By and  on February 25, 2002


For Hollywood's movie and music glitterati, sunglasses have long offered protection from dizzying flashbulbs and prying eyes, while lending their wearer a certain sought-after mystique.

But as more high-profile fashion designers are delving into the category -- recent additions include John Galliano, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Vera Wang -- the accessory's already considerable cool factor has ratcheted even higher, with stars and stylists regarding the right sunglasses the way they might a million-dollar bauble.

Stylist Alexander Allen, whose company Transformers Inc. works on music videos and album-cover shoots for recording artists like Eve and Destiny's Child, said sunglasses are every bit as important as clothes these days. "For Eve, it's like a hat or a fedora. It finishes off a look," he said.

Allen pointed to the recent rage for pastel-lensed sunglasses, which can be worn regardless of the hour. "They used to be just functional," he said. "Now you can wear them from day to night. And if she doesn't have time for makeup, she can put on a hat or scarf and sunglasses and she's styled."

Allen said he first saw Christian Dior frames, which are his favorites, in print ads. He then contacted Eden Wexler, public relations manager at Safilo USA, which manufactures sunglasses for Christian Dior, Gucci, Burberry and Kate Spade and, beginning in spring, Yves Saint Laurent.

"I call her on an as-needed basis and she will send me an array," said Allen. "I always keep a couple of pairs around because [Eve] needs a pair for the red carpet, a pair to perform in and another pair for the after-party."

Derek Kahn, who styles Pink, said, "Sunglasses are just an essential part of the wardrobe. I have yet to encounter a celebrity or artist who does not want sunglasses constantly. With the paparazzi hovering around, you need them to go into nightclubs."

Stylist Nicole Simone, who works with L'il Kim, added, "They add a little mystery. That's why [stars] opt to leave them on." She added that celebs are so bombarded by paparazzi, they use sunglasses to hide. "[Celebrities] are so exposed -- and in L'il Kim's case, barely covered -- so I would say something has to be covered!"Not surprisingly, eyewear manufacturers are thrilled with the exposure, since sunglasses occupy front and center on much-photographed faces. And these days, celeb photos end up being syndicated worldwide, offering exposure that few ad campaigns can match -- at a fraction of the cost.

"It's a form of fashion that travels much faster than clothes," said Sheila Vance, president of SAMA Eyewear. "People put sunglasses on and get photographed in them much faster than a designer can put out a press release."

"Celebrities are watched for fashion and music trends, and now for eyewear trends," said Jim Simon, vice president of CXD, which produces the Christian Roth, Hugo Boss and Michael Kors lines. "We have had a phenomenal response with Lenny Kravitz and Mary J. Blige. Lenny wore Christian Roth's titanium shields with polarized lenses in the opening number for the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards. We were out of stock of that frame almost within a week and a half."

"It's very helpful for consumers, because they can really understand what a frame looks like on someone they know," said Robert Shienberg, Marchon Eyewear's vice president of public relations.

To that end, many manufacturers are stepping up their efforts to court celebrities by sending them free samples or setting up booths at awards shows or parties with high celebrity rotation.

This year, SAMA is putting its glasses in the goodie bag given to presenters at the Academy Awards, and for last year's Oscars, they designed a limited number of shades for Harry Winston, which the jewelry house gave as gifts to stylists and celebrities. Wexler at Safilo USA also said celebrities are a prime target for marketing efforts "because they are so visible and constantly photographed. And when they fall in love with a piece, they wear it continuously, which was the case for Brad Pitt and his Christian Dior Mini Motards at the "Spy Game" and "Rock Star" premieres. And those pictures get used over and over again."

At the Sundance Film festival, where Safilo was a sponsor of Motorola House, one of the rented ski lodges where celebrities can relax and get free samples of new products, John Leguizamo wore his Burberry shades to every press event he went to. "You just can't buy that kind of endorsement," Wexler said. "A big part of what we do is just giving out product. When you think about what it truly costs to give it out, it's a relatively small cost for our company."In addition to getting product in the goodie bags for events like the MTV Movie or Video Awards, Wexler goes on-site to outfit celebrities with eyewear. She's also aiming to go to international film festivals to broaden Safilo's exposure.

Luxottica has also stepped up its efforts to woo celebrities. The company, whose stable of brands includes Ray-Ban, Emporio Armani and Chanel, last year hired celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch as its spokesman and sent him on a media tour to speak on the subject of red carpet and fall fashions.

For the Academy Awards, Bloch conducted satellite interviews with 17 local news programs around the country, talking about fashion trends and how eyewear works with them.

And at Sundance, the company helped sponsor Chrysler House and offered custom fittings for eyewear.

Fit, in fact, can be a trickier thing than one might suppose.

"We tend not to do gift bags, because eyewear is something very personal and you want it to look great on you," said Peggy Fries, senior manager for public relations and entertainment marketing at Luxottica. "[Celebrities] get a lot of styles in gift bags, and if it's a style that isn't great for them, they may not wear it."

"Eyewear is like a swimsuit: It's got to be fitted," added Shienberg at Marchon. "You are dealing with a very sensitive area, the face, where people need to conceal certain things, so trust is essential."

Finding the right fit also pertains to product placements and celebrity endorsements. While manufacturers wouldn't disclose which frame ended up on a "Fashion Don't" roundup, many agreed that it is essential to strategically target celebrities, events and movies.

"We are not going after just anybody," said Shienberg. "We are very particular about who we want to work with, and make a list of emerging talents every three months."

Luxottica works with public relations agency Rogers & Cowan, which handles the company's product placement in Hollywood. "They work very closely with studios, find out who is in the cast, read the scripts, and [then] we make decisions for product placements," Fries explained. "We will not go into an overly gory film."If you are not careful, you could wind up in a film that doesn't turn out to be what you thought it was."

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