Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses have been manufactured by Ray-Ban since 1956, which in turn has belonged to the Italian Luxottica Group since 1999. Wayfarers enjoyed early popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, returning to popularity again after a 1982 product placement. A second revival occurred in the mid-2000s.
Design and early popularityWayfarers were designed in 1952 by American optical designer Raymond Stegeman, who worked for Bausch & Lomb, Ray-Ban's parent company at that time. The design was inspired by, "a mid-century classic to rival Eames chairs and Cadillac tail fins." According to design critic Stephen Bayley, the "distinctive trapezoidal frame spoke a non-verbal language that hinted at unstable dangerousness, but one nicely tempered by the sturdy arms which, according to the advertising, gave the frames a 'masculine look'." The sunglasses also featured a new plastic molding technology.
1970s and 1980sAfter Wayfarers' heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, sales declined. Though Wayfarers' cultural popularity was aided in 1980 by the film The Blues Brothers, only 18,000 pairs were sold in 1981, and Wayfarers were on the verge of discontinuation. In 1982 Ray-Ban signed a $50,000-a-year deal with Unique Product Placement of Burbank, California, to place Ray-Bans in movies and television shows. Between 1982 and 1987, Ray-Ban sunglasses appeared in over 60 movies and television shows per year, an effort continued through 2007. Tom Cruise's wearing of Wayfarers in the 1983 movie Risky Business was one of the key placements, and that year 360,000 pairs were sold. Additional appearances in movies like The Breakfast Club, and series like Miami Vice and Moonlighting, led sales to 1.5 million annually.
Wayfarers were also worn by various musicians, including Roy Orbison, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Billy Joel, Johnny Marr, Blondie's Debbie Harry, Madonna, Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello, and members of U2 and Queen, as well as public figures such as Max Headroom, Jack Nicholson, and Anna Wintour.
Bret Easton Ellis' fiction contained references to Wayfarers. Lyrics that mentioned the style of glasses included Don Henley's 1984 song "The Boys Of Summer", which contained the lyric "You got that hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby". Corey Hart's music video Sunglasses at Night shows the artists wearing Wayfarers in darkness. In response to these placements, Ray-Ban's Wayfarer expanded from two models in 1981 to about 40 models by 1989.