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Aviator: The Story Behind Ray Ban’s Classic Design

Written by: Robert Charlton | April 8, 2014.

Ray Ban AviatorRarely does a product dominate the market for as long or persistently as the legendary Ray Ban Aviator, but this isn’t just any old product and the term “legend” might be thrown around loosely these days- but this pair of sunglasses has a legitimate claim to that title.

Designed way back in 1937, the “anti-glare” frame as it was then known was a response to longer and higher altitude flights in the rapidly expanding air plane revolution. Pilots struggled with the exposure to light and eye adjustment as well as complaining of headaches from the altitude. This frame was the solution. However, reaching far beyond its functional appeal the Aviator has become much more renowned for its impact on fashion, having being worn by famous faces from generation to generation.

How many other items in fashion can pass through almost 80 years with barely any tweaks and changes, yet still remain popular? This brand’s frame has defied the rules set by the chop and change nature of the industry.

Ask anybody to name a style of sunglasses and you can guarantee that the majority will pick out the Aviator as one of them, its globally renowned style is still idolised and regularly imitated by other eye-wear producers.

The appeal of the design is that is suitable for any outfit- casual or smart.

Originally designed by American duo Bausch and Lomb, it is rumoured they were asked specifically to develop eye-wear for World War II pilots, their success and notoriety led eventually to a takeover from Italian eye wear group Luxottica in a multi-million pound deal many years later (1999) and it is this which forms the make-up of their DNA in the modern era.

The name- as you might imagine- isn’t taken from the original designers but more a reflection of their functional purpose. Ray Ban– meaning literally “rays from the sun being blocked”, or “sun block” has stuck to become one of the most recognizable brand names around the world. Originally the design was centred on a green lens and had a plastic frame, before the name Aviator was coined and the design patented a year later with a metal frame worked in for a mark of quality.

By the 60’s musicians and film stars had a begun to popularize these frames in fashion and they have become synonymous with stars such as Jim Morrison, The Beatles, and later in the 80’s Top Gun’s Tom Cruise and Freddie Mercury.

Below: Aviators have been firmly indented into Hollywood culture through the likes of Jim Morrison, Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp.

Since the early days the brand have extended their dominance over the sunglasses market with a few other iconic designs such as the Wayfarer and Clubmaster which are available online now at Mainline Menswear.

The Aviator may not have changed much in its existence to date, but Ray Ban have shown they do have a creative sense of innovation through their constant appetite for designing new models. This year the new creation comes in the form of the Cats 5000 frame which is an oversized futuristic interpret of the classic aviator, coming with a redesigned plastic frame and a polarized lens. Another addition is that of the tortoise-shelled frame into classic frames such as the Clubmaster and Wayfarer, adding a touch of classic retro style and tapping into the huge current demand for it.

Before the days of Luxottica the brand had initiated the production of previously unheard of technology in the eye-wear market such as a sweat bar protection for the eye and a frame designed specifically for the outdoor sportsman of the time which were invariably fishermen or shooters. Later down the line they became responsible for ideas such as the Folding Wayfarer and the light sensitive yellow photo-chromic lens in 1978- this darkened with changing light and temperature- not forgetting the originally styled mirrored lens which has transferred through multiple brands and styles of sunglasses.

A similar creative nature was later shown by younger rival brands such as Oakley who took the sports market by storm during the 1980’s and 90’s and had a younger fashion appeal. By that time Ray Ban had lost a bit of market share and eventually sold  up to Luxottica in 1999. Since then the company has seen a steady rate of growth and has again begun to capture the younger audience with a vintage appeal.

Under the knowledgeable guidance of the Luxottica group it is likely that Ray Ban will maintain its traditionally diverse nature and strong brand name. From way back during their expansion into Europe, the Ray Ban Aviators- partly due to romanticism in film- have symbolised somewhat of an American Dream attitude and style to which consumers still buy into to this day.

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