Design Icons: Ray-Ban

The Epitome of Cool

Ray-Ban Aviators. Photo by Jaina Teeluck. Licensed under Creative Commons.

When you try to think of one fashion accessory that cuts across all cultural borders and represents the epitome of cool, it has to be Ray-Ban sunglasses. Take a look at pictures of your favourite writers, film stars, rock and roll stars, film directors, models or poets and you will probably see that at some time in their careers they have worn a pair of what must be deemed one of the most successful fashion items in history.

Whether it be the seductive cool of the Wayfarer style, with its enigmatic black or sensitive tortoiseshell frames or the pristine reflective glass and sharp lines of the Aviator, Ray-Ban sunglasses are a sure-fire way for anyone to increase their cool factor by 100%.

The psychology of wearing sunglasses is obvious. The eyes are the windows of the soul as they say and so hiding vulnerability behind a pair of shades immediately gives the wearer the upper hand with an air of mystery and superiority. Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry and Schwarzenegger’s Terminator were invincible behind their Ray-Bans.

Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Photo by Usingyourbrain. Licensed by Creative Commons.

In Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961 Audrey Hepburn gave Wayfarers that air of chic by wearing them with a black satin Givenchy evening gown and she opened the door for girls everywhere to add glasses to their list of must have accessories.

Growing up I can recall seeing Bob Dylan sporting a pair of Wayfarers as he stood on stage dressed in black in D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back. No one looked better.  The music world took Ray-Bans to their collective hearts with stars like Roy Orbison, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Debbie Harry, Morrisey and The Ramones all taking their Ray-Bans into the glare of the spotlight with them. Over the years the list of celebrity endorsements seems endless, from Marilyn to Madonna, Jean Luc Godard to John Cooper Clarke they all chose Ray-Ban.

Ray-Ban are currently celebrating their 75th anniversary but the road to iconic status was not always smooth. During the 1930s and 40s the parent company Bausch & Lomb had already seen incredible success with their Aviator glasses which were made for the US Army Air Corp utilizing ground breaking anti-glare technology.

Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Photo by Rodrigo Gianesi. Licensed by Creative Commons.

The fashion phenomenon really started with the advance in plastics technology during the 1950s. These advances meant for the first time the company was able to replace the standard metal frames of sunglasses with cool shapes, moulded in a versatile light and flexible material. 1952 saw the release of the Ray-Ban Wayfarer designed by Raymond Stegeman and this new design inspired a whole generation of musicians, film makers, Beat poets and artists of the day.

From the feverish popularity of the 50s and 60s, the Ray-Ban brand hit a major slump in sales and popularity during the 70s as other companies caught up and began to flood the market with similar designs. It was only with a major marketing offensive including product placement in the 1980s that the company was able to pull itself from relative obscurity back to the forefront of the public consciousness.

Deliberately placing their glasses within iconic movies of the day was a master stroke and ensured the kind of popularity and longevity that money could buy. Think of the Tom Cruise film Risky Business with the classic Wayfarers taking up almost a third of the film poster. From that moment Ray-Bans were a must in all of the top TV shows and movies. What did Ferris Bueller wear to look cool when he borrowed his friend Cameron’s dad’s 1961 Ferrari ?….Ray-Bans of course.

Look at Miami Vice, Moonlighting, The Breakfast Club, Desperately Seeking Susan. A whole new generation bought into the super-cool brand yet again.

Recent appearances of the iconic eyewear on stars like Katy Perry, Tinie Tempah and Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen in the Twilight movie franchise continue the brand’s stellar status.

Ray-Ban Wayfarers. Photo by rboissevain. Licensed by Creative Commons.

Although there will always be a million and one brands of sunglasses to choose from, Ray-Ban with their classic catalogue of designs and their legacy of iconic celebrity endorsements will always remain the sunglasses of choice for those people who want the ultimate style accessory.


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