone in the fancy frame business. Dozens of vintage eyewear shops and Internet retailers carry wire-rims and the cat's-eye or Kennedy-era styles from the 1950's and 60's (which RetroSpecs does not sell), often for a fraction of the cost. EBay's vintage eyewear listings have swollen to more than 2,500 from 600 in the last year. Winning bids are in the $30 range. Robert Roope, a British optician who runs a boutique outside London, sells both antiques and modern copies at www.retrospecs.co.uk, a Web site not affiliated with the American company. Frames can be sorted by maker, style and even the celebrity who made them famous. "The Michael Caine is the best we've got," Mr. Roope said by telephone, referring to a $176 pair of thick black plastic glasses from the 1950's. "John Lennon's glasses are as popular, and Harry Potter's we sell to the kids and the grown-ups."