You would not be able to tell it now, but Ray-Ban sunglasses were not doing so hot in the 1980s. The company was actually on the verge of ruin. Fortunately for them, a half-naked Tom Cruise was about to put them on the map again.
Brief History of Ray-Ban
Just like many others, the now-famous optical brand had very humble beginnings. It all started in 1863 when Henry Lomb, a cabinetmaker, loaned fellow German immigrant and lens crafter, John Jacob Bausch, some money to start an optical shop. The company was simply called the Bausch & Lombe Optical Company. Their small shop mainly sold eyeglasses, telescopes, and microscopes.
During WWII, the US military had a problem. Their fighter pilots had difficulty with extreme glare. They approached Bausch & Lombe and contracted them to create anti-glare aviation glasses.
The resulting lens was crafted from green glass to greatly cut glare. It was also shaped like a teardrop to cover as much of the pilot’s view and still fit comfortably. This gave birth to the Ray-Ban Aviator glasses. Why were they called Ray-Ban? Simply because they “ban UV rays”. Yes, it might not be that profound but it still stuck.
The Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses were first introduced into the world stage when legendary General Douglas MacArthur wore a pair upon landing in Manila, Philippines during WWII. It did not take long before the Aviators found their way from the military and into Hollywood.
Big-name actors, many of whom served in the military during the war, wore the Aviators and made it quite famous. Some of the famous names who wore Ray-Bans included James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, and Marlon Brando.
However, in the early 80s, oversized and chunky sunglasses and accessories have taken over, thanks to pop stars like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. Ray-Ban sales sunk so bad that the company was almost on the verge of ruin. In 1983, Ray-Ban found its savior in the form of a young and pantless Tom Cruise.
Risky Business and the Ray-Ban Wayfarers
The 1983 flick, Risky Business, was Tom Cruise’s first major starring role. Cruise played the role of Joel Goodson, an ambitious teenager who started his brothel. One of the most iconic scenes in the movie was when Goodson was left home alone having dinner when he suddenly started dancing to Old Time Rock N Roll in his underwear.
The movie was such a big hit that moviegoers wanted to wear whatever it was that Tom Cruise wore in the film. This includes the iconic Ray-Ban Wayfarers that the star wore in the movie poster.
Wayfarer sales increased by more than 50 percent in 1983, selling more than 360,000 pairs in that year alone. Their sales also remained strong throughout the following years. By 1988, almost 4 million Wayfarers were being sold annually.
Top Gun and the Return of the Aviator
Although what Cruise did for Ray-Ban just by wearing Wayfarers in the movie was already impressive, the best was still to come. As popular as Risky Business was, the movie that put the Ray-Ban brand back from the dead and into the limelight was 1986’s Top Gun.
In Top Gun, Tom Cruise played Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, and he wore the iconic Ray-Ban Aviators pretty much the entire movie. The movie was a worldwide hit, and everyone wanted to copy Maverick’s iconic look. This led to the skyrocketing of the sales of Aviator glasses. Bausch & Lombe could not keep up with the demand for Aviators. In 1998, more than 4.5 million pairs were sold all over the world.
For what he did for the company, it will not be a surprise if Tom Cruise cut a deal with Ray-Ban for free sunglasses for life. And I think that Ray-Ban would be more than happy with that setup.