Focus | October 10, 2018

Fashion alchemy

Fashion houses propose innovative designs that reflect the spirit of the fashion house, while independent eyewear brands create exclusive eyewear collections for avant-garde fashion labels

words Caye Pollard

Film stars in the 50s and 60s used eyewear to enhance their style, yet it wasn’t until the 70s that eyewear came into its own as a fashion accessory – and a real fashion phenomenon – when rock stars flaunted glam and exaggerated shapes, enhanced by the technological advancements that brought brightly coloured acetate – sunglasses were mainly black and tortoiseshell until then – as well as coloured and gradient lenses which only came in neutral tones and mono-colours before the 70s. Advancements in technology also enabled the production of cheaper frames made available to a wider audience of fashion-enthusiasts. At the same time, the birth of prêt-à-porter inspired high fashion houses to include eyewear in their collections, alongside shoes, handbags and jewellery.

The 80s saw the consolidation and fame of the role of the designer as the creator of a distinctive look, ever more articulate and refined, which eyewear helped to define. At the same time, the connection with fashion helped reposition eyewear as a luxury accessory and manufacturers began pursuing licence agreements with high end fashion houses to produce and distribute their eyewear collections; optical manufacturers assumed the mantle of style leadership and rather strangely, dispensing opticians turned into eyewear fashion gatekeepers. This type of arrangement lasted for over a decade, resulting in eyewear designs being less daring, as the objective was to create a balance between the demands of the market and the fashion house’s DNA. Visible logos on the outside of the temples were introduced to identify the brand; this became the design expression of late 80s to early 90s eyewear. As a reaction to this state of affairs, independent, niche brands made an appearance in the 00s; most of them were inspired by the innovation and spirit that characterized the craftsmanship and experimental shapes of the decades prior to the licensing boom and they reinterpreted them. Most of these are eyewear-only brands. Fashion houses are now proposing a mix of innovative designs and prominent logos to their collections, all in the spirit of infusing a strong identity to their eyewear collections; their aesthetic is more in tune with the spirit of the fashion house.

The best results have seen eyewear perfectly complement the look on the runway, as in a symphony with all other accessories: bags, shoes and jewellery. The creation of an identity has always been the focus for a fashion house. From heritage to streetwear, to women designers designing for other women; for example, Prada’s sharp, geometric Ultravox style, inspired by comics and the image of an active and empowered woman. What makes eyewear collections designed by fashion houses so unique is their approach of mixing the mood of the season – new each season – with the established identity of the brand, like a dance; from garments to shoes, jewellery and handbags, all complement each other to create a narrative. Dance was also the inspiration behind Jonny Johansson’s Spring/Summer 2019 Women’s collection for Acne Studios. The idea of movement and fluidity is the thread that runs through the whole runway show. The tinted mask sunglasses conveyed the idea of lightness, perfectly complementing the flow and movement of sheer slip dresses and jersey tops in cream tones. Purely independent eyewear brands also tap into this beautiful alchemy between ready-to-wear and accessories by collaborating with avant-garde fashion houses; as demonstrated by the successful collaboration between Projekt Produkt and Rejina Pyo.