When did the space age start? In terms of astronomy, you can take it back to 1957, when the Russians threw a 183-pound polished sphere the size of a beach ball away from Earth and into its orbit. Sputnik 1, Earth’s first man-made satellite, sparked a race to the cosmos between the United States and its Cold War adversary. NASA was established a year later, and in 1969 the United States achieved the coronation by putting the first man on the moon. This period was a boon for technology and for pushing the boundaries of humanity. But if you look at the design, you’ll see that America’s obsession with space predates these remarkable accomplishments.
Despite the Cold War fears, which you can see in the design of the atomic age, the design of the space age conveyed a sense of optimism for the future throughout the 1950s and 1960s. imagined for rockets were found on cars like the Cadillac Eldorado and the Chevy Bel Air. Googie architecture – which incorporates sharp angles, overhangs, fins, boomerangs, and other cutout patterns – has become ubiquitous in restaurants, cafes, motels, and gas stations, as well as the accompanying signage. Imagine the iconic Las Vegas sign. It’s Googie.
Founded in 1936, Ray-Ban had made a name for itself by designing sunglasses specifically for the military. A U.S. Army Colonel named John A. Macready was concerned about the fogging of pilots’ goggles and their inability to filter out the vivid hues of white and blue in the sky. He worked with Bausch & Lomb, the original parent company of Ray Ban, to create glasses that would reduce glare and resist the forces of impact. They were released to the general public in 1938, a perfect product for an era marked by war and in which patriotism and respect for authority were paramount.
In 1952, designer Raymond Stegeman turned the company’s eyes to the future with the Wayfarer. These are the first plastic sunglasses and their lines refer to the iconic wings of Cadillac. Another point of reference was the Eames chair, another classic design born from the time. According to design critic Stephen Bayley, the “distinctive trapezoidal frame spoke non-verbal language that hinted at an unstable dangerousness, but well tempered by the sturdy arms that the ad said gave the executives a” masculine look. “
“They had never seen anything like it before. So it became that kind of style association as well as the functional element, ”explains Anjali Shirke, Ray-Ban brand manager in North America. “I think Ray-Ban made this transition from military function jump to pop culture fashion.”
The sleek frames screamed rebellion, a fitting prop for the character of James Dean in Rebel without cause. JFK, the youngest president ever elected, became well known for a surprisingly similar figure, as did Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The erroneous attribution to Ray-Ban was a boon to the company as they had become the most popular shades of the time. Trailblazers like Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, and Muhammad Ali all don the real thing.
The ’70s marked a downturn for style, but Ray-Ban decided to rekindle its signature undertones with the power of product placement. In 1982, the company signed a $ 50,000 per year agreement with Unique Product Placement to get Wayfarers in movies and on television. A year later, they were opposite Tom Cruise in Risky Business. During an admission interview for Princeton in the middle of a party, Cruise’s character pulled out a pair of Wayfarers before uttering the phrase “Sometimes you gotta say what the fuck you do,” before sweetly lighting a cigarette. A friend asks him how it’s going, and he stands up with a big silly grin, proudly announcing, “Looks like University of Illinois.
It was then that Robert Verdi, the television personality and style expert known for wearing sunglasses on his head, first noticed.
“I think when I was in high school Tom Cruise wore them Risky business, and I think that was the first foray where I really thought about how cool they were, because I think for all the guys, whatever their sexual propensity, Tom back then was so cool and everyone wanted a little piece of him. It was a very affordable piece that you could bring into your life.
To learn more about the Ray-Ban Wayfarer’s status as original goggles, listen to the rest of Why It’s Cool.