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Frames of Mind : When It Comes to Shades of Summer, the Eyes Have It


Sunglasses are like windows on the psyche.


You can tell a lot about people, or who they'd like to be, by their choice of shades. Wire rims with small round lenses can indicate a member of the avant-garde or a John Lennon wanna-be, while black-as-death plastic shields can be the sign of a repressed action hero a la Arnold Schwarzenegger.

These days you can find shades for every fetish, every personality type.

Not for the tame are sunglasses adorned with wild animals designed by Mercura Fine Art. The company decorates its frames with monkeys, tigers, elephants and alligators hammered out of copper and brass. For horse-racing fans, there's the pair with thoroughbreds running atop the lenses. Cat lovers can have felines perched on their shades. Ditto for dog fanciers.

For fun-loving Carmen Miranda types, there are Mercura's frames festooned with colorful plastic fruit. Also for the flamboyant: shades adorned with pearls, gold tassels or fake flowers. Mercura shades are available for $40 to $150 at Roberta in Newport Beach.

"They're conversation pieces," says Mona Angell, manager of Roberta.

One pair of cat-eye sunglasses by Mercura comes with faux gems covering the lenses--an extreme example of how fashion takes precedence over function when it comes to sunglasses. Wear the sun-blocked shades when you're lying on the beach--not while operating a moving vehicle.

"They're meditation glasses," Angell says.

Pop culture exerts a strong influence over people's choice of sunglasses. Many want to wear the same cool shades as their favorite movie star, rock star or athlete.

"We saw a big surge in Oakley sunglasses when major league baseball players started wearing them," says Scott Freeland of Strictly Sunglasses in MainPlace/Santa Ana, Brea Mall and Buena Park Mall.

"A lot of it has to do with self-confidence. People see someone they perceive as cool and think, 'If I wear that, I'll feel just like him,' " Freeland says. "They come in here and try on a pair of sunglasses and say, 'Oh, now I look just like Arnold Schwarzenegger,' and they'll say it with his accent."

Wayfarer sunglasses by Ray Ban were scheduled to be discontinued until Don Johnson made them look cool in the '80s TV hit "Miami Vice," Freeland says. Sales exploded, and the all-black plastic shades are still on the market.

"Don Johnson and Tom Cruise saved those sunglasses. They're still our No. 1 style," he says.

These days many celebrities favor minimalist sunglasses. Skinny frames and small lenses, some barely large enough to cover the eye, have replaced oversized, owlish sunglasses.

"Everything's a little smaller. Sunglasses are accenting the face instead of hiding it," says Robert Zinda, owner of SunWatch in Fashion Island Newport Beach. "Frames are getting simpler and less distracting."

Calvin Klein's style-conscious sunglasses ($150 to $250) feature small, round lenses in pale shades of pink, blue and purple.

"People can wear them at night if they want something hip for the club scene," Zinda says.

Summer's hottest sunglasses range from the antique to the futuristic. Some look like they were made in the 1930s, with antique-looking gold, brass and silver frames that have subtle engraved details on the brow bars and temples. Many vintage-looking shades have tortoise-shell trim.

One of the hot sellers at Strictly Sunglasses: the Advanced Combo by Revo, an all-metal frame with an antique, tortoise-shell finish bordering the tops of round lenses. Yet the retro-looking shades ($275) have high-tech gizmos such as silicone nose pads and optical spring hinges.

Sign Language updated the classic Oxford look by designing tortoise-shell frames inlaid with funky sterling figures such as a star, moon, dog, man and coyote at SunWatch ($225).

In contrast, high-tech styles have sparse ornamentation.

Jean Paul Gaultier's hip sunglasses are deceptively plain except for fun details such as temples that look like a pair of forks ($325) or miniature Eiffel towers ($365), at SunWatch. One industrial-looking gold pair has exposed springs and hinges ($325). The Moschino collection from Persol features black wire frames with tiny peace signs on the temples and small rectangular green lenses ($250).

"This year everything's clear and clean," says Heather Adams, manager of L.A. Eyeworks in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

Vivid colors add interest to the simplified sunglasses. L.A. Eyeworks has metal frames reminiscent of the colorful aluminum tumblers of the '50s and '60s, with bright hues such as cobalt blue, violet, fuchsia and chartreuse. One style, dubbed the Frank, looks like it was pieced together from strips of sheet metal and comes in eye-catching color combinations such as purple with gray lenses or gold-on-gold ($345).

How to pick sunglasses that will match one's face as well as one's personality?

Zinda suggests choosing a frame that contrasts with the shape of the face. Thus round faces look best in square and rectangular frames, square faces in round frames and heart-shaped faces in aviator, oval or round frames. Oval faces, he says, look good in almost anything.

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