The eighties, an era of sophistication.
The eighties decade determined a period of social change, economic growth and prosperity in many countries. The fashion was a mix of contrasting styles. A trend that begun in the 1970s, the street culture, continued to influence the mainstream taste, along with hip hop and New Wave.
Musicians such as Madonna, Elvis Costello or Boy George helped to define the new look, characterized by heave eyeliner, big hair and outrageous clothing.
So, the sunglasses design reflected all these trends, through oversized and bright frames in primary colors or in pale pastels. One of the biggest inspirations came from the group Memphis, a design group which dominated the 1980’s: the use of sharp angles, vibrant pastels and solid contrasting patterns helped somehow the sunglasses designers.
These years were funny, so there was space for both witty, handcrafted frames and more outrageous designs, which took the form of everything, from animals and cocktail glasses to tennis rackets and the Eiffel Tower.
Generating an image of wealth and power, brand names featured heavily in fashion. While Hollywood starts Don Johnson and Tom Cruise exuded sex appeal in Persol or Wayfarer, television programs such as Dallas and Dynasty championed the new 1980s woman.
The female icons of the period, notably Joan Collins, Princess Diana, and Jane Fonda, often favored fine metal or plastic frames of epic proportions, matching their enormous shoulder pads. The dominant style in the late eighties is epitomized by the white Oliver Goldsmith frames with black detailing famously worn by Princess Diana.
It’s the moment when product placement in film became much more commonplace. Sunglasses that were instantly recognizable, such as the Ray-Ban Wayfarer, had a distinct advantage. Although the popularity of these sunglasses waned during the seventies, the 1980 musical comedy “The Blues Brothers” – in which this style features prominently – raised the brand’s profile and boosted the sales (with more than 360,000 pairs).
Could you believe Wayfarer style wasn’t so popular at the beginning of the decade and Ray Ban was about to decide to discontinue these sunglasses?
The potential of spectacles and sunglasses in film to create a range of different images was echoed in the music industry. Both Madonna and Blondie lead Debbie Harry chose Wayfarers, and so Michael Jackson but he also wore Aviators during the promotion of the album Bad. These kinds of sunglasses were oversize, since this was one of the main trend of the decade.
Sunglasses in the eighties were also a fashion statement, not intended to be functional. It was the case of the Shutter Shades, nicknamed often Venetian Blinders. Alain Mikli, the original designer, made a new frame in 2007 for Kanye West and his music video “Stronger”.
It was the moment also for an innovation, so new titanium frames got their place in the market. Although expensive, titanium sunglasses marked a significant step forward. Generally, frame design continued to mine the past and early influences began to resurface. Nearly every frame shape was revisited and reinvented on a much larger scale during this period, like the small round horn-rimmed frames worn during the twenties and the thirties.
John Lenon may have died in 1980, so he didn’t experience the 80s, but his style was central in those ten years.
The top-selling brands like Dior, Ray Ban, and Anglo American were brave enough to draw a new path. Leaving some trends behind, to prepare for the revolution the ’90s brought to the sunglasses market.
Even independent realities like Dita, Kuboraum, Illesteva, or Kopajos need to thank the incredible courage of some designers from the ’80s. They made a difference by creating a narrative that everybody could perform in their modern collection.