When one of my high school friends got a pair of Persol sunglasses not to long ago, I thought they were dope, but I didn’t quite understand why he liked them so much. I just took his enthusiasm for the brand at face value, since out of everyone I grew up with, he probably had the best eye for style. I came across the brand again the other day and did a little research. What makes Persol sunglasses so special is the company’s history, one that situates them as one of the world’s first major innovators in sunglasses, as well a seminal force in Italian design. And what makes them even cooler are the people who wore them–Steve McQueen, Marcello Mastroianni, and Greta Garbo, to name a few. Continue reading to learn more about this iconic eyewear brand, and how you can get a pair of your own…
The company was started in Turin in 1917 when an Italian photographer set out to make hi-tech glasses
for pilots and sports drivers that combined comfort, visual clarity, and protection from sun and debris.
Soon the Protector glasses were adopted by air forces around the world. In the 1920s, the company
developed its trademark brown-yellow lens from crystal to deliver optimum sun protection. The company’s mission to create revolutionary sunglasses was the inspiration behind the name Persol, taken from the Italian “per il sole,” meaning “for the sun.” In the 1930s the company developed the three technological innovations that still set Persol apart as some of the finest, cleverest shades in the world:
- The Meflecto system…the world’s first flexible stem,a combination of nylon cylinders and a steel core that improves fit by improving adaptability
- The Victor Flex… a “3-notch bridge” designed to improve fit and creat a more comfortable curve for the nose (see the 649 model)
- 3. The Silver Arrow…found on the sides of nearly every pair. Like everything on a pair Persols, they’re highly functional, serving as patented hinges for the glasses. The Silver Arrow is the Persol trademark, making the company famous and inspiring tons of copycats.
Persol continues to make high-performance and casual sunglasses. The newer, more modern models are worth checking out, but I think the most stylish are the re-released classics,the first models the company ever made. Here’s a list of my favorite from both categories.
Buy: starting at $160
Created in 1957 for Italian tram drivers, the large lenses were designed to protect against air and dust. The 649 are the flagship model of Persol eyewear. They were immortalized onscreen in 1961, when Marcello Mastroianni, on the shortlist of coolest Italians to ever walk the planet, in Divorce Italian Style
The other iconic model. Shaped like the 649, except with strategic hinges that make it completely foldable. As if that weren’t cool enough, Steve McQueen wore them. Perhaps the most notorious 714s were the ones McQueen had custom-tinted with blue lenses for his extensive personal collection; he rocked them most famously in the 1972 movie, The Getaway. For years, the 714s were out of production, but just recently, Persol decided to re-issue them in limited release. They even reproduced a pair with the McQueen’s famous blue lenses.
A newer model with a sleek, square-ish frame. One of 2 models worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.
Like the 649 and 714, except a little less Italian, perhaps even a little more American. If Persol set out to design their take on the Ray Ban Wayfarer, it’d probably look something like this.
Another newer model– if I’m not mistaken, these are the pair that my aforementioned friend own. They’re one of the only models without the tradmark Silver Arrows, instead there are two subtle stripes of metal at either temple. Understated, modern yet classic– a very sexy pair of shades.
Ad for McQueen’s favored 714s featuring stills from The Getaway
Mastroianni in Divorce Italian Style