June 27th, 2009


As serious as the Cold War

I'm serious. A very serious writer, artist, intellectual, or something like that. You can tell I'm serious because I wear a serious expression, a black shirt, a black eye-patch, and black spectacle frames from the Cold War. They're not those oblong 90s "designer" ones which went out of fashion in the recent "spectacles paradigm shift", but some proper "serious person in the Cold War" glasses. During the Cold War things were very serious indeed, because you could get blown up at any moment by nuclear weapons, and there were serious things like existentialism and liberation theology to think about.

Because I'm fascinated by the transformation they effect, I've taken to asking friends to try on the serious frames I bought recently for €3 in an Athens flea market. The results -- please study them seriously -- are below. They begin, top left, with Joe Howe.

Actually, those are Joe's own Raybans. He's had them for quite a while -- though when I first met him two years ago he wore a pair of oblong 90s "designer" glasses. Joe then got the Rayban Wayfarer frames, the ones Buddy Holly died in, which came back in the late 1980s (I had a pair in 1987), the ones Robert Lowell was wearing in 1962 when he wrote: "One swallow makes a summer / The moon rises, luminous with terror". Of course Lowell meant, by "swallow", a nuclear missile, and by "summer", a nuclear holocaust triggered by the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those were serious times.

Really, who would wear 90s-style "designer" oblong frames when you could be wearing serious Cold War retro frames like Michael Caine's? The paradigm shift to Cold War seriousness is well underway in Japan, too -- witness these street fashion snaps taken in the streets of Daikanyama and Harajuku over the last month or so:

Not only do they make you look as serious as the Cold War, these frames fit well with 80s-retro clothes, which are of course the "correct" ones to be reviving at the moment. Serious Cold War frames were still being worn (on their first return) as late as 1994 -- here's Konishi from Pizzicato 5 in the Twiggy Twiggy video made that year, looking seriously geeky-funky:

Of course Konishi -- a bit like Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian -- is forever in thrall to the 1960s. Here's the whole P5 video, just because the frames and the dancing have to be seen together. You really need to catch that 1960s moment when squares started to get groovy, that's what these serious-yet-switched-on frames signify here:

Do The Twist, because we might all die by The Bomb tomorrow! Here's Rolf Harris in the early 1960s, looking like an art student and singing silly songs about wallabies and peg legs to take our minds off the impending nuclear holocaust. Doesn't he look like Jan, below Joe in the picture above?

I'm pleased with my new old frames, and the transition they effect, a move towards deep nuclear seriousness. After all, I do have two books coming out. But Hisae tells me these Cold War frames are boring. She's more into the owl-eye frames worn by late-1960s David Hockney -- and just about every architect ever.

You can see Hockney wearing the owl frames in A Bigger Splash, the best film (I think) ever made about an artist. Perhaps not the most serious, though.

Though I didn't realise it when I posted it, this entry owes a lot to artist Catherine Soto's Glasses project, where she gets people to pose in her Raybans. Catherine had the idea first -- and her business card even says "I'm serious" on it!