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Finer Optics

Flighty fifties cat-eyes, pink-tinted aviators, and Philippe Starck specials -- a glasses menagerie awaits you at these eyewear boutiques.

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Like the best Madison Avenue clothing boutiques, designer-owned opticians have always specialized in styles that express the wearer's personality, flattering your face and making an outfit at the same time. This season, the fashion crowd has finally taken notice, and the hunt is on for beautifully made, sharp-looking specs and sunglasses to match the new, polished, rich-looking spring wardrobes. The trendiest choices are wacky fifties cat-eyes, thick plastic rectangles, and Charlie's Angels-worthy aviators. But if pink tints don't meet your office dress code, the same boutiques also offer plenty of subtler though equally sophisticated shapes that are almost as fun to wear. Whether you'd frame the windows to your soul in hand-carved buffalo horn or futuristic ultra-light titanium, one of these five shops will have what you're looking for.

Morgenthal Frederics
399 West Broadway (212-966-0099);
optometrist available Friday to Monday.

Four years after he bought Frederics Opticians in 1986, onetime painter Richard Morgenthal introduced his first style -- a bright plastic frame with teeny dark lenses called the Lifesaver. The glasses were youthful and whimsical but versatile enough to liven up anything from a basic black suit to jeans and a T-shirt. Now he and his wife, Leslie, stock their four Manhattan shops with 50 Morgenthal Frederics designs ($175-$390), plus a handful of edgy, lesser-known collections from Asian and European designers like Frances Klein and Jason Kirk. A pair of Dame Edna-esque lacy cat-eye specs ($265) is typical of Morgenthal's sculptural approach, as is the fact that the style was produced by a Japanese machine factory. As for his more fashion-forward endeavors, let's just say Julia Roberts recently scooped up a pair of his seventies-style tinted, rimless aviators. The optional, artsy-craftsy accessories are a must here -- we love the hand-sewn, tassel-trimmed silk-shantung pouches that carry two pairs of frames, and beaded chains pretty enough to qualify as jewelry.

Selima Optique
59 Wooster Street (212-343-9490);
optometrist available Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Selima Salaun is the queen of ultra-feminine, French-chic eyeglasses and sunglasses in bright, over-the-top color combos -- perfect for style-setters like Fiona Apple, Lauryn Hill, and Sofia Coppola. Purple frames with yellow temples and green lenses? A fantastic, jagged-edge red pair with pink-tinted lenses? Like a pair of multicolored, sequined sandals, most of these plastic glasses ($160-$255) are crazy enough to make black clothes look lively and splashy enough to work with everything else you own. (Not surprisingly, Salaun also designs lingerie and accessories collections sold at her nearby Le Corset and Bond 07 boutiques.) Colorphobes would once have felt blinded by much of what's available here -- even the black frames have, say, red peeking out underneath -- but last year, Salaun added lighter, subtler, sparkly metal frames to the collection. And there's also plenty of flash-free minimalist stuff to choose from. No, of course it's not made by Selima -- she brings it in from makers like Chloé, Dolce & Gabbana, and Martine Sitbon.

Oliver Peoples
366 West Broadway (212-925-5400);
optometrist available Saturday and Sunday.

This Los Angeles-based eyewear phenomenon -- a longtime favorite of Hollywood heavies like Steven Spielberg, Brad Pitt, Elton John, and Nicole Kidman -- takes an airy, lightweight, and modern approach to eyewear design. But that doesn't mean a store full of wiry, generic-looking ovals. Just about every Oliver Peoples frame -- from simple, tinted-metal rectangles to trendsetting silver aviators with two-tone lenses -- is eye-catching in a knowing, sophisticated way (prices range from $235-$395). The same goes for the Eyevan and Paul Smith eyewear collection, also produced by Oliver Peoples and sold in the shop. For a wilder look, try gradient lenses with names like Tequila Sunrise (shaded from red to gold) or Sour Grape (from purple to green). The company was launched in 1986 with a mother lode of 3,000 vintage twenties and thirties frames from the estate of a collector named Oliver Peoples. And the design team still has a soft spot for retro references -- a touch of Starsky and Hutch in an oversize, rectangular pair; a bit of the fifties science professor in a heavy metal bridge bar. But the store also sells those gigantic, futuristic Prada frames -- in fact, its designers helped create them.

Alain Mikli
880 Madison Avenue, near 72nd Street (212-472-6085);
will refer customers to an outside optometrist.

"We don't want to sell frames you can't see," insists a saleswoman at this shrine to postmodern French eyewear. There's little danger of that. This boutique is a must-see for anyone with a closet full of clothes that make a strong, serious statement who doesn't want his glasses to fade in comparison. There are many who swear by Mikli's exuberant, rhinestone-encrusted styles and his signature plastic wraparound sunglasses (think lab goggles, only in a bright salmon pink.) But we prefer his take on sober, stylish executive chic -- heavy on the brow bone and the angles. Such frames are available in tremendous variety here, and it's almost impossible to choose from the wide selection of flattering colors, mostly jewel tones and browns ($195-$475). For the ultimate in comfort, check out a special collection co-designed by Philippe Starck -- all frames have fidget-friendly hinges that rotate 360 degrees. Tortoiseshell models are a dignified, urban choice; reflective metal wraparound shades have a sportier, off-to-the-slopes appeal. If you take eyewear craftsmanship really seriously -- and are game for spending upwards of $1,000 -- consider Mikli's top-end Carlino line. The handcrafted frames are all made from real buffalo horn and trimmed in gold.

Robert Marc Opticians
575 Madison Avenue, near 57th Street (212-319-2000);
will refer customers to an outside optometrist.

For eighteen years, designer Robert Marc has been known for sniffing out the sleek, chic, mostly French eyewear from designers like Lunor and Beausoleil that fills his shops. This spring, he introduces his first signature collection. Inspired by requests from his regular customers, Marc's line is ingeniously simple: seventeen plastic frames (for sunglasses and eyeglasses) that come in about six colors each, with lenses of your choice. The shapes are mostly classics with slight modifications -- bold, flattering ovals, rectangles, and slight cat-eyes. All come in a variety of neutral colors or a deep red ($275-$295). In a departure from the oversize, wildly colored seventies stuff that's new again everywhere else, Marc has looked to old-fashioned, handmade eyeglasses for inspiration. The kind of hinge that was once used to join pieces of real tortoiseshell now serves as Marc's "logo"; laminations of slightly different colored plastics give colored frames a subtle, two-tone sheen. But there's no way you'll feel fuddy-duddy in these specs -- at least not judging from the way they look on Uma Thurman, Natasha Richardson, and Liam Neeson.


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