In Sofia Coppola’s new film The Bling Ring, starring Emma Watson, a gang of teenage burglars favours outsized designer sunglasses, super-high Louboutin heels, diamonds, furs and capacious handbags. Based on a true story, the movie not only examines the obsession with celebrity culture (the gang raids the homes of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Miranda Kerr) but sends up our taste for their favourite accessory: sunglasses. “Oh, McQueen!” squeals the ringleader as she swipes a studded pair from a victim’s closet.
Indeed, sunglasses are no longer just for the sun – they are status-signifiers, identity-concealers. And just as handbags and heels have got bigger, showier and more exotic in recent years, so sunglasses are fast reaching their logical extreme.
“I definitely choose my sunglasses now according to what outfit I’m wearing,” says eyewear designer Anna Laub of Prism. “I choose them in exactly the same way as I might choose a pair of shoes or a bag.”
At department store Selfridges, hundreds of designs are perched on wooden shelves. Liberty has even established a Sunglasses Salon, featuring brands from Céline to Stella McCartney, Tom Ford to newcomer Sheriff & Cherry. Then there are 1950s-inspired cat-eye frames from Karen Walker (£180), outsized geek-chic styles in blue or purple from Céline (£191) and mirror styles by Andy Wolf (€249).
The cult success of Prada’s baroque-armed sunglasses of summer 2011 seems to have unleashed a wave of sensationalist designs. Note Chanel’s big black frames set with pearls (£445), or those featuring the silhouette of Coco herself on one lens (£465). There are spangled and riveted versions at McQueen (£279), and at Bottega Veneta, sculpted shades with arms that echo the house’s intrecciato leather plait (£695).
Not only are designs more flamboyant, so are prices. Take Bulgari’s dark brown shades, with arms sporting pavé diamonds. Even at £20,000 they have sold out at Harrods. Danish brand Lindberg, as worn by the country’s royal family and the likes of Bill Gates and Robert De Niro, offers frames set with pink and white diamonds for £84,000.
But how does one wear such extreme designs? Sarah Harris, fashion features director of Vogue UK, says: “Statement sunglasses make beautiful trinkets but, really, who wears them? Some of those designs are weighty and uncomfortable.” Harris has stuck to Persol in two styles: black PO649 (£215) and fold-up tortoiseshell PO714 (£265).
Though extreme frames are still the rule, classics such as Ray-Ban aviators (£120) and Tom Ford’s Whitney style (£180) in dark brown are perennial favourites – and, like mid-height heels, they may soon be the Hot New (Old) Thing.