The Italian Job shades roar back into style

Nick Foulkes tells the story of a cinema classic, some cult sunglasses and a man obsessed

The relaunched Renauld Mustang sunglasses
The relaunched Renauld Mustang sunglasses

As caper movies go, The Italian Job has about all the 1960s could throw at it: those Minis; a classless Michael Caine at his “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” best; Benny Hill; a Quincy Jones soundtrack; Noël Coward as the monarchy-mad master criminal; clothes by Doug Hayward; a sidekick called Camp Freddie in a double­-breasted pink suit; and, if you are a petrolhead, the best title sequence ever with an orange Lamborghini Miura roaring through the Alps, then exploding in a tunnel. I am unshaken in my belief that a large proportion of the seven-figure sums spent by fifty- and sixtysomething millionaires to secure this, the first supercar, can be ascribed to those matchless minutes of celluloid bliss.

With all that going on, you could be forgiven for having missed the Renauld Mustang shades worn by the ill-fated Lambo driver Rossano Brazzi. There are certain films it is impossible to think of without a pair of dark glasses passing in front of the mind’s eye. Anything starring Tom Cruise during the 1980s (Risky Business, Top Gun and Rain Man required him to wear Ray-Ban Wayfarer, Aviator and Clubmaster shades respectively). The Blues Brothers, obvs. Equally obviously, Steve McQueen’s folding Persols in The Thomas Crown Affair. Men in Black, The Matrix, Reservoir Dogs. They all have a place in the canon, but nothing beats The Italian Job.

The sunglasses are on screen for four shots that total around 2.2, maybe 2.6, seconds (I tried to time it but could not stop and start the stopwatch quickly enough – it is that fleeting). But they made such an impression on my five-year-old self that one of my first requests of the Evening Standard picture desk, when I arrived at that newspaper as a young editor in 1990, was to ask them to print a still with the glasses, which I then tried and failed to have made.

The ’60s original in The Italian Job
The ’60s original in The Italian Job

Now, 30 years later, a British entrepreneur with a business in northern California creating wearable technology has succeeded where I failed.

“I was six when The Italian Job came out and I was taken to the cinema,” recalls Gareth Llewelyn. “The opening scene stuck with me. And then I was watching it again in 2013, and I thought, I can’t have the car, but I really want a pair of those sunglasses.” 

With an obsession that I can only applaud, Llewelyn became the world’s leading scholar on Renauld Mustang sunglasses produced from 1961 to 1971, and discovered why the glasses were so hard to find. “The biggest problem was the hinge mechanism. It was really fragile and that’s why they didn’t survive.” Five years and one large collection of old Renauld sunglasses later, he was eventually contacted by someone who had found a working pair in a California thrift shop for $20. “I offered him $500 and he took my arm off,” he recalls. “I bought them, got them over here and was immediately hit with somebody who would buy them from me for $10,000. As soon as I heard that, I said, ‘Right, we’re going to remake these because there is a pent-up demand from people who want a piece of ’60s nostalgia on their face.’ The first supporters were the Miura owners. There are 762 of them around the world, and they all want a pair.”

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Llewelyn did what any self-respecting entrepreneur would do – and decided to make them himself. “I bought the Renauld business [which had ceased trading in the 1980s], the rights and the trademarks.” The first delivery from his Italian manufacturer, all pre-sold before Christmas, dropped in May, with more shipments expected in July.

Plated in 24ct gold, palladium or black Teflon, and photographed with a Miura, they look so good that you can almost hear Matt Monro crooning Quincy’s On Days Like These over the 8-Track. There is just one tiny problem: they cost up to £1,000 a pair. Costly… until you compare them to the price of a Lambo.

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