Collectors Check: Christian Metzler

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13 Jun Collectors Check: Christian Metzler

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Getting the name of your favorite eyewear brand tattooed on your middle finger is pretty hardcore. And it’s a serious testament to being passionate about high-end eyewear design. Enter seasoned eyewear collector and facial hair horticulturist Christian Metzler from the quaint little town of Pforzheim, Germany. The well-traveled people photographer with the CAZAL logo tatt’ed on the side of his knuckles can also back up his ink with an enormous eyewear collection. We visited the soft-spoken 33-year-old in his home, where he likes to hold court right in front of a repurposed optician’s glasses display, which he hoisted into his living room with five of his friends. Here’s Christian’s life of vintage eyewear, in his own words.

Christian, how many glasses are in your collection right now?
Great question! Honestly, I haven’t counted them in a while. But overall, there are more than one thousand. I’d eyeball it at around 1,600 pairs right now. And there are always more coming in…

Around 1,600? And you’re not done yet?
No, I don’t think there’s an end in sight. I’m not done yet.

When did you start collecting? And what attracted you to eyewear?
I started about ten years ago. The initial trigger was a pair of black Alpina M1s, which my girlfriend at the time gave me as a gift. She picked them up at a flea market for 1 euro, but they were too big, so I ended up with them. I really loved that particular model and wore it a whole lot. Then one day, I watched the video to the Jay-Z song “Show Me What You Got” and saw him wearing the same glasses! So I googled the model and brand and learned about vintage eyewear for the very first time. Then I went to a flea market myself and hunted down an Alpina M6. And it’s been on ever since, the search never ends!

Are there any glasses you collect in particular? Certain brands or styles, or is it wide open for you?
Whenever someone asks me, I tell them: I collect glasses from the late Seventies, the horrible Eighties and the early Nineties. Which means that glasses from this era are my focus, but it also depends on the individual make and model and how I like it. I collect prescription frames as well as sunglasses, and men’s and women’s styles just the same. Over the years, one particular brand has emerged as a favorite: CAZAL! But I still collect pretty much anything that catches my eye.

Which styles do you like the best?
Looking at the whole thing closely, I would say aviator frames.

Which model is your all-time favorite?
Ah man, that’s a tough question! If you would ask about certain brands and my favorite model in their collection, that would be much easier. But hey, I’ll give it a shot: The Alpina Goldwing, Cazal 627 and 642, and the Alpina M1.

That’s a classic selection. Are there any current eyewear labels that tickle your fancy?
Yes and no. I pay attention to modern-day labels and models, but I mostly end up liking the re-releases of old classics. Or I end up in desperation about the utter lack of originality, with which current labels are biting old treasures. Here and there, there’ll be new glasses that I’m hyped about. But most of the time, these end up being really expensive. Like the Celine gold chain shades or the Chanel 5202 with mirrored temples, which I recently purchased.

Speaking of expensive eyewear, does your collection get heavy on the wallet? You’ve amassed a pretty sizable – and valuable – collection here. Enough to buy an apartment in Pforzheim, no?
Well, looking at what people on the Internet like to charge for some of my frames, it’s surely enough to buy an apartment. But I really don’t use my collection for trading that much, it’s not something I want to be a part of. And I think that price levels on the Internet can be totally over the top at times.

You display your treasured collection right in the middle of your living room, where most well-adjusted adults keep their TV set. Isn’t that a bit much?
I don’t really watch TV and the eyewear display has really great mood lighting. So I wouldn’t call it over the top. Most of the glasses in my collection are much prettier and way more interesting than 90% of all TV programs.

Do you take your eyewear treasures out for a walk sometimes, or are they kept in an ivory tower?
Of course I’m out rocking some of my treasures! Not all of them, but definitely more than other collectors.

Speaking of collectors, what’s the big attraction to collecting eyewear? What are the most joyful moments about the whole thing?
I’ve always had an urge to be a collector of something, but I just couldn’t decide on anything cool. Until I came across my first M1s. The nice thing about glasses is that you can actually wear them. And the best moments are clearly when you find a particular model that you’ve been after for a long time. Maybe you’ve been searching for six years and then BOOM! – you’re holding it in your hands. And you also know that there’s an entire community of collectors smiling with you. Or when you find a pair of glasses you had no idea even existed, a super cool model you’ve never seen before. Another great moment is when you trade with another collector and both parties end up expanding their collections in the process. And it’s also great when you can arrange to get a certain model for another collector and help him out… that always makes me super happy!

Do you ultimately sell your glasses at some point or are they strictly for keeps?
No, I’m not selling them. There are rare exceptions. Since I don’t aim to make any profit from my collection, I’m part of a pretty elite community of collectors. I know lots of people in the “vintage eyewear” scene who are collectors. But most of them will try to make some kind of profit from it on the side, if they can. As for me, I personally never had the goal of making money from collecting eyewear. But there have been instances when I sold a pair of glasses, for example when I had an extra pair of the same model or a friend or collector was looking for that exact pair of glasses. Ultimately, the main motivation in these cases is to free up cash for new purchases. After all, the funds for the collection have to come from somewhere.

What was your most pricey purchase so far?
I think my Cazal 627.

And which model took the most effort to hunt down?
Another tough one! (laughs) Depends on how you define effort. For example, I’ve waited for several months to get my hands on a Cazal 634, which I traded for another pair of glasses. I had a Persol 714 Ratti and some collectors were ready to pay top dollar for it, or negotiate a really generous trade. There were some pretty good offers, but this one collector from Italy asked me to trust him and keep the Persol on hold for him. He said it would take some time, but ultimately he would be able to trade me an extremely rare Cazal 634. So I took a leap of faith and agreed to wait. And it paid off, since I’m now the proud owner of one of the rarest Cazal styles of them all, the 634!

And which glasses were the best bargain?
Cartiers and Boeings, for 1.50 euros a piece. That’s never going to happen again, ever. But those were some of the happiest moments as a collector.

You probably won’t reveal any of your sources or inside scoops, right?
If you know exactly which model you’re looking for, the Internet is a good place to start. Or you may want to reach out to someone like me with connections to collectors and traders worldwide. Most models are still available somewhere, if you know where to look. So don’t hesitate to ask, I’m always happy to help!

There seems to be an internationally connected collectors community. How do you communicate with each other?
You’re right, it really is an international network. Straight off the bat, the following countries come to mind: Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Denmark, Greece, Japan, Thailand, Canada and the U.S. I know collectors in all these places and we communicate via Facebook.

How can people join this community? Is there some kind of code of conduct or initiation for newbies?
Not really, except having an interest in glasses and their history and design. It’s also important to be honest in your interactions with others in the community. Unfortunately, some pretty ugly things have gone down between some collectors and some “wannabe” collectors (mostly people looking for a quick buck), which have sort of dampened the mood in the scene.

Do you have a handle or nickname in the collector’s community?
I don’t need a nickname! My user name on Instagram, where I like to showcase a lot of my collection is CHRISTIANMETZLERCOM. But other than that, I operate under my real name, which is also a way of keeping it honest.

With so much love for a product – one that’s also taking up lots of space in your apartment – is there room in your life for another person?
Plenty of room, actually!

Does your partner need to share your love of eyewear, or simply refrain from destroying your collection in a fit of jealousy?
My partner can do as she likes. But my lovely Nadia does share my fascination with glasses and sunglasses… to some degree. Especially since I told her that her face is shaped perfectly for 1990s frames. Everything by Versace, Fendi, Gaultier etc. that’s not too huge and oval-shaped looks like custom-fitted on her. And if the whole eyewear thing gets too much for her, I can kick it with my brother Dennis who caught the eyewear bug from me and will forever share my passion.

A guy like you would seem more at home in a metropolis like Cologne or Berlin, not in quaint and conservative Pforzheim. How come you never left?
Thanks! Pforzheim is my home, I was born and raised here. The great thing about my job is that I get around a lot without being tied to one place. So I get to breathe some city air whenever I like, also since Pforzheim is only 40 minutes away from Stuttgart and 30 minutes from Karlsruhe and two hours from the Swiss border. France is also super close! I may not stay here forever, but right now I’m totally comfortable.

When you’re not roaming online platforms in search of new treasures, you make a living as a photographer. Is your life behind the lens simply a means to pay for your expensive hobby, or are you also passionate about your work?
I love my job! And my work feels less like “work” as for most people having to make a living. I’m super happy to photograph people and look forward to getting up every day and heading over to the studio or a photo shoot.

What’s the biggest attraction about photography?
Being in touch with so many people. My main line of work is people photography, so I get to meet lots of different individuals. I also like to be able to direct the shoot. I get to tell people how to position themselves, how to look and act. And I can control the lighting – from broad daylight to moody sunsets… All of that is really great fun.

Is there a common denominator between those two passions, taking photos and collecting eyewear?
Except being able to draw on my collection as props for photo shoots, not really. But I actually have a dream to connect both of these worlds. Someday, I want to go on a journey around the world to visit all collectors to take their portraits for a book.

That sounds like an amazing project. Does your passion for collecting extend into other areas besides eyewear?
Next to eyewear, I collect a bit of luxury goods from the Eighties and Nineties. I have a small collection of vintage designer jewelry and MCM leather goods, as well as the occasional Gianni Versace silk shirt, belts or scarfs by Chanel, Balmain, MCM. And Rolex watches.

Other tattoo aficionados will end up getting the name of their first-born child inked onto their body. Your right middle finger is adorned with the CAZAL brand logo. What’s special about that brand?
It’s because Cazal advanced to become my absolute favorite brand within the shortest amount of time. The design, the entire history behind the brand and the storied connection to hip-hop culture make Cazal something really special in this world of eyewear. And I always get to wear Cazal, even when I left my glasses at home – just put a finger over a my eye and there you go!

Are you sure you’ll still be into the logo in 20 years?
Oh well, that’s always the probing question behind getting a tattoo, But let’s turn it around: The positive thing about a tattoo is that it’s forever and you can be sure of it. There are really not that many things in life that are really 100% forever! And I also think that collecting eyewear in one way or another will still be a part of my life in 20 years, so the Cazal logo will be a positive reminder on my skin at all times.

Christian, thanks so much for the interview.

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