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Cartier sunglasses: The role on Detroit's culture and city

How the Cartier glasses plays a role in Detroit's culture
How the Cartier glasses plays a role in Detroit's culture 03:16

(CBS DETROIT) - As we celebrate Black history, we know fashion plays a major role. 

From shoes to coats, every detail matters. But out of all fashion items, Detroit is known for its Cartier glasses.

"Some people call them white sticks, some people call them 'yays.' some people call them 'buffs,'" said Detroit Fire Chief James Harris.

If you come to Detroit, make no mistake that Cartier sunglasses are a staple.

Whether you're strolling downtown or hanging out at Belle Isle, someone is bound to have a pair on.

For jeweler Tony Bahu, who has been local to the area his entire life, his stores see it all, from athletes to musicians.

"It started back in the 80s. They started making the main Cartier glasses in '1983, and Detroit came on the scene right away. It was a lot of Detroit auto money," said Bahu, general manager of MJ Diamonds.

For African Americans in the city, Cartiers are one accessory that's nearly a right of passage. 

In mainstream media, natives like Big Sean and Will Johnson have helped catapult the glasses into a new fandom.

"Ninety percent of the songs from Detroit is going to be a reference to buffs in a lot of the songs, or they are going to have them on," Detroit rapper GMAC Cash said

As a testament to the city's love for the glasses. GMAC started a GoFundMe page during the pandemic to get Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a pair.

It didn't take long for the community to make sure "Big Gretch" was in with the trends.

"One day, we raised like $3,500 to get her a pair of buffs. Unfortunately, she couldn't take them because they can't take gifts over $50," GMAC said.

He instead teamed up with an organization to supply groceries to families in need. 

For GMAC, his family and friends all own Cartier sunglasses. It's something he remembers taking off in the early 2000s.

"I started out with [wood frames], and you might graduate to buffs," he said. "I had a pair of wood frames my senior year."

These glasses aren't your regular sunblockers. As the No. 1 Cartier dealer in the Midwest, Bahu knows just how much of a status symbol the glasses can be.

"People who wear luxury glasses know the difference between getting a pair of Cartier and getting a pair of $10 glasses. There's no comparison," he said.

Cartier glasses vary in style, but it's the buffalo horn or 'buffs' that speak to Motown. It's a style that's resonated with much of the country. 

"You could be in Las Vegas. When you see them buffs without a person speaking, without their voice, without them saying anything, you already know where they are from. It's automatically Detroit," Harris said.

Detroit's culture continues to make a splash. The Michigan Wolverines and Detroit Lions both have had strong football seasons, and some believe it's the power of the buffs.

"Michigan Wolverines started wearing Cartier white buffs, and they did great things. They were the national champions this year, so it isn't just a fluke, it's a real thing," Bahu said.

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