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Columbia Missourian

Palin sets eyewear fashion ablaze

By STEPHANIE SMITH
October 24, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi created a demand for Wayfarer sunglasses when they wore them in "The Blues Brothers."

Tom Cruise pushed Aviator sales through the roof in "Top Gun."

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Film stars often cause crazes. For politicians, this is new.

Such is the case for Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her square-cut Kazuo Kawasaki eyeglasses.

At the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., in September, who knew a three-piece rimless drill mount frame was about to set the nation ablaze?

Palin’s Kazuo Kawasaki 704s, which visionglasses.com estimates to be $450 without lenses, are selling well nationwide; the demand has even created a surge of less-expensive knockoffs.

At Columbia Eyewear Ltd., sales of “the Palin frame” are increasing, said Jason Windsor, an optician at the store.

The store ordered similar frames two weeks before the convention, a coincidence that couldn't have been more timely.

“We got them in the day after she made her speech,” Windsor said.

Columbia Eyeware's $275 price tag doesn’t seem to faze buyers.

“It’s one of our higher-priced frames, but people don’t seem to blink," Windsor said. “It seems like we sell about one every other day now.”

The mock-Palin frame, a Silhouette brand, is now on back order.“We’ve had about 10 people come in asking for the Sarah Palin frame specifically,” Windsor said.“Most election candidates are male, and men don’t seem to notice fashion. Ladies look; they’re inspired by fashion and the national scene.”

Alma Hayes, a certified optician at Eyedentity Eyewear, said the store could not stock the Kawasaki glasses, which are reportedly back ordered for months.

Instead, the optical shop responded to requests for Palin glasses by offering three similar frames with custom-cut square lenses. One has a thin metal frame, another is chunkier with a thicker earpiece and a third is a more upscale version available in either sterling silver or gold.

Eyedentity Eyewear sells options for $235 to $695, but sales of the frames have not been brisk. Yetthe company is willing to take the gamble.

“We’ve had multiple requests, about 12 calls and four or five walk-ins,” Hayes said. "We weren’t necessarily expecting a big seller.”

The shape tends to catch people off-guard, she said.

“They don’t look very edgy on TV,” she says, "but when people try them on, they’re like, ‘Wow, these are different.’

"If you have a slender face, it just looks like you're wearing someone else’s glasses,” she said with a laugh.

Monica McMurry, dean of the School of Design and Fashion at Stephens College, said the glasses have taken on an iconic fulfillment.

“It’s part of a package,” McMurry said. “When we see someone in glasses, they look more learned.”

It's a look McMurry describes as “Main Street meets Wall Street.” The frames that set Palin apart in the political sphere may help her draw popularity from the masses.

It's an approachability factor, McMurry said. “People look at her and think, 'I feel like I could know her.' It’s interesting that she’s being emulated for ways most people in the public sphere don’t dress.”

As with any trend, the glasses have their critics.

“Some say she’s too Main Street, that she’s not playing the game — power suits, helmet hair and contacts," McMurry said. "They say she’s not the politically normal femininity.”

In some sectors, the glasses are regarded as a frivolous intrusion into politics. John B. Harms, a sociology professor at Missouri State University, is among those who say Palin’s glasses are anything but newsworthy.

"Why anyone would want to copy her is mysterious to me, but that’s the curious fact about humans and pop culture,” said Harms, who specializes in culture and consumerism. Just because it’s of current interest doesn’t mean it has real value, he said.

He finds interest in matters such as politicians' glasses disheartening at the least. “It’s hard to see humans behaving like lemmings,” he said.

“To me, those glasses signify ignorance and an extremely distorted philosophy of life. A couple of months from now, they will be out of style, and people will have to pony up cash for the next style.”

It's more than a fleeting trend for Dorothy Stuenkel of Columbia, who favors Palin as a candidate.

“I just think she’s great,” she said of Palin. "She says what she thinks. She doesn’t him-haw around and she helped Alaska."

Besides, Stuenkel said, the glasses look good on Palin.

Despite the final price tag of $555 for frames and lenses from Columbia Eyewear, Stuenkel purchased a pair herself.

“I let myself buy them because I’ve had the pair I have now for eight years,” she said.  “Divided by eight, it’s not all that expensive.”