Thank the U.S. Army Air Corps for the style revolution that Ray-Ban created with its line of glasses and sunglasses. Bausch & Lomb, a medical equipment manufacturer, partnered with Army Air Corps Colonel John Macready in 1929 to create a line of sunglasses for pilots to see better in the intensity of the high atmosphere.
Over the next decade, Macready continued to help the company design glasses that would increase visibility while cutting down on glare. By 1938, they had come up with a lens made of kalichrome that was able to sharpen precise details in the field of vision while filtering out distracting blue light. The lenses were impact resistant, able to stand up to even the harshest conditions. When the company added metal frames to the mix, they patented the design and called it the Ray-Ban Aviator.
The original Aviator might have been focused on preventing altitude sickness and headaches, but newer designs focused instead on fashion as well as function. If anything, the function informed the development of the Ray-Ban look. Early designs like the Ray-Ban Outdoorsman catered to hunters. In the 1940’s Ray-Ban became a favorite of a wide variety of consumers who wanted to participate in the “cool” culture that these distinctive sunglasses carried.
Though the company started out as a line for men, in the 1960’s it expanded to include designs for women and even for children. It’s got a strong reputation for being the highest quality of glasses while also embracing a style that is unique and timeless. The Ray-Ban Wayfarer became synonymous with hip, elegant style.
Ray-Ban has been an iconic eyewear brand in large part thanks to its tie-ins with famous faces. Audrey Hepburn wore a pair in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. James Dean wore his classic version in Rebel Without a Cause. Peter Fonda famously wore Ray-Bans in the film Easy Rider. Clint Eastwood took the sunglasses to the next level of cool in Dirty Harry. Tom Cruise sported Ray-Bans in Top Gun and in Risky Business.
The cultural relevance of Ray-Ban is intimately tied to its popularity, as Ray-Ban is synonymous with cool. The degree to which Ray-Bans are cool has been a driving force for the sales figures of this high end brand. The glasses have a price point to match their glamour, with the average pair costing upwards of two hundred dollars each.
From military to pop-culture fashion, Ray-Bans showed that even the most high fashion style can have great functionality.
Though the company started out as part of Bausch & Lomb, eventually it was acquired by Luxottica Group as part of a bigger buyout of Bausch & Lomb’s Global Eyewear Division. The total cost of the deal was six hundred and forty million dollars in 1999. Shortly after the buyout in 2003, Luxottica was embroiled in a lawsuit brought by competitor Oakley that alleged the company was pressuring retailers to sell knock-off versions of its eyewear. It was settled out of court.
Ray-Ban’s primary competitors are Oakely, Costa Del Mar, and Maui Jim. Ray-Ban is the fourth largest luxury eyewear brand behind these competitors, with annual revenue of 7.8 billion dollars. The company is growing, thanks in part to its extended reach through the Luxottica umbrella of eyewear brands. From its first days has a specialized medical product, this function driven eyewear brand has become a major cultural and business phenomenon.