Ah yes, the Blues Brothers. Where would Bausch & Lomb be without Jake and Ellwood? The first pair makes up the company that created Ray-Bans sunglasses, of which the Wayfarers model is the most worn and name-checked in contemporary culture. Years before Jack Nicholson made them his trademark, Wayfarers were perched on the starry noses of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. Oh, and JFK, Lennon, Warhol, Dylan, James Dean and Roy Orbison.
They were designed in 1952 by Raymond F. E. Stegeman and were soon proclaimed "a mid-century classic to rival Eames chairs and Cadillac tailfins." They were marketed initially as sunglasses for pilots, since Bausch & Lomb had a thriving business making all sorts of optical equipment for the American military, like periscopes, field glasses and searchlight reflectors. Wayfarers benefited from high-quality lenses that cut out glare and polarized light (rather than attenuating all light, polarization is selective in which frequencies it affects, concentrating on the ultraviolet and infrared ends of the spectrum)-welcome traits when flying a plane. Although the promotions pitch was aimed primarily at men, they caught on quickly with Hollywood starlets.
However, as '50s-style glamour gave way to '60s hippy chic, Wayfarers became old hat. It took a pair of fictional itinerant rhythm-and-blues musicians from Chicago to spark a revival. The 1980 film The Blues Brothers wasn't just about a couple of guys on a mission from God, it also put two magic words into the minds of the Bausch & Lomb marketing department: product placement. Throughout the decade that brought us A Flock of Seagulls and the mullet, Wayfarers were hip once more. Tom Cruise wore a pair in Risky Business and they cropped up in shows like Miami Vice and Moonlighting. Don Henley (of The Eagles) mentioned them in his 1984 solo hit, 'The Boys of Summer.' Wayfarers sales hit a dazzling 1.5 million.
Business success and reinstatement as a fashion icon, surely it was job done. Not so fast. In the '90s, Wayfarers lost their way yet again. Bausch & Lomb (who also invented CinemaScope) sold its Ray-Bans arm to an Italian company, Luxottica, in 1999. In 2000, the design was messed with. In an attempt to make them more palatable to contemporary tastes, they were made smaller and less angular. This only hastened the freefall into unpopularity.
What goes around, however, has a habit of coming around. Vintage Wayfarers were suddenly fetching good prices on eBay. One of the Olsen twins (Mary-Kate, or was it Ashley?) started wearing them. The old style was reissued and the machine cranked back into action, using high-profile PR events and even a MySpace presence to help make the Wayfarer the third best-selling style in Luxottica's range by October 2007.
Even though sunglasses per se are perennially cool, if history is anything to go by, the Wayfarers' future will still be vulnerable to the vagaries of fashion, but Bausch & Lomb was lucky enough to have produced not one but two icons of eyewear. The other classic design is the Aviator (which did survive the '70s, even thrived then). This style dates back as far as 1937 and became de riguer for U.S. Air Force pilots in World War II. General Douglas MacArthur was photographed wearing a pair when he landed on the beach in the Phillippines.
Aviators also became popular with civilians, although their appeal has always been more masculine. Elvis (in his white jumpsuit/Vegas phase) wore sunglasses whose shape owed a lot to that design. And of course, there are the law enforcement officers. These sunglasses are usually essential movie props for the guy playing the sadistic cop.