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Right above your nose

Troy Patterson
Troy Patterson • 4 min read
Right above your nose
The ‘top bar’ — also known as a brow bar or top bridge — goes over-the-top this season
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The ‘top bar’ — also known as a brow bar or top bridge — goes over-the-top this season

You know a showy top bar — that thingamajig that prominently links the two eye rims at upper points of their perimeters — when you see it. And, you see it all over the place right now, from the mass-marketing of Sunglass Hut to the gold-plated terrain of US$2,000 ($2,774) Tom Ford specs, which boast a spiffy hinge on the high bridge of their clip-on lenses. The inthing in eyewear is right above your nose.

In general, frames boasting bold brow bars are variations on (or, at least, distant relations of) the classic pilot’s sunglasses. The original aviators debuted around 1936, after the US military commissioned Bausch & Lomb to improve on the bulkiness and discomfort of flight goggles. Within the decade, the company was selling them to weekend sportsmen under the Ray-Ban trademark. The frame’s rise to fame — via Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines, Brando in The Wild One, and Maverick and Goose in Top Gun — is a fascinating mash-up of military and pop-cultural history.

The fact of its resurgence is, on one level, proof of the cyclical nature of style. “Probably about five years ago, things slowly started evolving,” says David Rose, vice-president of design and manufacturing at California-based Salt Optics. “That heavier acetate look and feel — the chunkier Elvis Costello thing — got too exaggerated, right? It evolved and contracted back the other way, to thinner-profile glasses, especially in metal.”

Zack Moscot, a fifth-generation owner of the New York eyewear institution that shares his surname, adds that the silhouette is in step with a “Me Decade” style revival. “We don’t see it dwindling anytime soon,” he says of the trend. “Many of our friends in the clothing world have been alluding to the 70s. The aviator shape has been complementary to recent runway trends and colours.” Surely it does not hurt, furthermore, that these glasses go well with all the bomber jackets, field coats, and camo pants continuing their reigns as staples of the civilian wardrobe.

But, the top bar of the moment tends to be an over-the-top bar and, as such, it steers the aviator’s attitude to a new altitude. Look at all these chunky fabrications and funky articulations. They are impossible to ignore and easy to admire. Promoting the illusion of facial expression firm with cool self-assurance, they have some impassive aggression to them.

“The most famous aviator with a strong bar is the Ray-Ban Shooter,” says Luca Gnecchi Ruscone, founder of the Romebased eyewear brand L.G.R. “On the top bridge, it has a plastic thing called a sweat bar.” Many of Ruscone’s most popular sunglasses omit the traditional bridge altogether.

An L.G.R model called the Agadir takes its inspiration from the old-fashioned pince-nez favoured by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt. “It’s a normal aviator shape, but it has that soft brow bar and these acetate nose pads,” says Ruscone. These and similar models have a futuristic spirit and therefore tend to lend young women the ethereal aspect of 22nd-century hippies and old men the owlish scowl of steampunk detectives.

Meanwhile, other top-drawer top bars sharply evoke the past. They are the focal points of shades that cast a vibe of assertive decadence in a 1970s way, as if meant to be worn for a night at Studio 54 or a day inside a Tom of Finland drawing. “When you use a double bridge with a round shape, a pilot shape, or a caravan shape, you have the idea of something very vintage,” says Lionel Giraud, chief executive of the French brand Vuarnet. Back in the 80s, Vuarnet sunglasses accessorised many a pair of pegged jeans.

Since 2015, it has been Giraud’s job to revitalise the company’s classic models — and for that reason he is, seemingly, the only person in the eyewear world with any major misgivings about the dominance of commanding brow bars.

“I was a bit afraid to see so many models with double bridges,” he says about the situation of the optics, explaining that he hopes to keep a certain distance from fickle fashion. “It’s not something on trend. It’s something for the future. I don’t want to switch from one model to another every six months.” — Bloomberg LP

This article appeared in Issue 786 (July 3) of The Edge Singapore.

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