Return Of The Browline

Improved, modified, even tweaked perhaps, but the browline design is back in vogue. The design that ruled the American eyewear industry for nearly thirty years was trumped with little fanfare. Yet, it bounced back, not once but twice. This is its third coming

Malcolm XEvery once in a few years, fashion does a turnaround and decides to come back to where it had trended. It happens with clothes–bell-bottoms, hipsters, minis are classic examples. It’s a little less commonplace with hairstyles: the Bob may have come and gone several times, but the bouffant? Not really. With eyeglasses and sunglasses, it is even rarer. Rarely does an eyeglass trend and then disappear and come back with vigour. Often a popular style comes into being, trends for a while and then steps back as one of the many options. Cat eye and wayfarers are case examples.

But browline is a class apart. It has come back into fashion for the third time since its inception. And strangely enough, unlike other styles that are revered and kept aside for the next ‘flavour of the season’, both times Browline exited from the eyeglass fashion scene with disgrace. And now, it is back again, front-benching amongst eyeglasses, staking its claim in fame and popularity once more.

Browline’s Colourful Past
In the mid-twentieth century, the American man had evolved as a confident, enterprising go-getter, far ahead of his international contemporaries. Perhaps that is what spurred the first browline design. Developed in 1947 by Jack Rohrbach, then Vice President of Shuron Ltd–the premier American eyeglass company–and sold under the ‘Ronsir’ brand, the frame with plastic top half-frame resting on metal bottom half-frame, became an instant hit amongst the rich and famous. The design was termed so because the upper part of the frame, frames the eyeglasses much like eyebrows framing the eyes. With its strong dominating look that was equated with success, soon the browline took over as the leading design preferred by Americans. In fact by 1970, Shuron had sold more than 17 million pairs of these glasses.

Model is wearing DITA's Statesman Two optical frame
Model is wearing DITA’s Statesman Two optical frame

Twenty years of undisputed leadership, that was browline’s golden era. In fact for every movie created in that era and later, every time the character required to be presented as a representative of the 1950s or 1960s, production studios automatically reached for the browline. Check out the 1991 Oliver Stone directed JFK, where Kevin Costner plays American President John F Kennedy who was assassinated in 1963. The Browline glasses that Costner wore certainly added to his presidential allure. In The Good Shepherd, released in 2006, Matt Damon played the founder member of the CIA, established in 1947. Once again, the browline held his character in good stead.

In 1992, when Malcolm X was released, the similarity between Denzel Washington, the actor who played the African American activist Malcolm X, was quite marked. The black leader and human rights activist, who had converted to Islam and was later assassinated in 1965, was a browline loyalist. He owned several pairs, each in a different colour; all of them American Optical Sirmonts.

But by the early seventies, the browline was sent back packing. Probably because everyone and his grandmother was wearing browline, or because it came to be strongly associated with controversy-ridden people. Whatever the reason, browline was no longer popular, nor was it recalled with fondness.

Ray-Ban RX 6317
Ray-Ban RX 6317

The second time the browline design ruled the fashion scene was in 1985, when actor Bruce Willis wore Shuron Ronsirs with tinted lenses in the hit television series, Moonlighting. While the series lasted till 1989, browline sunglasses continued to be in demand. But by the 1990s, it received a thrashing once again. Nerdy, geeky, boring were some of the more polite names that it got baptised with and the browline beat a hasty retreat.

This is the third time that the browline is staging a comeback. And how! Everyone seems to be looking for a browline eyeglass or sunglass. Also, the new browline is a modified version, that has changed with the times. When Rohrbach first designed the Shuron Browline, the world had just discovered the myriad uses of plastic. Also it was during the World War II, when there was metal scarcity. But now synthetic materials have taken a backseat and the trend is back to nature…metal, wood and leather. Some of the latter avatars of the browline had leaning towards a non-synthetic look, too. This was hugely apparent in Ray-Ban’s Clubmaster series, a design that is heavily inspired by that of the browline. Ray-Ban first launched the Clubmaster series in the 1980s, but tweaked it a bit to add modernity along with its original impressiveness. The eyewear giant has now re-launched the Clubmaster with some new, unique features.

Model Run

Tom Ford FT0367
Tom Ford FT0367

If there’s one belief that the browline proves, it’s that great design will never have a shelf life. Ever since the browline came into vogue in the 2010s, there have been many premier eyewear companies that have walked into the fray. But though the design looks like a browline, it is quite different from the original. Like Ray-Ban’s Clubmaster, every company has created models that, though inspired by the browline, have their own distinct appeal. The look of these eyewear models is not just definitive, it is also far more commanding. Of course, there are always the Shuron Ronsirs, but a little fun with design and look never hurt anyone! Here’s a quick look at some exciting adaptations of the browline design.

Ray-Ban’s RX6317
Ray-Ban is known for creatively experimenting with materials, and this extends to the Clubmasters too. They are now offered in a new total-metal unisex optical version in a shape inspired by the Clubmaster, but with more rounded lines. The redesigned flat front of the RX6317 gives even sharper definition to the original shapes and details, like the elaborate temples. Colour variants include matte brown, matte silver, matte gunmetal, black and matte silver, or black and matte gold.

Tom Ford’s FT0367
The men’s River frame does bring back memories of the fabled 1950s eyewear with its square shape and contrast of acetate on top with metal below. Many actors including Paul Bettany and Kelsey Grammer have been seen sporting this sunglass.

Police S8950
Police S8950

Police’s S8950
Another breakaway browline lookalike that’s designed for women. This one has nice bright colours that impart a ‘happy’ look.  It has a ‘clip-on’ effect that is a throwback to the Seventies. It also has details like the metal bridge, ton-sur-ton temples and the iconic logo on the front piece.

DITA’s Statesman Two
DITA’s timeless American designs have always been inspired by Hollywood’s Golden Age. Its Statesman Two optical frame is a classic example, and a wonderful tribute to the iconic browline. The top of the frame is acetate, with titanium below. Featuring rounded lenses, available frame colours include matte black-antique silver, matte black-gold and matte Tokyo tortoise-matte black.

Here To Stay
Attitude. Class. And a feel of regality. The browline’s popularity has been fuelled by eagerness of the celebrities who have adopted it with gusto. With more and more eyewear companies trying to adapt the browline design, it is apparent that this time the browline has come to play a long innings.

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