Ray Ban Wayfarer spec-tacular revival

By Susie Rushton

What do Don Henley and LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy have in common? Cary Grant and Deborah Harry? Princess Diana and Bret Easton Ellis? They have all contributed to the iconic status of a pair of heavy, angular sunglasses that were invented in 1952, worn by movie icons in that era and then revived by rockers in the late 1970s, and the Hollywood brat pack in the 1980s. Now, the Ray-Ban Wayfarer is about to have an almighty comeback.

Despite having one or two high-placed loyalists (Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani is rarely seen without hers), the Wayfarer had been deeply uncool for more than a decade. For fashion insiders, an early indicator of a wider revival appeared on the catwalk last September. The heavy, acetate frames and prominent hinge of the famous shades appeared in the spring/summer 2007 fashion shows by Luella and Lanvin, among others.

Then, at the Electric Ballroom in London over the winter, Ray-Ban re-launched the Wayfarer with a series of portraits of musicians wearing the frames, shot by seminal 70s photographer Mick Rock.

When the likes of Johnny Marr, Bobby Gillespie and Peaches can be assembled so effortlessly, you know that the accessory in question has spotless rock credentials. The sighting of Kate Moss in Wayfarers last month was, therefore, beyond inevitable.

The Luxottica Group, the Italian eyewear manufacturer which owns the Ray-Ban licence, had sensed slight tremors of a comeback a couple of years back. Wayfarers have been produced continuously for 45 years and their silhouette has gone through numerous modifications.

The saucer-sized specs that Holly Golightly uses to hide her up-all-night eyes in Breakfast At Tiffany's are hard to find today, ditto Cary Grant's compact style in North by Northwest. Good examples of 50s Wayfarers such as these are extremely collectable.

The 80s (which had its own 50s revival) was another defining era for the style. Wayfarers were immortalised in celluloid by Tom Cruise in Risky Business, Andrew McCarthy in Less Than Zero and, er, Bruce Willis in Moonlighting.

"We all had Rick Astley hair and Wayfarers," recalls Steve Hudson of the independent boutique The Eye Company, in London's Soho. "They were a really strong look, but everyone had to have a pair. You were an outcast if you didn't have them."

But by the time the multicoloured misters of Reservoir Dogs wore their Wayfarers in 1992 the 50s throwback look was about as appealing as a gore-splattered shirt.

Ravers preferred the way wraparounds obliterated all sunlight. So when Luxottica, which also makes frames for mega-brands including Chanel, Prada and Versace, purchased the Ray-Ban marque in 1999, the clunky style was badly out of sync with the times.

In 2001 the new owners redesigned the frame, making it smaller, rounding its angles and changing its acetate material to injected plastic, which is lighter.

Diluted, is Steve Hudson's verdict on that version; and, on reflection, horrible.

They were redesigned to make them easier to wear, says Marcello Favagrossa, the worldwide-brand director for Ray-Ban. "But we looked at what was selling on eBay. We started seeing vintage stores stocking more and more original Wayfarers.

"Unworn vintage Wayfarers are hard to find. They were so popular that, if you find a vintage pair, chances are they're completely knackered and worn-out," says Hudson, whose perfect-condition vintage pairs go for between £180 ($485) and £250 ($674).

Then Favagrossa noted influential people in show-business wearing the old Wayfarers. "We're always looking for signs a certain style will make it back again, and that was a big indication. After we saw that, we decided we wanted to recreate the original version."

"It's great to see them back on track," says Hudson. "I guess they fiddled around with them because they're difficult to wear but we suffered it in the 80s and we'll gladly suffer it all again now for fashion. The heavier, geeky look is really back now, the old man, Michael Caine frame - and it looks fantastic on younger faces."

So welcome the new/old Wayfarer, the RB2140. Luxottica had to source new manufacturers to make the new original-like design. "They are the exact replica, the same shape, same design, all the components and materials are the same," says Favagrossa. But this time they're also available in a variety of colours.

"They're wonderfully classic, and, historically, they mark the beginning of fashionable sunglasses - before that, in the 40s, sunglasses were just for aviators and racing drivers," says Hudson.

"It's always hard to say what attracts people to a certain design," muses Favagrossa, "but there's a naivety to them, and a clean and essential design - despite being bulky. That's what made them a classic throughout all the years."

Mick Rock sums it up with suitable flippancy.

"They're cool and that's a fact. Any rocker with an image and an edge knows it."

- INDEPENDENT

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