Originally published: 27.09.17
Around the time of Glastonbury, there was a lot of buzz in the media about inflatable flamingos being the must-have accessory of the summer. Having spent the last few months scrolling through endless holiday snaps on Facebook and Instagram while impatiently waiting for my late September getaway to roll around, I can confirm that I’ve seen a couple – but nowhere near as many as pairs of Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Home or away, man or woman, couple or single, young or old, I’ve lost count of the number of shades I’ve seen with the distinctive logo in the top left corner. From a friend ordering some of Ray-Ban Aviators customised with her name back at the beginning of May to my beloved red Ray-Ban Clubmasters just unpacked and sitting on my dresser, I’ve encountered them almost as regularly as the ubiquitous summertime adverts for cheap lager.
In the shades
There are now more options for sunnies than ever. Newcomers to the market such as Pala, who support vision projects in Africa through their sales, and Dick Moby, handmade from bio and recycled acetate, cater for the growing number of ethically conscious consumers. Fashion magazines publicise high end firms such as Cutler and Gross as the brand du jour, and I get no end of compliments on my Italia Independentexclusives.
Other companies may have their moment in the sun (remember the popularity of Oakley shades in the nineties?) but still Ray-Ban reign supreme in the world of sunglasses, almost as synonymous as Hoover and vacuum cleaner. According to data from Euromonitor International, in 2016 they were the largest sunglasses brand and commanded 5 percent of the global of the global eye wear market. In 2014, they generated an enormous 2.065 billion euros for their owners Luxottica, an Italian firm who also operate Oakley, Oliver Peoples and pretty much every designer sunglasses range that you can name, including Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY and Versace.
What is it about Ray-Ban that makes them so popular?
It’s partly down to Luxottica’s management since they took over the company in 1999. They changed the manufacturing process, using modern eyewear technology and vastly improving quality, and rebranded Ray-Ban as a luxury product, all without losing the aesthetics for which the firm was known.
There are other factors too. The widespread ownership of sunglasses helps. Opticians are always reminding us that they aren’t just a fashion item and it seems that we are taking notice, with rising awareness of the need for eye protection credited with boosting worldwide sales. Plus unlike other areas of apparel, sunglasses are purchased by men and women, with one UK survey by Mintel finding that men were almost twice as likely as women to buy designer shaded specs (20 percent compared to 11 percent).
Obligatory cute kid in sunnies pic
Our love of sunglasses often begins early in life. One summer my then three year old nephew couldn’t be parted from his Thomas the Tank Engine frames. Who doesn’t have a childhood photograph of themselves posing proudly in a pair?
Back then sunglasses have a fun, novelty value, but we soon grow to learn that they represent so much more. They are entry level designer goods, a status symbol that is neither too ostentatious nor breaks the bank – particularly if justified on cost-per-wear basis as my friend and I did with her customised Aviators.
The cool factor
Of course no discussion of sunglasses, particularly Ray-Ban, would be complete without reference to the word ‘cool’. Earlier this year, Scrivens Opticians & Hearing Centre commissioned a report which found that over half of the 2,000 British adults questioned considered sunglasses to be the coolest fashion accessory – and a massive two-thirds believed that sunglasses made wearers look instantly more stylish!
Again Ray-Ban dominate these notions of cool. Also earlier this year, in a GlobalWedIndex survey of over 28,000 Internet users aged 16-64, Ray-Ban were voted the coolest luxury brand, with almost 40 percent choosing them over the other sixteen options that included Chanel and Armani.
This perception has developed over the course of the company’s almost ninety year history, encouraged by the many iconic sunglasses wearers who have donned one kind of Ray-Ban or another, including Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Tom Cruise in Top Gun. With the Jackie Ohh, Ray-Ban even created a design for another legendary sunglasses wearer, Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
With this level of pedigree, it’s perhaps unsurprising that we are so heavily drawn to Ray-Ban. A practical purpose, relatively accessible price point and the cachet of a designer brand meets the Hollywood dream factory and fantasy world of the world’s most stylish stars. No wonder we’re loyal fans of the Ray Ban Aviator, Ray Ban Clubmaster, Ray Ban Wayfarer and more: Ray-Ban put all other sunglasses brands in the shade.
Rae Ritchie: I blog mainly about history and women’s magazines, with more creeping in on contemporary magazines than I’d expected, and most definitely consider myself (and my writing) to be a feminist. @rae_ritchie_