The Vintage Sunglasses That Have Taken the Hip Hop World By Storm
Designer sunglasses are an essential part of any hip hop artist’s accessory collection. Bold, high quality eyewear is esteemed as highly as fine jewelry in the world of hip hop, where style and image is everything. Rappers have been using exclusive vintage styles as part of their signature style for decades. The right frames have the power to build an artist’s brand and even create a legacy. The popularity that ensues can last a lifetime, propelling ongoing sales for years. These styles will forever become iconic, in-demand pieces.
“When it comes to fashion,” said one sunglasses manufacturer, “some of these artists needed to look established and experienced. The best way to conceal youth is to add style and sunglasses!”
The first hip hop group to use sunglasses as part of their signature style was Run DMC. Thanks to the legendary trio, and other artists who wore stylish sunglasses as fashion accessories, many of those frame designs are still in demand. They can easily be sold for hundreds and thousands of dollars as vintage eyewear sunglasses.
After doing a lot of research and conducting interviews with industry insiders, we’ve compiled a list of the 17 most iconic vintage sunglasses from the hip hop world. We’ll outline who wore it best, their influence in the industry of fashion eyewear, and the subsequent demand for vintage sunglasses.
Hip Hop’s Most Quintessential Vintage Sunglasses
Ultra Goliath by Ultra Palm Optics
Worn by Rick Ross, The Weeknd, Gucci Mane, Nas, Usher, and Darryl McDaniels (Run DMC)
These oversized square frames have become synonymous with gangster culture since their 1977 release. They’ve been worn by hip hop heavyweights like Rick Ross, The Weeknd, Gucci Mane, Nas, Usher, and Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC fame. Silver screen gangsters Robert De Niro and Michael Caine have also cemented the Ultra Goliath’s legendary status.
Despite the mighty name, Ultra Goliaths come from relatively humble origins. The original mold was designed by optician Stan Besner of the Dutch-based eyewear brand Ultra Palm Optics. The frames caught the attention of the public eye after being showcased at a New York trade show. They would soon be worn by celebrities all over the globe after being used in classic gangster movies. The hip hop world quickly adopted the style as their own, making Ultra Goliaths a cult style within the industry.
Today it’s easy to find an Ultra Goliath replica, but a true vintage version released by Ultra Palm Optics is a rarity. Collectors will have to do a lot of digging and pay a pretty penny to get the real thing.
Louis Vuitton Millionaire Frames
Worn by Kanye West, Jay Z, Rihanna, and Skateboard P
It’s inevitable that a pair of sunglasses designed by one of the hip hop community’s most stylish duos would become a massive success. The Millionaire Frames were the result of a collaboration between Louis Vuitton, Pharrell Williams, and BAPE founder Nigo.
It was 2004 and Louis Vuitton was under the helm of Marc Jacobs. The designer, famous for his innovative and provocative designs, wanted to modernize the classic French luxury house during his role as creative director. Who better to turn to than the kings of street fashion of the time? Many rappers began to sport the iconic Louis Vuitton monogram logo in the 90s, but Pharrell and Nigo’s collaboration cemented the brand’s hip hop demographic.
One of the most popular styles was, of course, the Millionaire sunglasses. A fresh take on aviator sunglasses, Pharrell said the frames were inspired by Notorious B.I.G. and Tony Montana from Scarface. It was quickly spotted on hip hop greats like Kanye West and Rihanna.
Louis Vuitton Millionaires have been an exclusive item since their initial release, with frames retailing for a whopping $1200. This was during a time when the average designer frame generally didn’t cost more than $400. The high price tag made them a highly covetable item; wearing a pair of Millionaires was like driving a Bugatti.
The frames have since become one of Louis Vuitton’s most iconic styles. They were re-released in 2007, and Virgil Abloh recreated the style for his first Louis Vuitton collection. Millionaires are considered rare collectibles within the vintage eyewear community, with authentic pairs often selling for upwards of $5000.
Worn by Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Rick Ross, Jazze Pha, CeeLo, Will.i.am, and 2 Chainz
Rappers have often drawn inspiration from R&B and soul musicians. Sometimes this inspiration is musical, other times it’s related to fashion and style. The Alpina M1 sunglasses were originally worn by the amazing Stevie Wonder in the 80s, but have since been spotted on rappers like Rick Ross, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, and 2 Chainz.
Perhaps one of the biggest contributions to the M1’s popularity is the versatile design. It’s lightweight yet luxurious with aluminium frames and 24K gold plating. M1’s are also highly customizable; they come in a wide color range and have removable features. Alpina was originally a sportswear brand, so it’s no wonder that M1’s come with an impressive level of functionality.
M1’s hit their highest level of demand in the early 2000s but are still a highly valuable item on the vintage eyewear market today. Their price tags can come close to the four digit range, and early editions are hard to come by.
Series 6558 by Christian Roth
Worn by Lil Yachty, Lil Pump, Denzel Curry, Playboi Carti, and Takeoff
These iconic frames have made their mark across the musical world. They were first popularized in 1993 by the grunge scene’s most famous frontman, Kurt Cobain. The oversized round frames were originally designed as part of Christian Roth’s women’s collection, but the Nirvana singer and guitarist had always been a fan of breaking traditional gender barriers. He would go on to inspire other famous male musicians to rock the bold acetate frames, albeit musicians who were part of a completely different genre.
Christian Roth’s Series 6558 sunglasses come in a few different colour ways, but Cobain’s white and black version is undoubtedly the most popular option. The sharp contrast between the large white frames and the dark lenses is guaranteed to make any outfit pop. Series 6558 sunglasses have a striking design that feels simultaneously retro and futuristic.
Vintage Series 6558 sunglasses have recently been spotted on modern hip hop favourites like Lil Yachty, Playboi Carti, and Takeoff. Although their music is very different from Kurt Cobain’s, they want to pay homage to the rock star’s unapologetic attitude and groundbreaking fashion sense. This new generation of rappers unofficially renamed the style “clout goggles”, and everyone from Acne to Urban Outfitters began creating their own version of the Series 6558.
The style was re-released in 2017 as part of the Christian Roth archive collection, but nothing compares to an original pair of Series 6558 frames from 1993. Whether you refer to them as Cobain shades or clout goggles, Christian Roth Series 6558 sunglasses are a must-have in any vintage eyewear collection.
Jean Paul Gaultier 56-0174
Worn by 2Pac, 2 Chainz, ASAP Rocky, and Wiz Khalifa
He’s often called the fashion world’s enfant terrible, though the hip hop community would likely disagree with this nickname. Jean Paul Gaultier is responsible for creating a lot of legendary pop culture looks, from Madonna’s cone-shaped bras to the avant-garde costumes in The Fifth Element. He’s also the designer of some of the hip hop world’s favourite eyewear styles.
2pac was the first rapper to embrace the French couturier’s futuristic sunglasses. Throughout the 90s he was often photographed wearing Jean Paul Gaultier clothing and eyewear, including the beloved 56-0174 frames. Modern rappers like ASAP Rocky, 2 Chainz, and Wiz Khalifa are also fans of the steampunk-inspired sunglasses. The style has even been spotted by legendary actor Samuel L. Jackson!
Jean Paul Gaultier’s 56-0174 sunglasses are a truly one-of-a-kind design, and not just because of their exclusive vintage status. The fascinating design features technical details that allow wearers to adjust the frames to the contours of their face. Coloured lenses add another layer of coolness to these intricate sunglasses.
Vintage eyewear collectors should be prepared to do a bit of digging and saving to get their hands on a pair of authentic 56-0174 sunglasses. These archived frames are virtually impossible to find for under $1000.
Worn by Notorious B.I.G., Tyga, 2 Chainz, and Migos
Notorious B.I.G. is the illustrious rapper who put these lavish Versace shades on the hip hop community’s radar. In an era when rap and hip hop were associated with gritty street life, Biggie proved that the genre could also promote a luxurious lifestyle.
He wore the Versace 424 sunglasses in his 1995 “One More Chance” video, dazzling viewers with the prominent golden Medusa logo and oversized frames. Versace had always been a brand that was synonymous with glamour and opulence, but Biggie brought a new demographic to the Italian fashion label. He was a true advocate for the brand. Biggie not only wore Versace, he also rapped about it and became one of the first artists to popularize the brand within the hip hop world.
The rapper’s influence over the 424 shades is so strong that they’re still nicknamed the “Biggie sunglasses.” Donatella Versace herself is thankful for Biggie’s work, and has said that she genuinely believes that Biggie introduced a lot of people to the brand. Versace released a new version of the 424 frames in 2018 with an upgraded name - the “Medusa Biggie Sunglasses.”
The original 424 sunglasses from the 90s are still the most iconic version, and have since been spotted on other big names like Tyga, 2 Chainz, and Migos. Now a limited edition design, vintage 424’s often retail around the high hundreds.
Chanel Round Logo Sunglasses
Worn by Pharrell, Offset, and Rihanna
No one does logomania quite like Chanel. The luxurious French fashion house first introduced their round logo sunglasses in their spring 1993 collection, where they were worn by legendary supermodels like Kate Moss and Karen Mulder. The bold, interlocking C’s made quite the statement in the 90s but the style truly hit its peak in the 2010s.
Chanel’s round logo sunglasses became a hit with the hip hop and R&B world’s most stylish citizens. Pharrell in particular became such a fan of the rounded frames that he went on to recreate his own version in a 2019 collaboration with Chanel. His updated versions featured his own name alongside Chanel’s, and came in a brighter colour range than the original versions from the 90s.
With its stark white and black contrast and noticeable logo, these sunglasses are made for the bold at heart. True vintage frames have become a valuable collector’s item thanks to trendy stars like Pharell, Rihanna, and Offset. If you’re lucky enough to come across a genuine pair, they can set you back as much as $2000!
Chanel Round Pearl Sunglasses
Worn by Rihanna
You can always count on Rihanna to make the fashion statement of the year. During her 2012 performance at the much-hyped Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show she graced the stage in a sensual yet sophisticated ensemble featuring a ruched black ball gown, long lace gloves, a multi-strand pearl choker, and matching sunglasses. These weren’t just any sunglasses, of course. They were round vintage Chanel sunglasses that were adorned with pearls.
Rihanna’s outfit would go down in fashion show performance history. Many style editors and journalists agreed that the singer upstaged the models due to her extravagant getup. Of all the pieces in her outfit, the pearl sunglasses were the easiest to recreate and many brands began to create cheaper versions of the ritzy style. Rihanna was definitely the person to thank for the comeback of Chanel’s pearl sunglasses.
True versions of the opulent sunglasses have always been hard to come by, as they were only released as part of Chanel’s AW 1994 collection. They’re a treasured piece for haute couture enthusiasts and vintage eyewear collectors alike. Like the Chanel round logo sunglasses, a genuine vintage pair of pearl sunglasses will likely have a price tag in the quadruple digits.
Worn by Spike Lee, Darryl McDaniels (Run DMC), Darren Robinson (The Fat Boys), Rick Ross, and 2 Chainz
Cazals are about as prestigious as they come. The architecturally-inspired frames have been worn by both actual royalty and hip hop royalty. Legendary artists like Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC fame and Darren Robinson of The Fat Boys first popularized Cazals in the 80s. Since then Cazals have become so beloved in the hip hop community that a rap group even named themselves after the luxury label. Over the years Cazal has gained a sort of cult status in the world of luxury vintage eyewear. They’ve been worn by everyone from Gwen Stefani to Rick Ross and 2 Chainz.
Created by a former employee of Carerra, Cazal was founded by Greek-born Cari Zalloni in 1975. Zalloni was one of the first eyewear designers to put a focus on aesthetics over function. The futuristic designs were certainly ahead of their time. Cazal sunglasses have always been known for their use of premium materials (think gold-plated lenses) and exceptional German-made craftsmanship.
Vintage Cazal frames are exceptionally rare and valuable collectibles that will forever be in demand. Vintage eyewear enthusiasts should expect to pay at least $500 for an authentic pair of sunglasses.
Porsche x Carrera Sunglasses
Worn by Kool Moe Dee
Luxury immediately comes to mind when you hear the name Porsche. From flashy racing cars to exclusive sunglasses, Porsche reigns supreme as a high end empire. Porsche’s 1974 collaboration with Carrera sunglasses was a match made in heaven, as both brands had ties to sports racing.
Porsche Carrera sunglasses remained popular in the world of culture for decades thanks to their appearances in classic films like Scarface and Beverly Hills Cop. The luxury frames also took the music industry by storm, but there’s one particular style that stands out amongst musicians. The 5620 frames have been worn by a diverse range of artists, from Miles Davis to Lady Gaga. In the hip hop world they’re best known for being Kool Moe Dee’s signature style.
The unique design is reminiscent of an ultra glamorous pair of ski goggles. Oversized lenses feature a curved edge that gently covers the temples. Studded strips embellish the top bar and nose bridge. Whether you’re hitting the slopes or staying in the city, vintage Porsche x Carrera sunglasses are a seriously cool choice of eyewear.
Vintage Porsche x Carrera sunglasses are limited edition designs that aren’t always easy to find. The price range for a genuine pair is often in the high hundreds.
Worn by Jay Z, Diddy, Kanye West, and Rihanna
It wasn’t just Carrera’s collaboration with Porsche that took the hip hop world by storm. The innovative Austrian sportswear label is responsible for some of hip hop’s freshest and sportiest sunglasses. Carrera’s slick aviators and ski goggles have been spotted on legends like Jay Z, Diddy, Kanye West, and Rihanna.
Since its inception in 1956, Carrera has always been focused on cutting-edge materials and technical advances. Carrera changed the world of eyewear when they invented the optyl plastic in the 1960s. The lightweight plastic would create the possibility of interchangeable lenses and eliminate the constant need for heavy glass.
These iconic lenses have often been reinterpreted by other designers over the years, but nothing beats a genuine vintage Carrera frame.
Cartier C Décor
Worn by Lil Uzi Vert, Pop Smoke, Blade Icewood, Rich Ken, and Meek Mill
Cartier has a massive fan base within the Detroit hip hop scene. The ultra light C Décor frames were first popularized by Detroit rappers Rich Ken and Blade Icewood in the early 2000s. They’ve made a strong comeback recently thanks to the late rapper Pop Smoke.
C Décor sunglasses are renowned for their elegant and unique design. The rimless style permits wearers to customise the softly tinted lenses into any shape. It’s certainly one of the most flattering eyewear styles in the vintage eyewear world.
Two decades have passed and C Décor frames are still a staple within the Detroit hip hop crowd. Rich Ken created a song about the famous style, while musician/entrepreneur Joseph McFashion produced an entire movie about three friends going to extreme lengths to procure a pair of C Décor sunglasses. We think it’s safe to say that the style has become synonymous with the city.
Would a modern collector have as much trouble finding a pair of C Décor’s as Joseph McFashion and his crew did? Not necessarily, but they should be prepared to pay upwards of $2000 for these sophisticated shades.
Cartier Bagatelle and Giverny
Worn by Gucci Mane, Floyd Mayweather, Quavo, and Blade Icewood
C Décor frames aren’t the only vintage Cartier sunglasses that are highly coveted in the hip hop industry. Bagatelle and Giverny frames have often been spotted on stars like Floyd Mayweather, Quavo, and Blade Icewood.
Both styles are noteworthy for their elegant wooden frames, lightly tinted lenses, and gold detailing. The key difference between Bagatelles and Givernys is the lenses. Bagatelles have a round lens, while Giverny has an oval lens. Of all of Cartier’s wooden eyewear styles, the Bagatelles and Givernys are hands down the most popular frames.
As Cartier only released a limited quantity of wooden designs, the Bagatelle and Giverny models are quite rare in the vintage eyewear world. Collectors will have to do a bit of digging to find a genuine pair. They’ll also have to have at least $3000 saved up to become a member of the Bagatelle and Giverny crew.
Shutter Shades by Alain Mikli
Worn by Kanye West
Trust Kanye West to launch an entire eyewear trend with one music video. Anyone familiar with pop culture in the late 2000s will remember shutter shades blowing up after the release of Kanye’s ‘Stronger’ video. They soon became a hit in the clubbing scene, but no one would ever pull them off as well as the controversial rapper did.
The striking design featured an aviator style frame and rows of horizontal bars instead of lenses. One might call this style avant-garde or futuristic, but its roots are actually steeped in ancient traditions. What Kanye dubbed ‘shutter shades’ were originally inspired by Inuit snow goggles that were used to protect wearers from snow blindness. The traditional design featured a wooden frame with narrow slits, but has been readapted over time by different cultures.
What we know as shutter shades were first introduced to the western world in the 1950s as ‘Venetian Blinders.’ They fell out of popularity until the 80s, when eyewear brand Volpini brought back the eye-catching style. Professional wrestler Randy “Macho Man” Savage was one of the pop culture icons who was famous for wearing Venetian Blinders.
Kanye’s shutter shades were designed by the legendary Alain Mikli. Many consider him to be the most famous eyewear designer in the world. In any case, he’s certainly influential. Alain Mikli was the first designer to have a successful brand that featured only eyewear. His designs have always been exclusive, and the vintage ones are even harder to get a hold of. Any eyewear collector would be thrilled to get their hands on a pair.
Giorgio Armani ‘Locs’
Worn by Eazy E & N.W.A, and YG
These distinctive black rectangular sunglasses will always be associated with West Coast rappers and Compton gangsters. N.W.A. frontman Eazy E was famous for always wearing his Giorgio Armani Locs, which were playfully nicknamed after the Spanish word ‘loco’. Contemporary West Coast rappers are still fans of the sporty black frames. YG even released his own version of Locs in a 2018 collaboration with Crap Eyewear.
Cheap knockoffs of Locs have been recreated numerous times over the years, but originals have become a genuine rarity. Coming across a pair of vintage Armani Locs would be a treat for any eyewear collector.
Hilton Class 10
Worn by Migos, 2 Chainz, Usher, and Fabolous
The name Hilton will forever be associated with glamour and prestige. It’s so much more than the surname of a world-famous socialite and the hotel chain her family owns. Hilton is also a luxury vintage eyewear label from the 80s that has become a favourite of hip hop greats like Migos, 2 Chainz, Usher, and Fabolous.
The sleek Class 10 aviators have been a particular favourite of the hip hop crowd. Their 24K gold plated frames and ombre lenses exude elegance and effortless style. The intricate detailing and premium craftsmanship of vintage Hilton sunglasses have put them on every eyewear lover’s wish list. The fact that so many great hip hop artists can vouch for these sunglasses is an added bonus!
Vintage eyewear collectors can find this limited edition style in the mid-to-high hundreds range.
Worn by Offset and Quavo
Many high end sports car labels have released eyewear collections, but none have embodied the spirit of brand quite like Bugatti eyewear. The original Bugatti eyewear designers from the 80s drew direct inspiration from the sleek, high-performing luxury vehicles. All Bugatti products are known for their top tier materials and refined designs. Bugatti sunglasses all have a signature aesthetic that sets them apart from similar eyewear brands.
The 508 style was one of the most popular releases of the 90s. Its recent revival is thanks to Offset and Quavo of the Migos, who wore the opulent gold frames in the “T-Shirt” and "Bad and Boujee" ft Lil Uzi Vert music video. The practically reflective gleam of the lenses and textured nose bridge make the 508s a standout style of vintage sunglasses.
Bugatti is known for its high price points. In fact, the most expensive car in the world as of now is a Bugatti model. Bugatti may not be able to claim the same title for eyewear, but owning a pair of vintage 508’s will cost you at least $2000.
We expect these won’t be the only vintage frames to be put in the spotlight by rappers as the industry continues to grow and thrive, but they’re certainly ones that will forever go down in fashion history.