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From Run DMC’s thick rimmed Cazals to Quavo’s iced out Cartiers, rappers have always been drawn to the finest pieces of eyewear. And within this last decade, Julian Emani—better known as Vintage Julz—has built a reputation as one of hip-hop's largest purveyors of rare vintage eyewear. For the past six years, the 29-year-old Philly native has operated his one of a kind shop on South Street in Philadelphia. From Chanel to Jean Paul Gaultier, Julz has sold pricey vintage specs to rappers such as Lil Uzi Vert, Schoolboy Q, Quavo, and even the late Pop Smoke. A pair of rimless, “Big C,” Cartier glasses that Julz sold to the Brooklyn drill rapper even made its way onto Pop Smoke’s iconic Meet the Woo 2 album cover. In Julz’ opinion, it was one of the most impactful vintage eyewear sales of all time.
“Anybody who has ever sold Cartiers will tell you, there was never a time where people wanted Cartiers more than when Pop Smoke wore them, and this was even before he died,” Julz told Complex over the phone. “Everybody wanted the “Big Cs” with the Hennessy tint. The same way that Pop Smoke had them. From Detroit, to New York, to China, everybody wanted the Pop Smoke glasses.”
Within 10 years, Julz went from being an unpaid intern at the Vintage Frames Company to making a six-figure salary off reselling vintage eyeglass frames. But Julz is more than just a plug who can source a pair of $3,000 Cartiers with buffalo horn temples. He’s a true vintage glasses historian who could identify the exact pair of Gaultiers that Jean Reno wore in Leon The Professional, and school you on the first pair of frames Christain Dior released in 1960. We spoke to Julz to gain a better understanding about the hype behind vintage eyewear, how he sources his product, and why Cartiers are currently the most popular glasses within hip-hop culture today.
How did you first become interested in just buying and selling vintage eyewear?
About 10 years ago I moved to Canada to work for [Corey Shapiro’s] Vintage Frames Company. I became his assistant. I was a street kid from Philly and I just graduated college at the time. I went to school for radiology, selling a little bit of weed, but was always into fashion. When I graduated school, I didn't really know the next thing I was going to do in my life because I just studied radiology to make my parents happy while I did my little thing on the side. I saw that Vintage Frames had an internship, hit him up, and didn't even give him a resume. I just told him about myself. Let him know that I'm from the streets of Philly and I loved fashion. He ended up hitting me back and gave me a shot. I've never been out of the country before that. I got a passport and hopped on a plane that week. I did an unpaid internship for three months and I paid out of my pocket to live there. The rest is history. I did that for three months and then he employed me for two years, so I studied under him.
In 2016, I flew back home to Philly and linked up with Shyne Jewelers, who does all of Meek Mill’s jewelry. My first store was half glasses and half jewelry. I did that for another two years. And then for the past four years now I've been on my own selling glasses.
In Detroit, Cartiers are deeply embedded in the city's street culture. Are there any specific eyeglasses tied to Philly?
Philly has always been big in fashion. We've always been one of the pioneers. So the old heads in Philly, they dabbled in the Cartiers but it wasn't like Detroit. So in Philly, the main thing that was popular were the old school Cazals, the Alpinas, and the Porsches. They used to bust store windows to steal them back in the day. They would knock them off your face. There were murders over them. It was the same type of stuff that you hear about these Cartiers in Detroit. It was just on the East Coast in Philly.
Were you always interested in vintage eyewear?
I always wore glasses, but before I met Vintage Frames [Corey Shapiro] in 2010, I just wore stuff that you could get from a standard Sunglass Hut like Versace or Gucci. When I started opening up the door to vintage frames, I started doing my research. I fell in love with brands such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Cazal, Christian Dior, Fendi, Gianni Versace, and of course, Cartier. Once I had my first vintage frames, which was a pair of Jean Paul Gaultiers, I never looked back. I threw out all my new ones and I only wanted vintage from that point on because the quality was unmatched. I love how they were rare. I could wear something and people wouldn't know where to find them. I always liked being unique.
Brands like Jean Paul Gaultier and Cazal have also reached out to try and purchase one off, super rare, frames that I own. I have some Christian Dior frames from 1960 that they would love to get their hands on. The very first Christian Dior frames they had ever produced. It has Swarovski crystals, it’s literally jewelry for your face. Christian Dior was actually the first luxury brand to license off their rights to another company, which was Tura, a big eyewear brand, to produce their eyewear in 1960. I hold the largest archive of these glasses. I have over 30 pairs and they are valued anywhere from $5,000-$10,000 a piece.
I dabble in every brand. So right now, because of the culture, I do Cartier 24/7. But I also specialize in all other vintage brands. Christian Dior, Fendis, Chanels. I'm an eyewear historian. I fell in love with Cartier. I got Cartier tattooed on me. Like I said, Jean Paul Gaultier is always going to be my favorite. But I still have nothing but love for other brands like Fendi, Dior and Chanel.