By Gloria Nicola

Glasses make the man… or certainly “define his character,” says actor Jean Reno. And Reno should know. Just check out Parting Glance in 20/20’s August 15 issue. Pictured is the DVD illustration of Reno wearing round, crystal sunglasses as he plays the starring role of a titular hit man in “Leon: The Professional,” Luc Besson’s 1994 thriller. “Round glasses have become my trademark because a long time ago I was portraying a character in a play and needed eyewear to create a certain look. I went to a French flea market and found a pair of round, vintage glasses. I realized then how powerful glasses can be. Hanging on a wall, they look fragile, but put them on someone and they define that individual,” he notes.

“Eyewear is like shoes,” Reno continues. “I always remember a drama teacher saying a character can be defined by the types of shoes he wears. In the same way, I feel glasses can define character. For example, shiny gold glasses might depict someone who is ostentatious and wants to show off his or her wealth. A lawyer or accountant would probably want something stylish, but simple—not too showy. Round glasses are childlike and innocent although the pair I wore in ‘The Professional’ with crystal frames and dark lenses was definitely intimidating. However, to portray a violent person, I would normally suggest large glasses in a dark color,” Reno explains. Glasses also work well as a prop when the speaker wants to make a point while talking, he notes, illustrating by removing his glasses and waving them around.

Because of his interest in eyewear, it wasn’t much of a stretch for Reno to consider his own line. When he saw the eyewear created by Cendrine Obadia, the designer and founder of Montreal-based Zig Eyewear and sister of a childhood friend of his from Casablanca, Morocco, where Reno was born, he suggested they collaborate on eyewear. Four years ago the Jean Reno Collection by Cendrine O. debuted with 20 pieces and now has grown to 60 men’s, women’s and unisex designs. Zig Eyewear also has a U.S. branch based in Madison, Wis.

“Doing eyewear with Cendrine was a new world for me. I saw it as a great adventure. And I especially enjoy it because Cendrine has been part of my life for so long,” Reno notes. “That’s how I like to do all my business. It’s not just to make money. It’s about working with people I like and have feelings for. For example, I own some land in the south of France with olive trees. I make my own oil and sell it because I feel connected to the people and the land.” The only other license Reno has is for a clothing line in Japan, and that too is based on a personal relationship.

In the years since he found that pair of glasses in the Paris flea market, Reno feels eyewear has slowly and subtly evolved from just an object required to see, to a stylish accessory. “Now it has attained the point of a ‘look at me’ item,” he notes. “Your choice of eyewear has a great impact on how people perceive you. It’s part of the overall seduction process. I put on a pair of glasses and it becomes me for the moment. And the best part is I can change my eyeglasses to suit my mood. Today I might feel blue; tomorrow, red; the next day, yellow.”

Reno describes his own sense of style as “not too conventional.” He says he appreciates things that are unique. “I like diversity. That’s what I admire about Cendrine’s eyewear. She’s like a fountain always pouring forth new and unusual designs, never stopping. I also like people to be well-dressed and I like beautiful things—watches, art objects, eyewear.”

The actor feels consumers today in general want to express themselves with more creative products. “They tend to be moved by something that is more than merely functional. I know I feel that way about watches. I see a watch that is truly different, and it really appeals to me.”

When asked what his favorite movie is, Reno says it’s impossible to pick a favorite. “It’s like picking a favorite type of music. Sometimes there are entire days when I listen to nothing but classical music; then the next day I will play the Rolling Stones. It’s the same with film. There was a period when I liked the black and white films of my youth. Different things inspire me at different times. I can’t explain it.”

Regarding movies he has acted in, Reno says he really enjoyed the “Da Vinci Code” because of the people. “I don’t know if it’s my favorite movie, but I was so happy when I was in it. It was such a pleasure to work with Tom Hanks and the director Ron Howard. They are great people. I also enjoyed working with Robert De Niro in ‘Ronin.’ Movies are about so much more than just making a specific movie; they are about the moments we spend with other people,” he emphasizes. The character Reno would most like to play is Cyrano de Bergerac. “Everyone remembers him for his nose, but what I like is he thinks of others rather than himself. He never loses his humanity.”

Back to eyewear, Reno feels celebrities have had an impact on the popularity of eyewear.  “I know when I see an interesting pair of sunglasses or clothes on someone I might want to find something similar for myself. Seeing eyewear on a person is like seeing it in a window display, so I do think celebrities have an impact on eyewear brands. I don’t know how huge, but certainly some. Of course if Beyonce would wear Jean Reno eyewear, that would have a huge impact,” he laughs. But actually 20/20 thinks a “professional” like Reno wearing his own eyewear line has enormous impact.■