By James Michael McDonald
The year 2012 will likely be remembered as the year people panicked (again) that the world was going to end, but also as a year of innovation: NASA launched a satellite into lunar orbit, Adele redefined music with remarkable vocals, and The Hunger Games continues to break records at the box office.
The world of eyewear is no different.
Innovation is the word of the year, with many designers attempting to redefine what it means to be innovative. Familiar shapes are still on the market, predominantly cat-eyes, with adaptations to the original shape. Materials are being mixed and cut in ways the industry has not yet seen. Colours that were once accents are now being pushed as full-on wow frames.
The shift from bulky and heavy to sleek and wearable comes from the wave in pop culture of individual statements, rather than statements based on a specific decade, (namely the 60s and 70s prior to this and last years). Although the 80s is playing a role in the fashions we’re seeing today, there is still plenty of influence from the 50s and 60s. 2012 may be the year when designers move away from inspiration and begin experimenting and creating their own trends to be used in years to come.
There’s a continued distance from large logos, rhinestones, and gaudy temple designs, with more streamlined frames in bold colours, along with newer concepts, like layered cut-outs and adapted shapes.

While simple black is still on the scene, bright colours like tangerine and teal are dominating the market. Consumers want to make a
statement while remaining elegant and put-together, with an element of fun. (The bling days are long gone, thank goodness!)
Nadia Baggetta, marketing coordinator at Optiq, mentions the unique colour palette this year. “You will see frame colours like black, blue, tortoise, and burgundy, but they are being played together with other tones, which introduce a new feel in the frame. For example, dark blue and silver create a bold sophisticated look, tortoise and cream add a summer glow (as shown in Helium 4181), and burgundy and purple give a wine country feel.” She notes that you can’t help but feel warm with these types of colour combinations in frames, seen in many collections.
Beverly Suliteanu, VP product development with Westgroupe, reiterates Baggetta’s point, noting berry shades, as well as variations on orange and teal, as being popular this season.

What’s interesting to see is a move to mixing colours and patterns. “Colour schemes include pretty pastels, bold jewel tones, and classic retro plastics updated using matt finishes,” says Linda Mulford-Hum, director of product development at Centennial Optical. “High contrasting colours are used in geometric patterns and modern graphics that catch our eye.” These patterns and graphics include lace embedded in plastic, as in the Christian Lacroix line, or Alfred Sung, toying with plaid-like geometrics.
Over at l.a. Eyeworks, a brand that’s known for bright colour, Brent Zerger, director of communications and retail operations, notes the dominance of fluorescents, reverse fades, and dual bright colours layered in the same frame. All of the above show a push to try something new, on time-tested shapes that have been slightly altered to stay modern.
Classic shapes are being reinvented in different ways.
The cat-eye, for example, has been mentioned by nearly everyone as the dominant shape in women’s frames, but not the cat-eye you know. The sexy librarian look is still desirable, just not in the aggressive style of Marilyn Monroe’s cat eyes of the 50s or Lisa Loeb’s chunky cat eyes of the 90s. These new cat eyes are more comforting, more oval, with a younger vibe that has plenty of style, (hence why everyone’s raving about them).
“Not everyone is comfortable wearing a true vintage shape. Today’s versions of the classic cat eye, P3, and round tend to be smaller with
softer edges therefore easier to wear,” says Mulford-Hum. Even ICU and Wink readers are seeing an entire line of patterned, colourful cat eyes.
Some designs are staying pronounced however, adapting the cat eye through new materials and finishes, like the Pussy Galore collection at Spectacle. Strong lines in all varieties of cat eyes, showing the style has some staying power.
“Overall, vintage has been very strong and for that reason we are doing very well with our Pussy Galore (vintage cat eye) and our RETRO collections,” says Mehran Baghaie, operations director and chief designer at Spectacle Eyeworks. Like many designers, he’s seen the success of the cat eye. That said, Mehran, like many others, has many other shapes in other collections, focusing more on modified rectangle shapes and the like, a staple on the market that’s not going anywhere.
The most innovation this year comes in materials and mixing materials. Translucent acetates with metals with cut-outs—nothing is impossible anymore, with new technologies expanding how designers look at raw materials, and creating a new level of excitement in consumers.
“It is great to mix plastic and metal together,” says Baggetta. “You can have a simple metal front and pair it with a detailed plastic temple. You can also build the boldness in the front of the frame by combining the plastic and metal, like our clubmaster style Respec 5648.”
“We are mixing it up with acetate fronts combined with metal
temples as well as metal fronts with acetate temples,” confirms Suliteanu. She also notes that full acetate frames are still big sellers, and that the introduction of TR-90 presents a world of opportunity, as it’s so lightweight.
And material experimentation doesn’t stop there.
“A very complicated procedure of fusing fabric with rubber has created a whole new world of possibilities for temple treatments,” says Mulford-Hum. “They can retain the natural texture of the original fabrics along with being durable and easy to care for,” going on to note the fusing of denim and fabric on rubber, and the combination of carbon fibres with rubber.
Baghaie, while also giving a nod to plastics, is also mixing materials. “This season, I experimented with mixing stainless steel fronts with TR90 temples. The result are frames that are very light yet very durable, due to elasticity of TR90.”
Matte finishes are popping up,
like in the William Rast collection, and stacked laminate, like in the Anna Sui collection, among others.
The sky’s the limit with materials, with more combinations surely to be seen in the near future.
It’s hard to say where the industry will go, but designers have some ideas. Some are saying athletic- inspired designs, with the introduction of TR-90 and rubbers, others are saying there will be another recycle of past trends, reinventing what’s already been done (again and again). There’s the possibility to slip into rocker/country-chic, depending on the influence of music and film over
the next few years. The only definite is that
materials will define shapes and new frames in the next decade. We see that this year with the introduction of tonnes of new materials, and will surely see it in years to come.
Overall, 2012 is a colourful yet sophisticated year in eyewear, moving away from gimmicks and into the future. The revitalization that came last year, post-recession, is growing, with individualization and brightness reentering the scene.
There’s so much going on out there that it’s hard to keep on top of it all. The pulse of the industry is high, with excitement and intrigue in the air, so there’s certainly something for everyone. •