Twenty years on since The Matrix sunglasses (in fact glasses full stop) are back with a vengeance.
Delicate frameless shards of dark glass held together by fine links of metal. Neo’s sunglasses in The Matrix were the epitome of 90s minimalism meets cyberpunk style circa 2199. The whole film was a love letter to sunglasses, from Trinity’s insect-eyed rims to Morpheus’ hovering silver discs and Agent Smith’s ominous rectangular frames.
Two decades on glasses are well and truly back with a bang. Selling everything from ‘face art’ to flattering tortoise rims with the perfect curve, eyewear brands are colonising the high street just as the fashion brands plot a hasty retreat.
Korea’s Gentle Monster stands out by the sheer scale of its vision. Think flip lenses cut from a thin line of scarlet glass and chunky bug-like baby blue frames with amber lenses.
For its 2019 campaign – ‘The Unpredictable World of 13. Undecember’ – Gentle Monster imagines what it would be like if there were 13 months in a year. Collaborating with French cartoonist and director Ugo Bienvenu, the eyewear brand has devised a series of stories imagining this 13th world.
The stories begin with a group of people gathered around an altar engaging in a spot of otherworldly karaoke. In the next instalment, the people and humanoids race to discover what angels are made of. When we next encounter the characters they are listening to shells in a bid to drown out the noise of their futuristic city.
Gentle Monster even imagines what it would be like if the human race reverted to its most basic survival instinct and attempted to thrive by connecting themselves to machines.
For a glasses brand this may all sound like overkill, but make no mistake Gentle Monster means business. If a takeover of Oxford Circus underground station is not enough of a signal, the brand’s London’s flagship store is a prime example of retail theatre.
Designed in the style of a giant art installation haunted by miniature ghosts, floating sea creatures and bird-like beings with acorn-shaped heads, the shop serves up the kind of gloss once reserved for jewellers or handbag couture. Product is sparse, but presented on minimalist floating plinths mirroring the delicacy of the frames.
Of course Gentle Monster stands apart with its unflinching commitment to glasses as an art form, but it is worth noting that it is not the only eyewear brand to carve out a convincing space on the high street.
From Ace & Tate’s millennial friendly rose pink marbled floor and floating mirrors, to Cubitts’ luxe brass and stripped back walls, buying glasses has never been more in vogue.
Take a five minute walk around London’s Soho and you will encounter the sleek interiors of British brand Finlay & Co, the eclectic old-school feel of New York import Moscot and the polished simplicity of LA’s finest, Oliver Peoples.
And this is where the real money comes in. Oliver Peoples is owned by £41.2bn eyewear mega-group EssilorLuxottica, the world’s largest maker of lenses, spectacles and sunglasses.
Rumoured to have more customers than Apple, EssilorLuxottica is the name behind some of the biggest brands in eyewear from Oakley and Ray-Ban to Persol. The company also manufactures glasses for a host of luxury brands including Burberry, Chanel, Armani and Prada – to name but a few.
In fact, a recent Guardian feature suggests that the company sells close to a billion pairs of lenses and frames every year. It’s fair to say that EssilorLuxottica is perfectly positioned to cash in on a global eyewear market expected to be worth in excess of £136bn by 2023.
Demand is rising, which is good news for the multitude of eyewear brands springing up on the UK high street. Whether you’re channeling the minimalistic cool of The Matrix, dialling up the drama with a crescent moon frame in lime green or opting for a perfect pair of rose gold rims, make no mistake eyewear is set to be big in 2019 and beyond.