Ever since they first appeared in the 1930s, Ray-Ban has been a true American icon, sitting proudly alongside the likes of Louisville Slugger, Weber Grill, Levi's, and Mustang. Thanks to a who's who of celebrity wearers, Ray-Ban has outlasted fickle fashion trends and competitors — even managing to survive (just barely) the dark days of disco — and now they're sitting on more noses than ever. From its military origins to its guardian angel, we've rustled up 11 things you probably didn't know about one of America's most transparent brands.
1. Like so many style icons, the Ray-Ban Aviator began purely as utilitarian gear.
Since pilots were flying farther, faster, and higher than ever before, these Icaruses would come down with massive headaches from the bright sun. Lieutenant General John MacCready of the U.S. Air Corps called up Bausch & Lomb, who tackled the situation and unwittingly left the greatest mark on the history of eyewear.
2. The first guy to popularize the Aviator was not a celebrity, but rather General Douglas MacArthur.
When he landed on a beach in the Philippines during WWII, photojournalists snapped pics that would give the shades their first global exposure. They became popular with the French Army soon after, giving the Arkansas-born commander the fashion validation that he obviously didn't need.
3. The original Ray-Ban prototype had green-tinted lenses and was made of plastic.
To combat the intense blues and whites of the sky and sun, the green lenses tinted things just right. As for the prototype's plastic frames, Ray-Ban quickly ditched them for thin metal.
4. Humphrey Bogart gave the young Ray-Ban some solid celeb publicity way before James Dean or Brando.
Bogey's very period-specific choice didn't pick up quite like the Wayfarer did on Dean's nose, but it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship
between Ray-Ban and celebrities.
5. Ray-Ban did Transitions lenses way before Transitions.
Back in 1974, the Ray-Ban Ambermatic was introduced, which changed its tint based on lighting conditions. Hunter S. Thompson was a big fan.
6. In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that weird thing on Raoul Duke's Aviators was a cigarette holder.
One of the more bizarre Ray-Ban designs, the Kalichrome Shooter Aviator's cigarette hole supposedly allowed the wearer to free up both hands for shooting. However, Hunter S. Thompson (a.k.a. Raoul Duke) still preferred a classic cigarette holder. Because those actually work.
7. Ray-Ban has an app that will filter your photos through their trademark Ambermatic lens.
Like actually. There is a setup in London where a camera takes a picture of your picture through a pair of Ambermatic Aviators and sends it back to you. Your move, Instagram.
8. Disco almost killed the Ray-Ban.
During the late seventies and eighties, garish disco-styled eyewear surpassed the Ray-Ban enthusiasm that Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and all the others had created. Designer eyewear and chaos took over. Fortunately, they had a guardian angel...
9. Tom Cruise's movies have singlehandedly raised Ray-Ban sales over 40 percent. Twice.
In 1983, Tom Cruise traded pants for Wayfarers in Risky Business
and re-boosted Ray-Ban sales around 50 percent. Three years later, he swapped the Wayfarers for Aviators, played some sweaty volleyball, rode his motorcycle, took a shower at a girl's house, and casually gave Ray-Ban a 40 percent sales increase by taking it back to its fighter plane roots. Oh, and he boosted sales another 15 percent with Rain Man
. He may be crazy
, but respect.
10. Getting caught selling counterfeit Ray-Bans is a Class B felony.
Just a friendly FYI. And homages don't count — the dude on the beach huckin' "the real deal" is only risking it all if it says "Ray-Ban" on it.
11. But that doesn't exactly scare anyone off. The UAE authorities recently busted a Chinese optics company with around 143,700 fake pairs of shades.
Ray-Ban welcomed the final order to destroy them "with great satisfaction." Talk about keeping it real.
Ethan Wolff-Mann is the Gear editor for Supercompressor. He is not like Bono, and takes off his shades indoors. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.