For much of his career, eyewear specialist Amin Mamdani has been on a vision quest
“I did many house calls,” Amin Mamdani is telling me.
Riffing on the early months of the pandemic, when the red-hot optician launched what he calls a “mobile eyewear service,” he explains that his door-to-door game extended to drop-offs to cottages in Muskoka. With the sort of clientele his Squint Eyewear boasts – captains of industry, well-known chefs – that is perhaps not surprising.
“Even before COVID, some people were accustomed to services coming to them,” he says. “Getting haircuts in the office. A massage at home. So why not eyewear?” Arming himself with extra inventory to hit the road, he got many new bags to accommodate at-home fittings and adjustments. These days, one of Mamdani’s colleagues makes most of those house calls. A guy named Brian Gosling.
“Ryan Gosling?” I ask, mishearing at first.
“Brian Gosling,” he reiterates, smiling. “But yeah, he gets a lot of comments about that.”
Sitting with me recently at his apothecary-like boutique nestled inside the concourse of the Royal Bank Plaza – one of four Squint branches in the GTA – the cherubic eye whiz caught me up on his journey through the world of specs.
Eye of the beholder
When speaking with Mamdani, it does not take long to realize how connected he is to the incestuous world of eyewear in Toronto. For starters: he worked for about a decade at both Josephson Opticians and Karir Eyewear. For years, those two were rivals in the premium optical space but now share the same owner – putting Squint, in my mind, at the forefront of the chichi independent scene.
Mamdani says that he learned from Bob Karir “operations, the buying and selecting of eyewear, the business.” When he went on to become the right-hand to Josh Josephson – another notable character in this town – Mamdani began to think about eyewear within the broader context of lifestyle. Josephson, a well-known gourmand, is the one who first introduced him to dinners at places like Alain Ducasse, in Paris, and put him in the company of people like Anthony Bourdain (when Josephson hosted a book launch for the late chef and documentarian).
The six degrees of separation extends even further when Mamdani mentions that he carries beautiful pieces from Rapp Optical – the local bespoke brand long beloved by the cognoscenti. Squint is the only place in Toronto that stocks Rapp outside of its own store. “We are happy for your success” is what Mamdani told them when courting the brand, emphasizing that he sought to celebrate them. “It’s a great collection for us,” he says, “a unique collection.”
See and be seen
Puttering around the store, Mamdani points to other enviable brands – France’s Anne & Valentine, Italy’s Piero Massaro, as well as a vast array of handmade Japanese eyewear – and it’s clear how much he’s in his element. The chap born in Zaire, who moved with his family to Belleville, Ontario (picking up a knack for business from his dad and uncle), talks eagerly about “temples,” “finish” and “acetate.”
Eighteen years in, Squint leans toward “the executive … the more mature customer,” he says. “We are not looking for the disposable glasses customer.” Returning to the effects of the pandemic on the eyewear trade, he mentions what he calls “COVID vision” – something he began noticing approximately five months into lockdown. The Zoom effect. Staring into screens. Many people already had issues with their sight; the pandemic only magnified them.
Another thing he noticed: more customers began buying multiple pairs at a time. Now that more time is being spent in front screens, eyewear has become for some the centerpiece of their wardrobe.
As he preps for an appointment-only event he is doing next week with Chrome Hearts (a Los Angeles-based eyewear brand with a rock-and-roll edge), Mamdani bids adieu. Something he said earlier rings in my head: “I am lucky in that I have a career that marries health and business. It is both need and want.”