Sunglasses

American
1950s
Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli (Italian (active in France), 1890–1973), Manufactured by American Optical


Dimensions

Overall: 15.2 cm (6 in.)

Accession Number

2006.1184

Medium or Technique

Plastic, glass lenses

Not On View

Collections

Americas, Contemporary Art, Europe, Textiles and Fashion Arts

Classifications

Costumes

Brown plastic sunglasses with brown and ivory striped “awnings” over each lens and at sides, and flowers at each corner.


These sunglasses, designed by the well-known couturiere Elsa Schiaparelli, are the earliest known example of now-ubiquitous “designer” sunglasses. Tinted protective spectacles were made in Europe as early as the 17th century, but sunglasses did not become fashion accessories in their own right until the 1930s, when Hollywood stars began to be photographed wearing them. In the early 1950s, sunglass design became particularly fanciful, with frames imitating exotic materials, carved in the shape of flames or fish, or decorated with false eyelashes. In 1952, the American Optical Company signed a contract with the Parisian couturiere Elsa Schiaparelli to design the Schiaparelli Lunettes Collection, the first collection of designer eyewear to be launched in the United States. The pleated “awnings” on these shades contribute more style than function to their flamboyant and whimsical design, which hints at Schiaparelli’s interest in the surreal.

Provenance

Purchased by dealer at Brimfield Antique Market in 1996. Purchased by the MFA from the dealer, Sparkle Plenty, on May 24, 2006.

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds donated by the Textile and Costume Society, Museum of Fine Arts Boston