Sunglasses have featured in so many pivotal moments of our cultural history. Do you think that picture of Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany’s would have resonated in the same way without her Wayfarer-style Oliver Goldsmith’s? What image would Jackie O conjure without her oversized shades? And how about the keyhole-style made famous by Steve McQueen, or the Rayban Clubmaster? No, sunnies aren’t just for protecting the eyes, they’re a way of making a statement. Just ask Alex Perry.
I still have the frames I bought on my first holiday with my husband (Miu Miu wraps – at the time I thought I was ridiculously fashionable, now they are just ridiculous), and the pink oversized Oliver Peoples I bought on our honeymoon in Positano (not ever being ‘in’, these have stood the test of time more gracefully). I don’t wear either of them, but I can’t let them go.
Most people have multiple pairs on rotation, with the average American having three pairs at one time (unfortunately no Aussie bureau has gotten together to get that poll done for us – come on ABS, what are you doing with our taxpayer cash?). On the other end of the spectrum is someone like Nicole Richie who is famously quoted as saying she carries “about eight pairs” in her handbag. Nicole blames both a love of sunnies and a lack of time (really!?) when changing over handbags. She just loads one bag inside another, creating a sort of handbag babushka, and hits the road, 16 lenses in tow.
So what’s your sunglasses story? Did you opt-in to those swirly-armed Prada wraps circa 2003? Do you buy a pair at the airport every time you go on holiday? Or do you go for luxury brands to get a piece of the style pie? If you do, you’re not alone. Trends show that sunglasses purchases in the luxury fashion house sector are growing steadily, the thinking similar to the theory about buying a new lipstick in the recession. While punters are pulling back on purchasing big-ticket brand items such as handbags, they are instead going for brand alignment through the relatively cheaper price tags on sunglasses. When you think that you can pay $3600 (and up) for a Celine bag, a pair of sunnies at around $495 seems like a steal. Plus they are front and centre on your pretty face, and a recognisable shape coupled with a brand on its arm gives good bang for your designer buck.
“It’s an unusual market, almost anything goes,” says Amanda Herring, style consultant at Specialeyes’ King Street store. Having just returned from viewing the next season’s collections, Amanda notes that while there is a great variety in materials, shapes and sizes, what really stands out is the strong textural focus and quirkiness. “I think the So Real by Dior will be one of the biggest styles this season,” she says. “Fashion bloggers are wearing it, famous people are wearing it – it is a round, metal-acetate combo, has a partial 2cm mirror at the top of the frame, and comes in a huge variety of colours.
“There is a lot of texture coming in, whether that is in marbled acetate or colour-flecked acetates, right through to complete leather-front finishes,” says Amanda. “Balenciaga is doing cat-eye sunglasses with an entire front of leather, and Miu Miu has a new butterfly cat eye encrusted in bling. Roberto Cavalli is bringing out a yellow-gold metal and white snakeskin frame, Prada is doing partial wood frames, and we have a brand from Budapest called Vinylize that laminates black vinyl records to the front of the frame. People are trying to find something different – it’s about texture, interest and a crazy edge.”
If you’re more off-piste about your shades, you might enjoy smaller brands that boast different credentials such as innovative design (frames without screws? What black magic is this?), small runs, custom design, and unusual materials. “We’ve got a German brand – Herrlicht – that makes all-wooden glasses,
even the screws,” says optometrist David Shanahan, who has a private collection of over 3000 vintage frames. Meanwhile, Fritz, a master craftsman from Germany who’s moved to Queensland and who has a background in making wooden boats, now makes wooden frames, winning an ODMA design award for his sunglasses.
Then there are boutique brands such as Frances Klein in Paris, where each pair is designed and handmade in-house, even hand-painted. “They are just magnificent, they are pieces of jewellery,” says David.
And that really hits on why we all have several pairs of sunglasses: because we treat them more like jewellery and accessories that should be changed with our outfit. Think a slightly heavier weekend acetate pair for cafe lurking, versus a fine wire frame to match a suit.
“I think if people pick the right frame that is iconic in its beauty, then it’s not something we are talking about being on trend just this season,” says David. “In five years’ time, people will still be saying to you, ‘Wow they’re great!’. They might be outside the safe zone, but they are magnificent. They will stand the test of time, and if you are careful about what you buy, and get good advice, they might be more edgy than what you’ll be comfortable with, but you will love them.”
GRADES OF SHADE
When choosing sunglasses, make sure they comply to Australian Standards Category 2 or 3. This isn’t a problem in most places (even cheaper outlets such
as chemists), but be wary when purchasing cheap pairs overseas. As a basic rule, if you are in the sun long enough to require sunscreen, you also need sunglasses. The eye can get burnt just like the skin, and most of this damage occurs in the teenage years (think long sessions playing sport or swimming in full sun). If you wear prescription glasses, it is worth considering prescription sunnies. Sunglasses dilate the pupil, tricking it into thinking it is darker than it actually is. That makes it harder for the eye to focus, and so wearing a script in your sunnies can make a real difference.