Stars put sunglasses in the shade

Celebrity eyewear is all the rage but you need not pay much to look the part, says Virginia Matthews.

As style icons go, the Queen and Harry Potter may appear to have little in common, yet both monarch and wizard have had a profound impact on the eyewear of a nation.

Be it the Queen’s much-copied, no-nonsense frames from high-end Austrian manufacturer Silhouette, or the round Potter glasses which have spawned the current nerdy look, celebrity eyewear is making ever-greater inroads into the high street.

Fuelled by endorsement from red carpet A-listers such as actress Cate Blanchett, the (other) face of Silhouette, and Brazilian footballer Neymar, ambassador for the trendy design firm Police, the evolution of specs from distress purchase to de rigueur fashion accessory is complete.

“With high-end designer eyewear brands such as Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Tom Ford working so closely with clothes companies, spectacles and sunglasses have become overwhelmingly trend-led,” says Claire Ginzler, stylist for 100% Optical, the UK’s biggest annual eyewear show which opens today.

“You may not be able to afford a Chanel handbag or the latest man bag from Vuitton, but by choosing to wear their latest frames you can look a million dollars without breaking the bank.”

Dedicated followers of fashion were once obliged to wait several months before the specs and accessories on sale locally even remotely echoed those of the catwalk.

Today, with the latest bling from Beverley Hills on shelves in Barnet or Barnsley within a single season, haut couture and high street are more like conjoined twins than distant cousins. Or are they?

Although the basic styles available to everyday spec-wearers may look identical to those worn in Hollywood, take the ubiquitous Ray-Ban Aviator, or the new craze for wooden frames, the materials and level of precision probably won’t be. Fake tortoiseshell, for example, is a classic in the UK mass market.

But the genuine, hand-made “turtle-shell” glasses produced by Maison Bonnet of Paris — prices on request — can involve up to 30 hours of work by a specialist artisan, as well as a series of time-consuming fittings.

Bonnet is the only “lunetier” in the world still permitted to make eyewear from tortoiseshell, using stocks amassed before the trade was banned. Its clients have included Jackie and Aristotle Onassis, Yves Saint Laurent and the former French President Jacques Chirac.

Nowhere is the gap between celeb and pleb more obvious than with sunglasses, Ginzler says. “Today’s sunglasses have combined functionality and fashion to become a showcase of wealth, social status and fashion sense.

“Truly bespoke products, made for the richest clientele by designers like Bvlgari or Cartier, have a totally limitless price tag, particularly if they are collectors’ items.”

The most expensive shades ever to be made are widely-attributed to the Swiss luxury firm Chopard, which designed its Jewel Sunglasses specifically for the Middle East market.

Costing an eye-watering £269,000-plus and proving that in this case, all that glitters is indeed gold, the tips are made from 60 grams of the 24-carat variety. Be it crystals, pearls, shells, sequins, feathers or a smattering of rhinestones, where the ruling glasses go today, the high street is sure to follow.

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