Why So Retro?

retro dude

pic source: DapperLou

I blame Steve McQueen. When it comes to the sunglasses we want to wear now, it’s the undimmed power of McQueen’s style we’re striving to channel. Let’s face it, who in his right mind would say no to his favoured face furniture, the super-chic, all-black square-framed, Persol 649S?

Just imagining the square-jawed, crop-haired actor who made women swoon, behind the wheel of his Porsche 911 and wearing his signature shades is enough to getting men Google-ing Persol’s web address. But Persol isn’t the only eyewear that smartly looks back to the future.

“Ever since we launched back in 1987 we’ve always been ahead of the pack in referencing the past,” says Larry Leight, founder and creative director of Oliver Peoples. This is the LA-based eyewear brand that has helped more than any other to inspire people’s obsession with retro styles.

When the company first showed their eponymous line of eyewear at a NYC expo in the same year, the vintage-inspired collection was about as far as you could get from the wrap-round, geometric styles popular in the late 80s.

Check out the Riley or Sheldrake clip styles from the current collection. These are modern flip-up clips combining ophthalmic lenses with witty ‘up/down’ sunglasses. With the lenses pushed up you look both surprised and stylish, an unlikely but positive combination. These styles are as much about the 1950s as they are about today. And with this winter’s trend for quiff hairstyles, longer length jackets and beetle-crusher shoes, the 50s are on our style radar again.

Leight, originally an optician, kickstarted his business by selling original, box fresh Baume and Mercier and American Optical frames from the 1970s. But it is his recent use of original frames that has set the brand alight. “This Original Vintage Collection is part of my family heritage,” says Leight, recalling the humble beginnings of Oliver Peoples.

Responding to a recent feature in the New York Times bemoaning the tweaking and upgrading that goes on with classic products, Leight dug around in his company’s headquarters in LA and stumbled across perfect condition MP-2 and O’Malley styles from his initial 1987 collection. These have been repackaged and launched on a retro-hungry public. All these styles require is a striped business shirt, braces and a brick-sized mobile device. I think an i-Pad will suffice.

And their collaboration in 2008 with legendary Hollywood producer and sunglasses-wearer Robert Evans again produced a raft of retro styles. It has also made collections from high-end fashion brands like Prada, Paul Smith and most recently, Balmain. “Those who want the best in runway turn to Balmain,” says Leight, “and those who want the best in eyewear turn to Oliver Peoples.” And those who want the best of the past turn to Oliver Peoples too.

The Accessory Theorist