A discovery of some historic relics in his grandfather’s warehouse led Luca Ruscone to envisage his trendsetting company.

Luca Ruscone was a young, successful executive seemingly destined for a promising career. After a childhood in Italy, he studied economics in the United States and was working for a large American multinational firm in Shanghai, responsible for assessing the viability of potential investments in China. But as he looked out of the window of his high-rise office he thought, “What am I doing? Is this what I studied for?”

City life was not as fulfilling as he had hoped. Ruscone had spent his childhood in the countryside and was accustomed to fresh air and nature during his weekends on his farm, playing with his dogs or fishing in nearby lakes. But a fortnight after realising he was not living his dream, he received a phone call that would change his life and lead to the path of establishing his own eyewear company, LGR.

Ruscone’s 90 year-old grandfather, Rafello Bini, was calling to ask him to come help clear out his old warehouse in Asmara, Eritrea. Bini first arrived in Eritrea as a war photographer in the 1930s. Following Benito Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy in 1922, Eritrea merged with Italian Somaliland (now Somalia) and the newly conquered Ethiopia to form the Italian East Africa administrative territory.

Growing up in poverty in Italy, Bini had nothing to go back to after the war. He stayed in Asmara to run a series of successful businesses, first distributing Kodak and Leica photography products, then importing Italian fabrics and finally, manufacturing rubber flip flops, at one point producing seven million a year.

While rifling through the boxes of merchandise left in Bini’s warehouse, Ruscone made a discovery: a box of military eyeglasses from the 1930s.

“Immediately I knew they were special because they were just what eyeglasses should have been from the beginning,” he recalls. “When you hold them, they are a different weight. It felt like quality, like something that is not on the market anymore.”

He took them back to Italy, gifted a few pairs to friends and family and returned to Shanghai. But word of mouth spread and within six months, he had sold all 300 pairs he had found.

With such a positive response, Ruscone started researching the eyewear market. He discovered that since the 1980s, one manufacturer had monopolised the market. Before that, eyewear was made by a series of small factories. In Italy, for example, most cities had their own eyewear artisan, just as they had a resident shoemaker.

“I researched the market for eyewear and there was no factory making eyeglasses in the same authentic way. Simultaneously, the vintage movement was just starting and I saw an opportunity,” he says.

He founded LGR based on his own initials, Luca Gnecchi Ruscone, tracked down the factory that made the original frames and convinced them to reopen. The lenses are made with mineral glass in a technique that, for the most part, has been abandoned in favour of lighter, plastic lenses. However, Ruscone says, optically mineral glass is preferable as there is no visual distortion. They also have a different look and feel to plastic lenses.

The early days of the business were full of lucky breaks.

“To start a business, you have to know what you’re doing, have some experience and a lot of money to start a business. That was not my case. It started with, ‘Can I have a pair? My friend wants a pair’,” he says.

Those friends were people in high places. Fashion photographer Mario Testino requested a pair when he spotted one of Luca’s friends sporting them in Ibiza.  Following a meeting with the French Vogue editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld, the magazine dedicated a full page to LGR in its February 2008 issue of the magazine.

At first Ruscone managed the business remotely before gaining enough traction to give him the confidence to quit his job in Shanghai. The factory now produces about 30,000 frames a year, priced between $200  and $570, all of which are still made by hand with components produced in Italy.

Reflecting on his success so far, Ruscone is not ready to take a step back.

“My grandfather would say the same thing to me now as he would on the as the first day. ‘Vai avanti, vai avanti!’ Move ahead, work hard. Maybe from the outside you see success and you see beautiful glasses in magazines. But inside, in my daily routine, I am fearful I won’t make it so I try to work harder and do better each time. It is infinite. The benchmark is so high, there is a lot of work to do and I am not resting.”