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Sunglasses bring coolness to warm-weather wardrobes

Sunglasses are a favorite tool of the cool. They can hit just the right balance between calling attention to oneself and being incognito.Your best chance of being mistaken for a celebrity is definitely wearing sunglasses, probably in a place you don't need them - like indoors.

Sunglasses do serve a fashion purpose, too: They're a way to individualize a summertime look that might not be more than a T-shirt and shorts - not much room for expression there.

In fact, increasingly, people are building a "wardrobe" of sunglasses, just as they've done for shoes, handbags and watches, sometimes making accessories the essential part of an outfit that everything else aims to complement.

How can something as small as a pair of sunglasses change a look - or even have trends of its own?

Color on the face, for one, can be a huge transformation. Red frames versus black frames, even if they're the same shape, can look entirely different.

"They're jewelry for the face," said fashion designer James Mischka, who, with partner Mark Badgley, launched the first Badgley Mischka sunglasses collection this season. The company most recognized for its eveningwear also introduced optic glasses.

“We’re known for our ornamentation and embellishment. We’re applying those principles to the frames. We used modern technology, but the glasses have the old-school feeling of Swarovski crystals, laser-cut lace inlays on frames, pearls. There’s even one with feathers inlaid in the plastic — that was a technological challenge,” Mischka said with a laugh.

Other eye-catching details on sunglasses this summer could be rimless frames, metal studs, an interesting “lining” on the arms’ interior or a pattern on the arms’ exterior, notes Peggy Fries, senior marketing manager for Luxottica, the manufacturer of glasses for licensees Donna Karan, Ray-Ban, Dolce & Gabbana, and its own brand Vogue.

When it comes to this season’s shades, buzz words include “geek chic” and “retro,” said Fries.

“White is everywhere in eyewear,” Fries said, thanks to the popularity of plastic frames. The plastic trend also will lead to the Ray-Ban Wayfarer, first popularized by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and later Tom Cruise in “Risky Business,” to being very hot, she predicts. Another look Cruise helped make famous — the Aviators he wore in “Top Gun” — is enjoying a revival. The traditionally metallic glasses, which were first introduced in 1937, are additionally being offered in plastic frames and with more square-shaped lenses.

On other styles, there’ll be more careful, subtle and sophisticated use of embellishment, Fries said. Instead of all-over glitzy beading or logos, look for purposeful placement of studs and crystals.

The market is a lot more willing to experiment, she notes, probably because they see more options without going into a store to do their research: Sunglasses now make frequent appearances on fashion runways and in paparazzi photos of celebrities.

“People have more than one pair of sunglasses now. People are shopping for it as an accessory, not a necessity,” Fries said.

Technology has done a lot to expand sunglass offerings, ranging from embedded MP3 players and sunglass mobile phone hybrids to high-performance lenses, said Brent Martin, president of Ryders sunglasses, which is geared toward the sports enthusiast.

Polarization, which is a filter that absorbs reflective glare, has been around a long time, Martin said, but now it can be injected directly into the lens instead of being added to it. That makes for a higher quality, optically clear lens, he said.

Also, photochromic lenses have gone high tech. Photochromic lenses change the visible light transmission when light gets more or less intense, explains Martin, also a board member of the Sunglass Association of America, a nonprofit industry advocacy group.

These lenses can now be made of polycarbonate, which is shatterproof — an especially important feature on sport sunglasses.

“You can do a polarized, photochromic polycarbonate. That’s the ultimate for some customers,” he said.


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