Coffee with Guppy: A Woman of Vision

Nancy chats with eyewear entrepreneur Arlene Phillips.

August 31, 2017

Nancy Guppy


ARLENE PHILLIPS owns Ottica Seattle, an eyewear boutique she opened 15 years ago at First Avenue and Lenora Street in downtown Seattle. Starting this business was a great risk, she confides, because Id never owned a business before. I was in between kids and decided that rather than go find a job, I would give my inner entrepreneur a chance. Im happy I did.

What does Ottica mean? Its an Italian word for eyeglass store and also the feminine form for eyeglass doctor, so Ottica Seattle is, basically, the eyeglass store of the city.

What happens when someone new walks into Ottica Seattle? It starts with a conversation. Ill find out what they do, take in how they dress, ask if they have a specific idea in mind and then well try on several pieces.

Is it fun getting a customer to recognize that your advice is right on the money? Oh, yes! The most common comment people make is I want the glasses to disappear and their definition of disappear is an all-glass, rimless frame. I tell them we dont carry that because rimless frames add 25 years to your look. And no one wants to look aged.

Its been said that clothes make the person. Can the same thing be said about eyeglass frames? Absolutely! Over the years, Ive seen a lot of well-dressed men and women but when I get to their faces, its like, Oh, no! And its not just regular folks. There are lots of TV personalities Id like to help with their glasses.

Arlene Phillips believes the right eyewear can do wonders for self-confidence. Ive seen people walk out of here standing tall … because they look fabulous in their glasses and they know it.

Have you ever sold frames you knew werent right? Nope. I wouldnt feel good about that. Its about finding the right fit for the person, and sometimes nothing quite works. If that happens, Ill say something like, You know, we always get new things in. Lets wait and if I see something thats more appropriate, I will absolutely call you.

Define what a good fit means? The nose is the most important because thats where the frame rests. Frame size and shape matter as well, but it all starts with the nose.

What can people expect to pay for Ottica frames? $475 is the average retail price.

Google glass seems to have gone the way of the Segway. Why is that? Well, do you want Google glass to be the expression of who you are? Didnt think so.

How do you choose your designers and where do you find them? I go with the small guys, the artisans who truly believe in their craft, and I mostly find them at shows in France, Italy, Germany and Japan.

How do you balance your creative mind with your business mind? You can be as creative as you want but if youre not creating something that has a market, youre not going to be successful.

Whats your biggest accomplishment in life? I have three beautiful sons who are really nice human beings.

Whats your biggest indulgence? Im an ice cream freak and pistachio is my favorite. I can demolish a container in one sitting.

What quality do you like best in other people? I like people who think critically, use their intellect wisely and pause to listen.

Finish this sentence: Arlene Phillips is … … a person who strives daily to be authentic and to love her friends and love her family.

For more on the lives of entertainers, artists and entrepreneurs, tune in to ART ZONE WITH NANCY GUPPY on the Seattle Channel (