Adam Driver's 'House of Gucci' Aviators Look Like Money and Power

·6-min read
Photo credit: Miguel Medina
Photo credit: Miguel Medina

From Esquire

Ridley Scott's House of Gucci is looking to be very, very Gucci. In just two days, the biopic, which is based upon the 2000 true crime book of the same name by Sara Gay Forden, has opened the shutters on a production that has been largely under wraps thus far, dressing its stars Lady Gaga and Adam Driver like Davos oligarchs one moment, and la dolce vita veterans on smoky Italian streets the next. The wardrobe is impeccable, as Papa Gucci always intended.

For Maurizio Gucci, the former one-time head of the brand and the man whose horsebit loafers Driver fills with an uncanny, majestic resemblance, led by example. This is a man who sold good clothes because he knows good clothes. He doesn't peel away the dry cleaning plastic until absolutely necessary. He keeps a comb up his sleeve just in case – and still manages to swerve the ire of a wrathful Shania Twain. This man is a card carrying member of the international jet set, the achingly glam kind when it was still legal (and cool!) to smoke in the plane's left cortex. How does one know this? Well, yes, because he was part of a Florentine fashion dynasty, but also because he wore the glasses of Florentine fashion heirs.

Photo credit: Miguel Medina
Photo credit: Miguel Medina

Aviators, whether in spectacle or sunglasses form, have a long and winding history that meanders throughout fashion's canon. The original Bausch & Lomb design (now marketed within the res publica of Ray-Ban) were made readily available in 1936 after a US Army Air Corps Colonel John A. Macready requested an alternative to goggles. The views above the clouds were lovely, but they were also very intense, and pilots needed something to reduce the glare suffered at high altitudes. Aviators, with their specially formulated lenses and plastic frames, were a lighter balm that ensured full visibility on flights.

A few years later, the military became ever more important as the world hurtled into global conflict. Gabriele Mentges, a professor of fashion and textiles at Germany's Technische Universität Dortmunt, theorised that the nature of these wars lionised the military, with particular adulation reserved for those that took part in the dangerous business of aerial warfare. Thus, the stuff they wore accrued a social currency. Fighter pilots inadvertently became the cover stars of yore.

As generals became household names, aviators became an easy way to cosplay, and commemorate. Elvis Presley wore a pair, as did Paul Newman, and Robert Redford, and Al Pacino – men who, to this day, remain guaranteed double-tap bait on dedicated menswear Instagram accounts. Aviators became the sunglass of choice for patriarchs worldwide – but also the people who challenged them. As a leader of second-wave feminism, Gloria Steinem made aviator spectacles part of her personal brand, committing to a tinted lens and undulating curls at almost every public outing. The appeal was amplified, and crossed gender lines.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

And the trend continued. A Top Gun-era Tom Cruise relaunched aviators once more as the style stood toe-to-toe with the Wayfarers of the Less Than Zero generation. The Nineties and Noughties saw aviators on actors that are now so famous that they don't even really need to act anymore: George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Angelina Jolie et al. Where other trends ebbed and flowed, what began as military essential was now a staple proper.

Aviators weren't totally foolproof though. Owing to their success in the Seventies, costume departments tended to slap a pair on characters that represented a viler side of the Studio 54 era. In American Hustle, Christian Bale's pot-bellied, paltry-haired conman skulked around the Oscar-nominated flick like a hangover that refused to believe the party was over. Scarface's Tony Montana hid behind an oversized brown pair, presumably to hide the evidence of 900 day coke binge.

Symbols of power are also susceptible to its abuses. Aviators were bruised by the personal brand of Terry Richardson. Once a darling of the fashion world, the photographer was faced with multiple allegations of sexual assault against young women that are still under investigation by the New York city police department. Many of his subjects were often photographed at the conclusion of a shoot in Richardson's own glasses: thick-rimmed aviators that became a fossil of a gross power imbalance and the subsequent sleaze. Other disgraced men also hid behind aviators; men like American Apparel founder Dov Charney, who was dismissed from his own brand in light of an unprofessional conduct that "repeatedly put himself in a position to be sued by numerous former employees for claims that include harassment, discrimination and assault." Just as young boomers used the glasses to emulate the western world's military heroes, Generation X were using them to cosplay the villains that followed. Aviators were blighted with an inherent ick.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla
Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla

A fallow period began. Ray-Ban's Clubmasters took pole position on the indie Cindies of the mid-Noughties. For a time, teeny tiny Matrix shades were launched by Balenciaga (and Bella Hadid) into cultural significance in the late 2010s. But, slowly, aviators began to shed the sleaze of the Seventies as the era was reassessed. As flared suits and fanged lapels dripped back into the menswear consciousness, aviators rallied once more as something cool from the disco days just as its underbelly and legacy was being properly reckoned with, and gutted as appropriate.

The redemption came full circle. Decades after the late Maurizio Gucci wore his own pair of aviator spectacles – an artefact of power, money and heavily-stamped passports – it was his very label that was partly responsible for aviators' reintroduction to high society. Creative director Alessandro Michele has long drawn inspiration from the times of flammable sofas and winters of discontent, and thus steered the brand into a sunny sales period. Mr Porter's buying manager Daniel Todd was quick to spot the uptick. "[Aviators] have always been one of our top performing optical styles but notably, we have seen searches increased by over 50 per cent in the last six months," he tells Esquire over email. "Oversized Seventies sunglasses are making a resurgence, and Gucci and Fendi are dominating the style this season."

So much so, that aviators have reached the highest office in the land. Frequently seen in a pair on the 2020 campaign trail, Joe Biden's merch team made yard signs of star-spangled frames; a nod to a golden American yesteryear before presidents tweeted and Wall Street donations got gross. The sitting commander-in-chief, though marginally less awful than his predecessor, is by no means squeaky clean. And yet. Aviators have again risen as the go-to for the rich and the powerful, and everyone else, landing in the lounges of private airport terminals, in the marbled lobbies of ritzy hotels and everywhere in-between.

It doesn't get more Gucci than that.

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