By  on September 25, 2006

LAS VEGAS — Women’s cheekbones may have to schedule a coming-out party for spring.

Although sunglass exhibitors at the Vision Expo West trade fair here said that big frames would still be popular early next year, they have pulled back from the largest, face-swallowing styles. Toned-down retro looks and softer oval shapes made strides during the event held Sept. 14 to 16 at the Sands Expo & Convention Center and neighboring Venetian Hotel Resort Casino.

“Not everybody can wear a huge, oversize frame, so to offer a range is key,” said Mark Ugenti, vice president of Safilo Group’s Sunsights Division. “You don’t have to have the huge shape to have the feeling. [The consumer] is going to want to interpret that look into something more wearable.”

Balance was the unifying concept for the company’s stable of sunglass brands. Marc by Marc Jacobs and Hugo Boss, wholesaling for $45 to $60 and $70 to $90, respectively, are new for Safilo. The company continues to produce eyewear for Juicy Couture, Diesel, Dior, Gucci, Kate Spade, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Emporio Armani, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs.

Shields, which are variations on the classic “Jackie O” frame, oversize silhouettes and aviators designed in plastic and metal were part of the mix across most brands. However, Marc by Marc Jacobs’ plastic aviators, Stella McCartney’s mirrored lenses and Kate Spade’s practical ovals imbued the collections with an updated vintage feel.

Pointing to a streamlined “Jackie O” by Kate Spade, Ugenti said, “That used to be one of the most popular shapes in eyewear 10 years ago and then the rectangular shape took over. It is coming back now.”

Sheila Vance, founder of Los Angeles-based Sama Eyewear, which makes frames for Loree Rodkin and Badgley Mischka, said sunglasses that are a step below oversize sell the best because most people simply can’t carry off a gargantuan look. Badgley Mischka sunglasses wholesale for an average $150, and Loree Rodkin wholesales for around $200.

“Many frames can make you look glamorous,” Vance said. “They can be large, not oversize.”The clearest departure from oversize frames was made by Oliver Peoples, the fashion-forward Los Angeles company scooped up this year by Oakley Inc., based in Foothill Ranch, Calif. In a spring precollection of the company’s namesake brand, the sunglass proportions were more reminiscent of those worn by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” than the ones made popular last year by Nicole Richie. Wholesale prices hover in the $110 to $135 range.

“What we are selling right now is not the small stuff, but the progressive dressers are moving small,” said an Oliver Peoples spokeswoman. “We think the market is definitely going smaller.”

The clearest nod to the past came from eyewear maker Luxottica Group, which has re-created the original Ray-Ban Wayfarer born in the Fifties. The company also expects a boost because the latest actor to play James Bond, Daniel Craig, wears Persol sunglasses in the new 007 movie, a remake of “Casino Royale.” Bond girls will sport sunglasses from Luxottica’s 25 other brands.

Splashy logos appearing like billboards on sunglass temples are also getting smaller. Safilo gave Hugo Boss glasses a clean signature of an H sandwiched between two Bs and downsized the Juicy Couture logo in its second year of producing the brand’s sunglasses. Luxottica used jewels extensively to make its Chanel and Bulgari pairs stand out.

“Branding is still very strong, but it is interpreted differently,” said Pierre Fay, a senior vice president at Luxottica.

Brand lettering is kept to a minimum in Carolina Herrera’s 40 styles and John Varvatos’ 45 looks. Instead, there are refined temple accents drawn from their apparel, including a lattice pattern on a Herrera pair that is spiced up with small stones. Wholesale prices for the two designers’ glasses start at around $90 and go up to $150.

“It is about knowing when to say when,” said Blake Kuwahara, creative director of Base Curve, a division of REM Eyewear, based in Sun Valley, Calif., which began marketing Herrera and Varvatos glasses this year. “Even in apparel, you are seeing a lot less bling. We wanted to bring that to the eyewear, as well.”Even though the looks are more restrained, eyewear makers reported that consumer spending on sunglasses is not. Luxottica is finding takers for a Chanel pair retailing at about $700, and smaller companies such as Base Curve, Sama Eyewear and l.a.Eyeworks are multiplying their sunglass offerings because they are convinced consumers will pay top dollar for quality.

“I rarely get asked how much things are,” said Katie O’Connell, sales manager at l.a.Eyeworks, which has expanded its 2007 sunglass collection to 10 styles. “The big thing that changed that was Chanel. The $400 glasses raised the whole bar. We were liberated by it.”

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