Here comes the sun and our eyes are bare. No need to go back in time to find the origin of sunglasses. In the great white expanses of the North Pole, the Inuit have long carved and decorated bones, making small slits in them to protect the eyes from the damage and blindness that the glaring sun can cause. It is said that Roman emperors watched circus games through precious stones, emeralds in the case of Nero.

As early as the 17th century, the doges of Venice had the first “real” sunglasses developed, in metal, fitted with side protections in silk, with Murano glass lenses. Better still, a rare mineral, Neodyne, was added to the glass, which filtered out ultraviolet light, giving it a characteristic green color.

Incognito

Closer to home, we will see the development of sunglasses accompany that of aviation, early classics are made by Ray Ban, a brand that becomes a classic. The paid holidays of the interwar period, time in the sun and the fashion for cruises will make the accessory indispensable. Very quickly, it became a symbol of a lifestyle reserved for the happy few: a society that was becoming less sedentary, discovering the world, giving itself the means of explore its curiosity.

Soon, in its golden age, Hollywood will in turn dictate a style that the whole planet will want to imitate, and sunglasses are transformed into an accessory. Soon the big stars will use them to supposedly go incognito among ordinary mortals, but in reality they only drew more attention to themselves. Closer to home, Karl Lagerfeld, raised in strict Protestantism, never took his sunglasses off for a couple of reasons, one being to hide his emotions, the other to look at the world through a filter that “made it more beautiful”.

Icons of the Arab world

Um Kulthum was famous for her thick dark glasses that hid her damaged eyes. Her sunglasses, set with diamonds, can still be seen in the Um Kulthum museum in Cairo. Similarly, the founding fathers of the Arab nations, King Saud and Sheikh Zayed, the unifier of the Emirates, came from desert regions where protecting one’s eyes from the sun and sand is always a necessity, set trends. Until now, the glasses of Sheikh Zayed, who collected designer models, continue to be a reference for masculine elegance.

Reflection of the soul

Over time, we see sunglasses take on incredible dimensions to help the famous go incognito. Behind disproportionate lenses, we will see Fairouz, as well as the stars of French New Wave cinema. Courrèges will try Inuit glasses, with frames without lenses, simply split. Unsurprisingly, fashion takes hold of the star accessory, and designers now adapt them to their collections as part of a complete offering.

From cat-eyes to portholes to the famous Ray Ban “Aviator” – adopted by rockers to protect themselves from the spotlights – these shapes that frame the gaze and hide the “reflection of the soul” come in thousands of iconic models, mostly produced by Marcolin, Safilo, Essilor, Luxotica or Kering. Elie Saab adds its own line to its couture offerings and Fashion Trust Arabia opens its prize to eyewear designers in its “Accessories” category, where finalist Bilal Fellah distinguished himself, and whose brand, Port Tanger, is directly inspired by the lifestyle of his Moroccan city.

Apfel of my eyes”

Finally, how can we talk about glasses without mentioning the splendid, flamboyant centenarian fashion icon Iris Apfel, who continues to impose her cheerful and opulent fantasy by designing glasses for the democratic brand Zenni? Despite her age, she is her own role model and continues to inspire the youth of the 2020s. Her collection with H&M for this season was swept up almost before it arrived in stores. Starting, of course, with her glasses.