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spex toys

I wear spectacles. I also use the word “spectacles”. I like the way it sounds - old-fashioned and intellectual. The way spectacles should be. After all, for some people, spectacles are an accessory they need to wear by default - a daily facial uniform they barely get to choose. You buy them once, and then you are stuck with them for years to come.

Recently, however, optical trends have taken a turn. People blessed with sharp-shooter vision have increasingly started donning eyewear for fun or for style - often with fully transparent non-prescription lenses, or with no lenses at all - and the sunglasses, oh my, the sunglasses… They have become more extravagant than ever. Let’s take a look; sunglasses with tiny toys plastered to their top rim, shades studded with Swarovski crystals, aviators decorated with eccentric Christmas-like ornaments have all randomly resurfaced in the fashion world.

The first time I ever encountered these awkward trinket-covered glasses was ten years ago, in the early 2000s, during a time where everything fun, cutesy and kitsch was very trendy. Model Agyness Deyn and her then boyfriend were both partying and karaokeing at the Tokyo Baron in absolutely absurd and amazing sunglasses. They resembled Wayfareresque simple frames but coated with all sorts of freakish toys. I can’t recall whether Agyness & co. had concocted them from scratch, and outside of my own brief enquiry, I don’t think anybody was even aware they were a tad weird! In fact, they looked great, convincing me that spectacles, for most people, are not just a necessary evil or functional obligation, but can be a silly and amusing fashion accessory.

Last week, as I was riding the subway back from the i-D headquarters in NYC I spotted a hipster with cute plastic flowers stuck on the top rim of her sunglasses. I wondered if they were back in fashion, or if they had simply remained in fashion for the past ten to fifteen years, without me noticing. So I did a little research, kicking it off by ringing up luxury eyewear designer Anna-Karin Karlsson, who specialises in accessorised fancy sunglasses with leopards and roses, and gives fashionistas like Rihanna, Solange Knowles, and even Grace Jones the appropriate amount of glamour needed for their perfect beach holidays. I asked Anna-Karin what occasions her special spectacles should be worn for. “My wearers are not worried what others may think of them! They come in all ages, from teenage Japanese girls to the Countess Bernadotte, who is 90 this year, I love that I don't serve an age group but a mindset.” I wondered if the more accessorised the spectacle, the better it sold? “Most of them have something special, the majority of glasses brands do plain and I tend to stay away from it. I’ll do enough plain when I'm dead.”

Then I decided to pay a visit to the very fabulous vintage eyewear shop, Fabulous Fanny’s in the East Village to get their take on the trend. Indeed, the shop embodies the very idea of “spectacles as a fun and fashionable accessory”. They carry a few pairs with jewels (rather than toys) fitted onto them, and I even discovered that one of the owners handcrafts them himself. I am curious to know the purpose of said spectacles: “If anything, it detracts from the functionality of it ’cause it’s heavy. But it’s all about the looks,” I am told. Who usually buys them? The gentleman explains “it is not necessarily a popular item, it has a certain attitude that goes with it, but the people who like them really like them… It’s one of those things, like Vietnamese noodle soup, you get people who don’t like it at all and can’t stand it, and then other people that can’t eat anything else.”

Now any worthwhile debate around spectacles must include the opinion of my good friend Olivier Zahm, founder of Purple Magazine and also a very important and ubiquitous spectacle wearer. I cornered him at Paul’s Baby Grand and asked him to comment on the toy-ridden eyewear: “Those weird ones that quirky English girls wear? I always thought they were funny,” Olivier said. “Aren’t they something you wear to go to a birthday or something? They’re good for Lolitas I guess…” I ask him what situation he himself would ever wear them in? “It would probably be in an erotic context—I mean, if I had to…”

I also wanted to know the effect of eyewear on the way people look - do they make us more attractive, more intelligent? “In my opinion, spectacles are the best accessory ever, because you always have the possibility to say it’s medical, that it is a necessity… It’s extremely sexy, a good pair of spectacles can be killer. It makes up for anything that is ‘ugly’ and gives people a certain personality. If you find the right pair of glasses, you are all of a sudden saved.” I could not help but wonder what the personality of the bearer of those sunglasses covered in toys would be? “A fun, seven or eight-year-old Woody Allen.” I could picture that.

To top off my investigation, I decided I needed to visit a toyshop to gauge their opinion on the utter madness surrounding this genre of glasses. So I trotted all the way up to E.A.T. Gifts on the Upper East Side, and talked to their eyewear buyer who sells a lot of “fun and whimsical” glasses. She tells me “We have been carrying sunglasses for a while - some of them have moustaches hanging from the bottom, the top of a pineapple coming from them, little birds, roses or flowers on top… We have a huge collection.” Of course I could not resist but to try and find out who in the Upper East Side buys them all? “It’s really just a question of kids of all ages, that includes grown-ups because truly, we are all just kids at heart. They are good party favours, birthday presents… They are great for any age, from 10 to 75. It’s really just anybody that gets a kick out of them.” Can we be taken seriously whilst wearing them, I ask, to which the lady answers: “Don’t you think that no matter what you are wearing, you can be taken seriously? I think that’s what’s great with those type of glasses is that they always prompt a smile. So how good is that? To have a little fun in life?”

I guess that once the woman had given me that answer, I finally had it all figured out. Yes, spectacles covered in flamingos, palm trees, leopards, jewels, Swarovski or dangling with fake moustaches probably do not make us more intelligent. For sure, they are quite silly, and definitely an acquired taste; but they do make people smile and sometimes laugh, so what beats that? Plain and boring spectacles? Probably not.