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Now that it’s finally sunny enough to want to actually go outside during daylight hours, I’ve started to pay a little more attention to the sunglasses I throw in my bag every morning. And while I love my Warby Parkers and $9.99 H&M shades as much as the next girl, the real MVPs are by smaller, independent brands—acetate cat eyes by a cool Parisian label recommended by a friend or mirrored aviators I tracked down from an online boutique.
But of course, these aren’t always the first places everyone turns when they need a new pair of sunnies. See, the global eyewear industry is really dominated by a single company, Luxottica, which owns brands such as Ray-Ban and Persol, has licensing deals with just about every designer you can name (Chanel, Prada, Tory Burch, Ralph Lauren, to name a few), and operates thousands of retail stores around the world and online (LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut, Glasses.com, Target Optical). It’s actually pretty staggering when you think about it.
And while it’s likely we’ll still be throwing some of our cash toward their €8,883 billion in yearly sales at some point or other, we still like to support the little guy where we can. And it doesn’t hurt that the brands below also make really, really good frames.
Last month, our creative director went to the MIDO Eyewear Show in Milan, a three-day optical extravaganza, and came back with an armful of lookbooks and business cards. Naturally, I snagged them for myself and found a few new obscure brands to crush on. Read on to learn about those, as well as some I keep coming back to:
In the field of eyewear, obsessiveness is a desirable trait: Every detail has to be pretty much perfect for glasses to be both beautiful and functional. On this, RVS comes through—the company handcrafts every last piece of its product, including the tiny hand-painted red screws on the hinges. Founder Vidal Erkohen launched the brand in 2006 in Istanbul and has since built a solid collection of sun and optical frames, some classic—like the round titanium options—and some statement—like the race-car-red and gold wingtip style.
Unconventional eyewear often costs an arm and a leg, but OXYDO’s thoroughly original designs are priced mostly around the $100 mark. I’m particularly smitten with the Italian brand’s new collaboration with French artist Clémence Seilles—the styles integrate multiple materials and textures—pearly white with rich tortoiseshell, for instance, or lemon-yellow chevrons with marbled teal and brown—for a Memphis vibe (the design movement, that is, not the city).
Proof that quantity and quality can coexist, this Belgian-born, L.A.-based brand stocks more than 200 styes—all of which we’d be more than happy to add to our collections—and is sold at more than 3,500 doors around the world (most of them in Europe). The name means “small things” in Japanese—not to be confused with kimono, although you can certainly wear them with one—and with the exception of a few special-edition frames, nothing clocks in at more than $100.
When you name your brand after the Italian Renaissance—Quattrocento means 1400, the time the period was flourishing—you’d better be working with some high-quality artisans. Luckily, this Milan-based company has that all thought out, partnering with local craftsmen and factories to deliver luxury eyewear at an approachable price point (think just over the $100 mark). Naturally, founders Sharon Ezra and Eugenio Pugliese have their sights set on becoming the Warby Parker of Europe, and with stylish, wearable frames like these, we’re in their corner.
I’ve been hooked on Enki ever since coming across one of their campaign images. Shot on location in Aksum, Ethiopia, or Rajasthan, India, the ad features local tribeswomen with hennaed hands and wooden plates in their ears in lieu of professional models. But lest you think it’s all gimmick, the company backs up the branding with well-made striking frames in high-impact acetate with subtle antique brass detailing.
You’ll know Zanzan’s frames from their bold shapes and make-you-look-twice materials: vintage acetate sourced from around Italy and inspired by everything from ’50s Beat poets to Salvador Dali. Zanzan’s also thought out every last detail: Even the dust cloths feature prints from artist George Byrne.
This fashion-forward Italian eyewear brand has partnered with labels such as Costume National on avant-garde frames, designed architecturally inspired eco-friendly shades, and named styles after such icons as Cindy Crawford, Grace Kelly, and Whitney Houston. My personal favorites are the street-style-worthy salmon pink cat-eye frames.
New Orleans’s most fashionable residents and exports fawn over this homegrown brand, and for good reason: Styles are named after NOLA streets and come in an array of colors—eye-catching multicolored acetate, two-tone tortoiseshell, filigreed metal, and more. They’re vintage-inspired, but thoroughly modern, and fans such as Gigi Hadid and Selena Gomez ensure they’re good enough for keeping out the prying eyes of paparazzi.