Cool shades for a hot summer

Retro or pop? A new, individualistic range of eye-catching sunglasses is on offer this spring and summer. Josh Sims takes a peep and assesses their appeal

There’s a retro mood this season, brought alive with a fusion of pop colours and modern materials. Brands are reaching back to breathe new life into classic designs using high-tech acetate finishes in bold hues.

“Designers are giving iconic styles a new twist,” according to style experts at Safilo, a leading international eyewear specialist. “It’s a new take on classic designs with a strong feeling of heritage.

“It’s an interesting combination of retro and pop. If the shape is modern, the materials are retro; if the shape is retro the materials and colours are modern.”

The new spring-summer season’s styles are either vintage, pushing back even further than the recent 1940s revival towards the turn of the 20th century, or big shapes and bolder colours, says Alessandro Beccarini, international product development director at Luxottica.

“The market is pulling in these two directions, but actually linked by an essentially retro mood – one more mature, the other more 1970s,” he says. “In fact, what’s happening is that the economic crisis is encouraging many more brands to look back to their origins and rediscover what they’re really about; to reflect that in their designs, rather than seek to follow general trends. Consumers haven’t stopped buying sunglasses, but they now want more than a quick fashion-look.”

There’s no dominant look in fashion anymore and that’s happening in eyewear too

A scan through this season’s portfolio certainly suggests each brand has its distinctive look. Carrera is inspired by stylistic heritage with its iconic leather insert on the brow bar, held in place by a small metal button, making a return. Dior has gone for a retro 1950s look in bright colours. Gucci also has a strong combination of classic and pop. Marc Jacobs is strong on colour. Dolce & Gabbana has oversized transparent acetate frames with 18ct-gold detailing – very “dolce vita”. Progressive Prada spin-off brand Miu Miu creates models carved from single pieces of steel. Burberry nods to its craft heritage with a hand-stitched leather cord running through the acetate. Stella McCartney opts for prints of the kind her womenswear is known for.

But what is perhaps more striking is the claim by many in the specs and sunglasses industry that the seasonal trends, by which it has historically kept close tabs with shifts in clothing fashion, are in fact breaking down altogether. “There’s no dominant look in fashion anymore and that’s happening in eyewear too,” says designer and producer Claire Goldsmith. “Cat’s eye, outsize, round, vintage – they’re all available. There’s a sense that it’s no longer about a certain look, but wearing what suits your face or taste.”

Certainly, because every shape is now available all the time, surface treatments have become all the more important. The bold colour, heavy black and tortoiseshell of recent years have given way to nudes. Finishes may be matt – long rejected by opticians on the basis that oils in the skin would ruin the effect, a problem now overcome using new sand-blasting techniques – or even “distressed” for a more unfinished look.

And just as much attention is being paid to lenses as to frames, with mirrored lenses – in classic silver and gold but also red, blue and orange – and also graded ones.

But Jonathan Van Blerk, executive director of Eye Respect, which distributes eyewear by the likes of John Varvatos and Andy Wolf, as well as its own brand, agrees that distinct trends are in decline. Blogging and the internet has not only spawned a more savvy consumer – “with the growing sense that, for a long time, they’ve over-paid for average quality products,” he says – but also provided a shop window for an explosion in niche brands, often specialising in a particular style or emphasising the hand-made or technologically-advanced.

Kirk Originals, for example, has developed patented systems for injecting layers of colour into acetate, while Mykita – “the golden child of the industry right now,” says Ms Goldsmith – has developed Mylon, a material that allows the company to “grow” frames out of a special powder in a way akin to 3D printing. “Innovation like that is where the industry is going,” she says. Expect more use of titanium, carbon fibre and custom hinges too.

Such brands are already breaking away from the mass-market of the sunglasses business, even forming their own collective trade shows, such as The Loft, featuring brands including Kirk Originals, Baron Ferrera, Leisure Society and Claire Goldsmith, which showed during New York’s Vision Expo in March. So when the sun comes out, forget fashion – wear what you like.