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Trac­ing the evo­lu­tion of avi­a­tor sun­glasses

A s the name sug­gests, avi­a­tors were first pro­duced for pi­lots – which is why they’re also re­ferred to as “pi­lot’s glasses”. And although to­day’s ver­sions o en come with re­flec­tive, blue- green- and even pink-tinted lenses, early avi­a­tors were de­signed with func­tion, rather than fash­ion, in mind. Amer­i­can com­pany Bausch & Lomb, known for its con­tact lenses and eye-re­lated med­i­cal prod­ucts, cre­ated avi­a­tors in 1936, a er it was asked to pro­duce pro­tec­tive glasses for fighter pi­lots dur­ing the First World War, to block out the sun’s glare. At the time, the com­pany made binoc­u­lars and tele­scopes.

It wasn’t un­til the Sec­ond World War, how­ever, that the eye­wear sil­hou­ette re­ally be­came a fash­ion state­ment, em­blem­atic of the hand­some, re­li­able and fear­less Amer­i­can hero. Up­dated styles fea­tured gra­di­ent ef­fects on the lenses, so that a coat­ing on the up­per halves would pro­vide en­hanced pro­tec­tion, and the lower, un­coated halves would al­low for clear views of the plane’s cock­pit.

The avi­a­tors man­u­fac­tured by Bausch & Lomb were ideal suc­ces­sors to ba­sic pi­lots’ gog­gles, which failed to mask the glare of the sun at high al­ti­tudes, mak­ing pi­lots feel light-headed and nau­se­ated. These fil­tered out the daz­zling bright­ness, and soon got their own trade­mark name – Ray-Bans, since they were lit­er­ally ban­ning the sun’s rays.

By 1937, avi­a­tors were avail­able to the pub­lic, and fea­tured plas­tic frames. The fol­low­ing year, they were re­mod­elled with metal frames, and mar­keted as Ray-Ban Avi­a­tors. Later vari­a­tions of the sil­hou­ette tar­geted out­doors­men, and were ad­ver­tised as ideal eye­wear for hun­ters, shoot­ers, fish­er­men and golfers, be­fore adapt­ing to the fe­male con­sumer.

In the 1950s, mil­i­tary fash­ion played a role in in­flu­enc­ing main­stream fash­ion trends, and avi­a­tors emerged as a key mi­cro-trend. The Ray-Ban Car­a­van style was launched in 1957, and was worn by Robert De Niro in the 1976 film Taxi Driver. In the 1970s and 1980s, how­ever, avi­a­tors were over­shad­owed by the dra­matic disco and retro shades that were in vogue at the time. On the brink of ex­tinc­tion, they were ef­fec­tively re­vived by Tom Cruise.

In 1982, Ray-Ban signed a Dh183,660-a-year deal to have the sun­glasses ap­pear in over 60 movies and tele­vi­sion shows. And in 1986, when Cruise donned avi­a­tors for his role in Top Gun, the de­sign’s cult sta­tus was ce­mented. A er the film’s re­lease, RayBan sales re­port­edly in­creased by 40 per cent.

Over the years, avi­a­tors have be­come al­most em­blem­atic of celebri­ties like Robert Red­ford, Michael Jack­son and even Elvis Pres­ley, whose sig­na­ture eye­wear in­cluded gold-rimmed avi­a­tor sun­glasses with or­ange- or laven­der-tinted shades.

In re­cent sea­sons, lux­ury fash­ion houses have re­de­fined avi­a­tors by ex­ag­ger­at­ing the shapes of the lenses, adding colour­ful brow bars, scal­ing back the opac­ity of the tints and be­daz­zling the frames with em­bel­lish­ments. But cur­rent de­signs are heav­ily in­flu­enced by retro el­e­ments, and both over­sized frames and avi­a­tor styles have been com­bined to present one of the hottest eye­wear trends of the sea­son: avi­a­tor op­ti­cal glasses. These vin­tagein­spired of­fer­ings fea­ture min­i­mal­ist, light­weight wire frames and large clear lenses. If you’re look­ing for a pair, Bot­tega Veneta’s sleek sil­ver avi­a­tor glasses for men are ab­so­lutely ex­quis­ite. By Hafsa Lodi

GLASS ACT Top, Michael Jack­son’s avi­a­torstyle Targa sun­glasses by Ger­man com­pany Cazal. Above, a guest at this year’s Pitti Uomo fash­ion show in Florence teams avi­a­tors with a wool coat, suit and hat. Right, a look from Fendi’s spring/sum­mer 2018 show

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