By Melissa Arkin

If you have ever tuned in to the shows on the E! entertainment channel or ever logged onto celebrity-obsessed web sites such as TMZ, you may be familiar with the persistent shouts of the paparazzi, stopping at nothing to grab the attention of the stars. Casual photographers they are not. Day in and out, their cameras are ready to capture images of the hottest stars, disregarding time or place. The paparazzi crowd around back exits of night clubs, cluster together in parking lots and affix themselves to storefronts and restaurants just to snap a photo, often waiting hours to capture an image in the few seconds it takes to scuttle from vehicle to door.

When these shots are published, be it online or in the tabloids or celebrity gossip magazines, whether the celebrity is in diamonds or sweats there is something you are almost always guaranteed to see on them: Sunglasses. 20/20 has been tracking the eyewear trends of the stars for over a decade now in Upfront’s Hall of Frames section. (For more information on the history of Hall of Frames, see the sidebar on page 80.) Whether out and about in public or on the big screen, a star in shades is center stage. Sunglasses are chic, luxurious and stylish just like the celebrities who wear them and the styles they wear trickle down into the mainstream as the public strives to capture that celebrity cool factor. “Celebrities are a walking billboard for sunglasses,” says Sàfilo USA’s director of public relations Eden Wexler. “The American public is so focused on celebrities. They really create the trends.”

The impact of celebrity style on the public’s eyewear buying trends is clear. “The best press is when the celebrities go out,” says Optical Shop of Aspen’s public relations manager Adrienne Weller. “Once a celebrity is spotted wearing one of our frames our customer service department gets tons of calls from people asking about the style. In this celebrity-obsessed culture, it’s the best advertising you can get.”

A major avenue through which celebrity style has gotten increased mileage is, of course, the celebrity gossip and fashion magazines, which have seemed to multiply within the past few years. With features heavily focused on what the stars are wearing, a lot of public attention is paid to the styles of the rich and famous. “I get calls all the time from people wanting to know what so-and-so was wearing in the most recent issue of US Weekly,” says Wexler. “As soon as we know, we forward the information onto the Solstice Boutiques [the Sàfilo-owned chain of sunglass boutiques] so when people inquire in the stores they know what to show them. A huge trend was kicked off a few years ago with Paris Hilton wearing the Dior Glossy and Nicole Ritchie with her huge oversized styles.”

Since the style influence of the stars is in fact so potent, the incentive among eyewear companies to have celebrities seen in their eyewear is strong. “There is an idea out there that celebrities are catered to and that they see things before everyone else does,” says Robert Schienberg, senior vice president of global communications for Marchon Eyewear. “That’s actually pretty true.” With an expansive assortment of frames made available to celebrities finding the right pair is an important marketing strategy.

Although it has become customary for fashion events and award shows to feature promotional “swag” gift bags with all kinds of high-fashion freebies, Schienberg prefers to have people specifically matched to their shades rather than just give out one style for all. “Nothing we do is accidental,” he says. “Everything is very well thought out. At Marchon we have the luxury of getting to connect the right people with the right brands. We do not just put glasses in a gift bag. Recently we held a Sean John event at the Playboy Mansion. All of the big sport stars went to the Sean John makeover grotto and selected their eyewear. Everything is tailor made.”

There is, of course a hierarchy of stars and that celebrity constellation is always changing. “We are only interested in the top five people of the month,” says Schienberg. “Entertainment includes actors, artists, writers and politicians, and in our country and in our world these people are always changing.” When asked if there are certain celebrities who she feels it’s especially important to see in Sàfilo frames, Wexler responds without hesitation: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. “We have been successful in working closely with Angelina’s stylist, so she picks glasses for Angelina and Brad,” says Wexler. “Sometimes Brad will be wearing styles that were pulled for Angelina and sometimes she wears styles that were picked for him.”

When it comes to outfitting actors in frames, the playing field extends beyond their personal style and onto the big screen. It has been said that life imitates art and film is one art form that is certainly imitated in real life. This includes movie fashion. There are a lot of factors that come into play when considering placement of eyewear in movies. Schienberg runs through a litany of important questions before ultimately deciding to have a Marchon frame incorporated into a film: “Who is the director? Who are the actors? Who is this reaching? Will it relate to the brand? We would not just send out a frame to a movie without first knowing who it’s going to be on, who the target demographic is,” he explains.

With the desire for celebrities to be adorned in the latest styles, films pose a slight problem for placement of eyewear. “We work with
someone out in L.A. who gets our eyewear featured,” says Wexler. “But movies are usually filmed eight to 10 months earlier and then get shelved for a while. By the time the films are released, the styles are already old.”

Monkey wrenches aside, film can be a successful way of getting exposure for eyewear. “We have had a lot of our styles in films,” says Weller. “Julia Roberts actually requested Blinde sunglasses through her stylist for her new film ‘Duplicity.’ She’s been wearing a Blinde style for the past six years and wanted to wear them in the movie.”

The celebrity style power has always been there. Jackie O’s oversized shades. John Lennon’s round signature style. Kurt Cobain’s funky grunge rock white frames. Audrey Hepburn’s classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” Wayfarers. Celebrities have been influential fashion icons in eyewear for as long as they have been wearing it. And as long as there are stylish stars, the rest of the world will keep on star gazing.