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Michael Jordan for OakleyCourtesy of Oakley

Why the comeback of these 90s sunglasses feels weirdly right for 2019

The Oakley Eye Jacket is futuristic design from a time when fashion still imagined the future – watch a film featuring the shades here

Let’s take a look at the current state of fashion, shall we. At Saint Laurent recently, it was 80s noir and shoulder pads that were back. Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior went for post-war Teddy Girls. Riccardo Tisci’s second collection for Burberry was centred on “youth”, backed to a soundtrack of news clips about acid house, and Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton built a whole set and collection around Michael Jackson. Meanwhile, cult 90s brand Vexed Generation has returned, Ralph Lauren’s polo bear motif (first released in 1991) is cool again, and Kim Kardashian is wearing late 90s archival Thierry Mugler. Which is to say, fashion may not necessarily be in a bad place, but it is one where revivalism is certainly flourishing, as emblems and silhouettes become increasingly referential of past eras and subcultures. So little of what is currently being designed looks like it has been done so with 2019 in mind – never mind the future.

Now, sunglasses brand Oakley has followed suit, releasing a redux of the Eye Jacket sunglasses. The Eye Jacket silhouette was first released in 1994, yet it still looks like it’s from the future. Maybe that’s because when it was designed in the mid-90s, it was done so with technology that’s still not even (fashion) industry-standard now; the Eye Jacket was one of the earliest products ever prototyped on a 3D printer.

As the story goes, the brand’s founder Jim Jannard bought the second SLA 3D printer ever made (NASA got the first). The designers at Oakley, making their first ever piece of eyewear designed fully in CAD, eliminated all of the straight lines, creating what’s known as SLOGGING (Splayed Logic Offset Geometry) that resulted in organic geometric shapes. This was at a point where Oakley solely focussed on performance eyewear, giving barely a sideways glance at the “lifestyle” market. Methodically engineered, the Eye Jacket took 150 prototypes to reach the final design. Such design – in an era where Michael Jordan modelled in the campaign, but before Space Jam had seen the light of day – seemed groundbreaking.

In that sense, the Eye Jacket feels like a relic from an era where we were designing for the future. Back when everything was sleek and ergonomic, and we were only a couple of short decades from flying cars – or something like that. Within that same period, architect Rem Koolhaas unveiled his theoretical Hyperbuilding project – a multi-level structure that would act as a sort of mini-city, and Miuccia Prada released products crafted from industrial nylon that were labelled “wrong chic”, a precursor to the 1998 launch of the monochrome, futuristic Prada Sport. Everything felt angular, shiny and streamlined. And then, somehow, around the turn of the millenium, it all disappeared.

Oakley’s Eye Jacket fits within that epoch of aesthetic-futurism, even if that wasn’t the original intention. First launched in 1975, there has always been a functional imperative to the brand. It started with ergonomic hand-grips for motorcycles, but quickly evolved into a brand focussed on performance eyewear – from 1980s motocross to Greg LeMond in 1990, hunched over his handlebars, his eyes shielded behind angular neon-tinged sunglasses, as he rode his way to his third Tour de France victory. This innovation-led design, however, appears to have resulted in products that even 25 years on from their original release, continue to be visually interesting – and even stylistically challenging.

The paradox of the Eye Jacket’s futuristic bent doesn’t simply end with its 25 year heritage, but also its most recent appearance in fashion’s zeitgeist. Last year, Palace collaborated with the Californian-based eyewear brand, resulting in a capsule collection of eyewear styles and apparel, including the Eye Jacket. There is perhaps no brand that serves as a better example of the current retronaissance we find ourselves in than Palace. The London skate brand is hyper-referential, creating products such as pound coin sovereign rings and football tops that hark back to England at Italia 90. Few are capable of competing with them in their mining of cultural spheres, nevermind to make it come across as authentic. That they chose the Eye Jacket as one of the products they wished to work on, perhaps serves to illustrate how that form of design – minimal and forward-facing – has been lost in the melee of nostalgia-led design.

Is pining for this form of design simply another form of cultural nostalgia? Probably. Retreating into the idea of the future, as envisioned in the mid 90s – one where technological advances would help rather than hinder, one of open-source information and free communication, rather than Cambridge Analytica and Facebook-skewed elections – seems understandable even. But in an era where every product and collection has a back-story attached, and counter-cultural signifiers tagged on, a product designed in a way that its mere silhouette communicates innovation and solid design, feels like a refreshing juxtaposition.

Watch a film featuring Oakley’s Eye Jackets directed by Dan Emmerson for Dazed below: