Cue up “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and The Waves, and take a stroll with me.
Most reading here would certainly not consider these as sunglasses but for my fifth birthday, my Aunt Lee gave me a pair of (way too) dark sunglasses with cowboys on the front to go with a western themed play suit from my parents. This is one of my first memories mainly because I could barely see with them and got grease on my new pants climbing on a bulldozer at a worksite near my home. No matter. I didn’t wear these specs much since my TV cowboy hero Gene Autry never appeared in shades.
Next up, and highly impactful, were the American Optical aviators issued to my Dad for his WW2 stint in the Army Air Corp. Since he only wore these occasionally, I asked if I could borrow them and when I started high school, he gave them to me. I only realized they were made by AO years later when I started at 20/20 and used the case in one of my first photo shoots.
On the quest to protecting my eyes and in hopes of upping my cool, I bought a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers in 1976 from Bigelow’s drugstore in Greenwich Village. I absolutely loved these shades and still have them. More on that in a few sentences. Their style and swagger remain iconic. And they truly eased sun stress. I once lost and then found them at Rockaway Beach and sat on them countless times in my MGB GT without breaking them. I also loved that they didn’t have the silicone nosepads like those on my Dad’s aviators. To this day, I prefer zyl to metal styles for that exact comfort reason.
A photo of Steve McQueen driving his Jag XKSS sealed the deal on my next obsession, this time with Persols. I scoured the optical shops on Austin Street in Forest Hills and although shocked by the price, purchased my first of three pairs. I still have them and still love adding Persols to eyewear shoots. Visiting the Persol factory in 1998 remains a career highlight.
My current assortment of sunglasses includes precious gifting of John Varvatos styles and new AO styles including the JFK-fave Saratoga from dear friend Nico Roseillier. And a most current sun spec fixation is also the gifting of Jacques Marie Mage’s Scott Walker style from Barry Santini, Julia Gogosha and Mark Shupnick fitted to fight night driving glare.
But let’s bring our walk in the sun to the present noting I still have those original Wayfarers. I gave them to my Dad as his vision weakened into the nightmare of macular degeneration. Just before passing away, he described the condition as trying to read while words swirled around and behind a fuzzy black cloud. As reading became a challenge, he preferred to just sit in the sun sporting his cool Wayfarers. I clearly see his face every time I look at those sunglasses. I guess you could say those were his SonGlasses. This issue is for you Dad. Happy Father’s Day.
• James J. Spina