By  on October 8, 2007

LAS VEGAS — Nicole Richie better watch her back: She's getting serious competition for the position of chief sunglass trendsetter from the ghost of Steve McQueen.

Although sunglass exhibitors at the Vision Expo West trade show here didn't completely pull away from the ultraglitz of Richie-spotlighted elephant frames, they appear to be segueing to a casual cool aesthetic more suited to the driver's seat than the red carpet. Drawing from decades of yesteryear, vintage looks with subtle contemporary tweaks abounded at the event, held from Oct. 4 to 7 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center and neighboring Venetian Hotel Resort Casino.

Eyewear behemoth Luxottica rode the wave of nostalgia. Since the company's Ray-Ban subsidiary reintroduced the classic Wayfarer about a year ago, it has become Luxottica's third-best-selling style, and it is gunning for a Persol pair worn by McQueen in "The Thomas Crown Affair" to repeat the Wayfarer's success.

"I was traveling in Canada, and I was seeing a lot of the edgier types wearing the Persol," said Maristella Brentani, vice president of product for Luxottica Group SpA. "I was very pleased because it means we are capturing the audience we are after."

The McQueen Persol — number 649 — costs $270 retail for regular lenses and $320 for polarized ones.

Other companies marched out their versions of the Wayfarer. Oliver Peoples' entry was a thick-frame model dubbed the Hollis, while REM Eyewear alluded to the style in the vintage-inspired 100th anniversary Converse sunglasses, and Safilo mixed takes on the Wayfarer into its Juicy Couture, Hugo Boss, Kate Spade and Marc Jacobs licensed lines for early 2008.

"It really does work for both men and women," an Oliver Peoples spokeswoman said of the Wayfarer's appeal.

But Mark Ugenti, senior vice president of sales for Safilo USA's sunglass division, wasn't convinced the Wayfarer was conquering shades' shelves.

"I think there are other trends that are more important," he said. "To be on-trend, you need an oversized plastic, an embellished pair and, of course, you need to have an aviator."

Regardless of silhouette, logos were minimized. Safilo called the movement away from splashy brand icons "Stealth Wealth.""People are responding to elements they identify with the brand rather than just the name," said Ugenti, pointing to a $2,100 Bottega Veneta limited edition that suggests the brand with a leather strap rather than a prominent logo.

If there are logos on Michael Kors glasses, Mark Ginsberg, senior vice president of designer brands at licensee Marchon, said they aren't afterthoughts, "They really have to have the DNA of the brand," he said. Matching the logo indicators to details on handbags and apparel, such as a button with MK that shows up across Kors' goods, gives them "design integrity," he added.

Modo followed a no-bold-logo ethic with its Derek Lam collection that has broadened from its launch last year and is targeted for 150 top optical shops, department stores and fashion boutiques. Lam's name is on a plaque on the inside of the temple, but Alessandro Lanaro, Modo's president and chief executive officer, stressed the craftsmanship of the sunglasses is what signals their source.

"There are consumers that don't want to be in that uniform like everybody else," he said. "The [Derek Lam] woman is a confident woman. This is a collection that goes beyond the obvious."

Like its fashion counterparts elsewhere, sunglasses' color palette shone with metallics. Safilo is trying out a silver frame in its Christian Dior collection, but several brands hinted that a variety of hues — from plum to green to blue — could also play a role in frames.

On temples, gold was prevalent, often with texture provided by hammering or studding.

"Gold is becoming a more important metal accent," said Blake Kuwahara, who designs Carolina Herrera and John Varvatos eyewear for Base Curve, a division of REM Eyewear. "In the past few seasons, it has been silver."

Kuwahara singled out a Carolina Herrera frame rimmed with metal resembling Sixties architectural details.

As for what trends could be bubbling just under the surface, Brentani said, "We are seeing a lot of movement in nerd chic."

Luxottica broadly defines nerdy styles as those for non-conformists who reject the inundation of branding and bling. A spokeswoman for Oliver Peoples said to watch out for circular Harry Potter specs for sun and optical."Diane Keaton still has that look and that look is catching up," she said.

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