"Why Round Sunglasses? A Style Investigation
Multimedia Slide Show
Why Round Sunglasses? A Style Investigation
WAS it only last year that round sunglasses were considered square?
The hot eyewear look of 2008 was pretty much defined by plastic Wayfarer knockoffs, garish neon trapezoids often seen color-coordinated with a plaid shirt and sneakers. Or else it was “shutter shades,” those ventilated blinders popularized by Kanye West.
This summer, however, the memo for sunglasses says circles are in. Very round shapes, as round as goggles in some cases, appeared in the recent women’s collections of Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler; and, for men, from Ralph Lauren, Zegna and Lanvin (most costing from $300 to $400). Last month, New York magazine included round sunglasses among the anticipated trends of the summer. And, as predicted, they are already appearing on the streets in numbers not seen since the release of the last Harry Potter book.
While most fashion trends — and especially this one — are circular, round sunglasses, seemingly everywhere all at once, provide a case study of the group-think mentality of the fashion industry. There are even inexpensive examples ($10 to $11) at Urban Outfitters and Fred Flare.
Given that there is no obvious source for the revival and that typically it takes more than a year to develop expensive sunglasses from a design to prototype to salable object, how could it be that all of these designers stumbled upon the same idea at the same time?
“This is what fashion is,” said Simon Jablon, the English designer behind the Linda Farrow sunglasses label, which was founded by his mother in 1970. “It is a trend. You can just sense it. You have a feeling for where things are going to go.”
Designers are looking at the same things — art exhibitions, fashionable parties, rock stars — so their impulses are often surprisingly in step with one another. But sometimes it’s possible to trace where their ideas are coming from.
Round frames last appeared as a fashion trend about two decades ago. In 1989, when Alain Mikli introduced a thick-rimmed version, Woody Hochswender wrote in The New York Times that “a modified John Lennon look is the newest old thing.”
Before that, they were a defining element of hippie style during the 1960s counterculture movement — just about the only time that round glasses could be described as an unqualified fashion hit. Throughout the last century, round glasses have been associated with celebrated architects, literary stars and intellectual thinkers — Philip Johnson, Le Corbusier, Dominick Dunne, Gandhi — almost all of them men and rarely a figure noted for his cutting-edge personal style, unless you count Mr. Chow.
And yet something about the style, as uncommercial as it may seem, has clicked with designers. Or, as it turns out, several things happened at roughly the same time, in 2007 and 2008, that help explain why you are seeing round sunglasses again.
One of the most intriguing explanations comes from Selima Salaun, the eyewear maven behind the Selima Optique shops. Ms. Salaun, who also develops styles for other designers, including Proenza Schouler and Adam Kimmel, noted that one of the biggest influences on her work was the black-and-white portraits taken in the 1950s and ’60s by the Malian photographer Malick Sidibé, who was given a lifetime achievement award at the Venice Biennale art fair two years ago.
Shortly after that event, which was attended by prominent designers (Miuccia Prada, Karl Lagerfeld, Stefano Pilati, Azzedine Alaïa, Alberta Ferretti and Mr. Jacobs among them), Mr. Sidibé, now in his 70s, began to have an unexpected fashion moment. Designers sought out monographs of his work, notably a 2004 edition published by Steidl that conveyed the exuberance of postcolonial West Africa with images of stylish young men and women, many of them wearing incredible sunglasses.
Echoes of his work then began to appear in designer collections and in the images created for their promotion. A new line called Suno replicated the staging of Mr. Sidibé’s photographs for its lookbook, right down to the checkerboard marble floor. In April, Mr. Sidibé’s work was also featured in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, as a fashion story, including several of the photographer’s 17 children dressed in clothes from Marni and Dries Van Noten.
“A lot of designers used his book,” Ms. Salaun said.
But it was not Mr. Sidibé’s influence alone that set off the trend. John Lennon deserves some credit, too. In July 2007, Mr. Lennon’s name was again in the news when a pair of his wire-rimmed round glasses were sold at auction, drawing bids of more than $1.5 million, the BBC reported, though the final sale price, which was never disclosed, was believed to be far less.
That sale did not escape the attention of Kristen McCabe, a buying executive at Ilori, the upscale sunglasses retailer started by Luxottica Group in 2007. Ms. McCabe had a hunch that round glasses would return because they mesh with other eyewear themes occurring at the moment, like vintage, geek-chic and Hollywood.
It also helps that Mr. Lennon’s image, in round sunglasses, has been peering at New Yorkers from subway walls and billboards since May, on posters publicizing a Lennon exhibition at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in SoHo. That show ignited requests for round sunglasses at stores around the city.
“Women are really embracing them,” Ms. McCabe said. “Lady Gaga was seen in an airport in Japan this weekend wearing them.”
When Proenza Schouler introduced round sunglasses in spring 2008, the designers were actually so far ahead of the trend that they were at a disadvantage. Circular frames are not face-friendly, Ms. McCabe said, and usually look best on women with strong jaw lines, so the line’s initial styles were difficult to sell. But newer versions, which are slightly larger and more angular, with the stems positioned higher on the frame, have been a success.
Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the designers of the label, said in an e-mail message that they had been bored with the prevailing Wayfarer look and that, while looking at images of midcentury factory workers in goggles, “something about the simplicity of that shape against the face turned us on.”
Still, the story of round would not be complete without a nod to the hippies. This year’s Broadway revival of “Hair,” while not exactly fashion friendly, had its first performances last summer at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. At a preview last May, its cast performed at the Costume Institute gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before an audience that included a spectrum of international fashion designers.
By the end of the year, as Ms. McCabe and other retailers were looking at styles for spring 2009 at trade shows like the Vision Expo in New York and Las Vegas or the SILMO international eyewear exhibition in Paris, round shapes were widespread.
Mr. Jablon of Linda Farrow, who also produces sunglasses for Dries Van Noten, Matthew Williamson, Raf Simons and others, said that it was probably the most natural shape for designers to embrace, and he predicted that another signature Lennon style — an upside-down pear shape — would be the next big thing after that.
He must be onto something. Two of his clients, Mr. Jablon said, just had the same idea."