As seen on screen: Persol

Since 1917, Persol has been supplying discerning individuals with stylish and functional eyewear that is perfect on and off camera

Style 30 Nov 2020

Actor Paapa Essiedu

Paapa Essiedu starred in one of Persol's short films

You could say that Persol hides in plain sight – which is appropriate as it makes eyewear. Elegantly understated, the glasses created by this Italian firm have actually had huge exposure on the silver screen, where they are routinely used to give characters an edge of sophistication and style. Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, for example, Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born, and Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name.

The list of film credits is impressive, from Fellini’s La Dolce Vita to Batman Begins, but Persol is also worn off-screen by the likes of Cooper, Craig and Clooney. Recently, Persol even made a couple of short films of its own. Featuring two of the young British stars of TV sensation I May Destroy You, Weruche Opia and Paapa Essiedu, these see the actors putting their own spin on famous scenes from Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Call Me by Your Name.

Weruche Opia wearing Persol
Weruche Opia wearing Persol

Persol has its origins in 1917 Turin, when founder, optician and photographer Giuseppe Ratti, started making glasses there. His market was civilians and, notably, aviators. For the latter he developed the “Protector Goggles” which were taken up by Italian and American air forces, and by the Swiss military. Ratti would create Persol, named after “per il sole”, “for the sun”, and the design motifs he applied as he developed his crystal-lensed eyewear between the 1930s and 50s – a distinctive “arrow” hinge and the patented “Meflecto” system that allows the arms to flex and stay close to the head – have endured to this day. The Persol arrow, in particular, has become one of those signifiers among the cognoscenti; when a Persol-wearer meets another, there is no need for a logo to declare mutual club-membership.

But it was one model of sunglasses, the 649, originally created to shield the eyes of tram drivers in Turin from the elements, that changed Persol’s fortunes. Worn by Italian star Marcello Mastroianni in the 1961 comedy Divorce Italian Style, these shades became a fashionable accessory, and so started a long history of Persol as a symbol of effortless cool. If further proof were needed, consider this – the King of Cool, Steve McQueen, wore the folding 714 style, apparently turning up on the set of The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968 in a pair. He wore them on screen too in Thomas Crown, and also in Bullitt and The Getaway.

Persol’s 649 folding sunglasses
Persol’s 649 folding sunglasses

Today, while you can still get classic models from the firm, things have moved on at Persol. Recently, to celebrate its half century, the brand has developed three new acetate frames in collaboration with French label A.P.C in various colourways including matt white with grey gradient lenses, inspired, says founder of A.P.C. Jean Touitou, by another iconic American: ‘These ones can be used to simply wear with everyday light, just like Kurt Cobain used to. He has become the inspiration for these white frames.’

Meanwhile, a second collaboration with pioneering Italian sportswear label Stone Island sees a pair of 1970s aviator frames from the Persol archives remade on the same machine that created the originals. The style has light blue polarised lenses and a gunmetal frame that features yellow temple tips printed with the Stone Island logo.