Sunglasses are a little luxuriant, we all know that. From the cigarette smoking, sun-drenched testosterone of the American road trip to the elegant glamour of the Parisian café, sunglasses scream freedom and adventure. Who knew that two tinted lenses would conjure up such a vast cultural heritage? Well, the history of sunglasses is even more stunning than their associations.
The first sunglasses belonged to the Roman Emperor Nero, in 60 AD. A man known for his decadence, cruelty and corruption, Nero was a massive fan of the gladiator ring. Not only did he attended regularly, he was so enthusiastic that he had many new rings built. And, if you happened by one of these awful arenas on a sunny day, it was then that you might catch a glimpse of Nero’s sunglasses. Not wanting to miss any of the action, Nero wore two polished emerald green gemstones – one over each eye.
Whilst our designer frames here at Concept might be beautiful, they aren’t modelled on Nero’s emeralds. We offer a more modern type of spectacle.
The earliest recorded image of a modern frame dates from 1352. A series of frescoes (mural painting on wet lime plaster) by the Italian Tommaso da Modena – painted in Treviso, north of Venice – hold the first depiction on any such invention. Cardinal Hugo of Provence hunches over his writing desk, squinting through a pair of rivet glasses that, as if by magic, appear rooted to his face. Whilst the Cardinal himself could never have worn specs (he died in the 1260s), what is astonishing is that the artist has captured the physical straining of the eyes as the man tries to read. The men captured were all Dominicans, members of a dynamic monastic order founded in 1217 – regarded at the time as ‘the carrier of the sciences’. The image is not coincidental: it emits a confidence in the learned literary and aesthetic prowess of an early Renaissance order. About 80 years later, corrective lenses were created in Italy, with conclave lenses following them in the 1600s.
The 1900s hearkened a renaissance in eyewear itself, creating many of the brands that stand with us today. The first half of the century, perhaps determined by a dark shadow in world history, saw the development of innovative eyewear fit for military purpose. Beginning with the development of the Persol Protector brand in Turin, 1917, this culminated with the release of military sunglasses in 1937: the Ray Ban Aviator. Then came the 1950s: the explosion of beat poetry, Hollywood and the civil rights movement in the US came to set the style. Fashion icons seemed to come from the most unlikely of places, but always from America. Whether it was Kerouac, posing for a magazine in a pair of Ray Bans, the waves created by Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 Lolita adaptation (complete with its own heart-shaped sunglasses) or even the political fashion represented by the black rights movement’s urban chic – sunglasses were always in the limelight.
And there we have it: sunglasses from ancient Rome to the hot streets of 1970s Baltimore. Viewed as a whole, it’s easy to see how this fashion staple has gained such a mythic status. Its decadence from Nero, its elegance from the Italian renaissance and its reckless freedom from the frenetic roar of America’s cultural cataclysm – the sunglass is an icon developed from history.
Which brings us to now. Concept warmly welcomes you to come to Gosforth or Tynemouth, to browse our beautifully selected range of frames. We have our history: Persol, Ray Ban and Lanvin all stand proudly with our frames, each with their own tapestry to tell. We also have the new: the Oliver Peoples Spring collection, replete with a femme rethink of the classic O’Malley frame and six new sunglasses designs, all made fresh from a deep history in design philosophy. With our Concept Clubs, you can walk out with a pair of sunglasses today, only paying a low monthly rate. You can afford to liberate yourself, embrace some sunglasses and enjoy the world as it springs into life.