Ever since its invention, the Ray-Ban has been all about aspiration. From its original concept of sunglasses for American airmen, and through its many celebrity endorsements, Ray-Ban has marketed itself as the brand that everyone wants to be seen in. Owning a pair of Ray-Bans should be the ultimate dream for every fashion-conscious individual who wants to look like their hero. The invention of the Ray Ban Aviator
The invention of the iconic Ray-Ban Aviator brand has its roots in the meteoric rise of the power of flight. In the 1930s the swift development of military aircraft design allowed pilots to travel ever farther, faster and higher. But this created a problem.
Pilots reported that the high levels of glare they experienced as they flew high and fast were leading to vision problems, headaches and altitude sickness. This naturally reduced their ability to function at the high levels needed for military action. A solution was needed.
Some time previously, Lieutenant General John McCready had taken a balloon flight. During this balloon flight, he had been dazzled by the sun. He then conceived the idea of a pair of dark glasses which would shade his eyes while letting him see what was around him. McCready was convinced that this type of eyewear would solve the problem of glare for the pilots. He approached B&L with a request to create sunglasses that could limit the glare without restricting the pilots' vision.
B&L set to work on developing dark glasses. Following several experiments, the prototype sunglasses with plastic frames and green lenses were produced in 1936. Thus the Aviator appeared.
The following year the plastic frames were replaced by metal ones. However, it was considered that the term 'anti-glare' wasn't sufficiently striking enough to sum up the appeal of these new glasses. So the term 'Ray-Ban' was adopted instead, along with the Aviator tag as a nod to the aviation link. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The Ray-Ban Aviator was such a success that it wasn't only the pilots who were wearing them. Contemporary photos show them being used by the high-ranking officers as well and before too long, they were considered to be synonymous with the glamorous lifestyle of the military pilot. This set in motion the trend for Ray-Bans to be marketed as a premium product which has been continued throughout the following seven and a half decades. The B&L Ray-Ban years Ray Ban in the 30s (The Aviator, Shooter and Outdoorsman) The invention of the Aviator in 1936 marked the start of the Ray-Ban rise to fame. Within a couple of years the use of Ray-Bans had moved beyond military use and others who lived, worked and played outdoors began to see the benefits.
In 1938 B&L released the Ray-Ban Shooter, specifically designed for rifle users, with a choice of green or yellow lenses. The yellow lenses were especially useful as they filtered out blue light, enhancing detail and minimising haze, so making it much easier for users to operate in misty conditions. The design also included a so-called 'cigarette circle' centre which allowed the wearer to keep both hands free, which has become the Shooter's signature feature.
Hard on the heels of that success, in 1939 B&L introduced the Ray-Ban Outdoorsman, marketed at hunters, shooters and fishing enthusiasts. Originally known as 'Skeet Glass', the defining feature of this brand is the various coverings for the top bar and temple ends, such as nacre and calf leather.
Ray-Ban in the 40s
The advent of World War II called for further innovation in the development of sunglass technology. The Aviator was still used by the military for its pilots and B&L continued to improve the design to meet the needs of these high-performing pilots.
One such innovation was the gradient mirror lens. This involved providing glare-reducing coating at the top of the lens but leaving the lower area untreated so that pilots could view their instruments clearly and easily.
Of course, especially during the war, the status of pilots with the public rose even higher. And with this adulation came the desire to look like the heroes they admired and so the popularity of the Ray-Ban Aviator increased as well. A pair of Ray-Bans was the perfect accessory to match the military-style look which had permeated the fashion culture of the time.
Ray Ban in the 50s - Ray Ban Wayfarers
After the enforced austerity of the war years, it was perhaps inevitable that the 50s became the era of high glamour. Despite the enduring popularity of the Aviator, B&L decided it was time to take advantage of the new synthetic materials available and create a design with a different appeal. In 1932, the Ray-Ban Wayfarer stepped into the limelight.
With frames created from modern moulded plastic, the Ray-Ban Wayfarer had a totally different look from the Aviator. The frames flared out into sharp pointed 'wings', with almond-shaped lenses, said to be specifically designed by optical designer Raymond Stegeman to imply a certain air of danger and unpredictability.
The attraction of Hollywood's silver screen was fast becoming the ultimate trend dictator and Ray-Ban Wayfarer was soon being worn, both an and off the screen, by the most stratospheric of superstars. Sported by the likes of James Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause' (1955), and later by Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's', the Wayfarer became the sunglasses of choice for multitudes of film fans the world over.
In 1953, the Ray-Ban Signet flaunted stylish gold and silver frames, together with horizontal bands over the centre, corners and ear stems. Like other designs first released in the 50s, the Signet has had several design upgrades over the years and has become one of Ray-Ban's most enduring styles.
The Ray-Ban Caravan, a re-imagined version of the Aviator with squarer lenses, was launched in 1957.
Ray-Ban also launched a range of sunglasses aimed specifically at women, with additional embellishments and a wide range of colour options allowing women to stay truly up-to-date with the ever-changing fashion scene.
Lens technology was also enhance with the introduction of G-15 grey lenses in 1957, which combined exceptional protection against glare with the ability to see true colour.
Ray-Ban in the 60s - Ray-Ban Olympian
At the start of the 60s, Ray-Ban had 30 models in its range, but along with the explosion in fashion, popular culture and celebrity adoration, B&L expanded their catalogue hugely over the decade.
By 1969 there were over 50 designs to choose from. As with previous models, the popularity of the different styles were hugely influenced by the celebrities who wore them, especially when they featured in a 'blockbuster' movie that had far-reaching impact.
The Ray-Ban Olympian I and II appeared in 1965. A delicately arched metal ridge, together with sculpted rectangular lenses, recalled a classic look but with a uniquely contemporary edge. When Peter Fonda wore a pair in 'Easy Rider' in 1969, their popularity predictably rocketed.
In 1968 the Ray-Ban Balorama was introduced, subsequently made famous by Clint Eastwood, in his guise as Harry in 'Dirty Harry' (1971). The space race inspired the Ray-Ban Meteor, whilst the Ray-Ban Laramie sported cat-shaped eyes for a unique appearance.
But the old favourites did not die. The Aviator and Wayfarer continued to be worn by many celebrities, such as Bob Dylan.
Ray-Ban in the 70's – Ray-Ban Vagabond and Stateside
In the 70s, disco was king, and wearing the right outfit and accessories had never been more important. By now, Ray-Bans had become a fashion item in their own right and were just as likely to be worn indoors as outside. Of course, the requirements of fashion wearers were totally different from those who needed sunglasses for practical reasons, and this led B&L to branch out into catering for two individual markets: the fashion market and the sports market.
On the fashion front, the Ray-Ban Vagabond and the Ray-Ban Stateside each made their debut. These models had plastic frames, and came with a choice of lens: the standard G-15 lens and the G-31 mirror lens. Again, over the years these designs have been adapted to make them more in line with the modern look.
In addition to devising new Ray-Ban models in the 70s, B&L were also breaking further new ground in lens design. A lens for mountaineers featured mirrored lenses, as well as leather side shields to cut out the wind, whilst the Ambermatic lens (1974), was photosensitive, darkening and lightening in response to the strength of the light. It also gave fantastic definition to outlines and shadows, making it a fabulous choice for snow sports activities.
B&L also made another leap forward with the advent of prescription sunglasses, saving countless wearers the hassle of juggling general glasses and sunglasses. Ray-Bans in the 1980s – the return of the Wayfarer During the high-fashion era of the 80s, Ray-Ban continued to keep a prominent place in fashion consciousness. Movie culture kept the public profile high and the Wayfarer put in an appearance in 'The Blues Brothers' (1980) and 'Risky Business' (1983). The original Aviator had a strong resurgence when Tom Cruise sported a pair in 'Top Gun' (1986), taking the model back into the heart of its original aerodynamic roots.
Pop culture also had a role to play. In particular, Michael Jackson was seen wearing several models, including the Ray-Ban Aviator for his 1984 Grammy event and the Wayfarer on his world-beating 'Bad' tour from 1987-89.