The great escape: Persol

The effortless cool of Steve McQueen is typified in Persol’s 714s; the perfect companion to a motorcycle adventure

Style 28 May 2019

Writer and adventurer Hugh Francis Anderson sports 714s on a ride
Friend of Hugh Francis Anderson, James Sainty, a director of sales and marketing sports 714s on a ride
A ride is always best enjoyed with friends
Portfolio director Edmund ‘Mundy’ Miller
The 714 has undergone a few modern tweaks

I remember the first time I stumbled across Steve McQueen. I was 10 years old and wandering through a video rental store. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted the blurred shape of a motorcyclist on the cover of one of the VHS tapes in the £1 clearance basket. His front wheel glided skywards as he stood tall on the pegs, his open-face helmet a mirage of nostalgia for a time I hadn’t lived through, and the bold words, On Any Sunday, leapt at me. I was transfixed. I bought the VHS and hastily ran home to watch it. And there, on the screen in front of me, I saw Steve McQueen for the first time, astride his 1971 Husqvarna 400 Cross. If there is one moment that cemented my love for all that motorcycling is, this would be it. So, it’s little surprise that he still holds a rather poignant place in my mind today. Whether on the big screen or simply playing around in the mud on a battered motorcycle, the effortless style, poise and demeanour of McQueen transcends time. And so too do the famed Persol 714 sunglasses that became part of him. Little wonder he assumed the title, The King of Cool.

McQueen was never without his Persols

As I grew older and started spending more and more time with motorcycles, the memory of the McQueen I had seen in On Any Sunday lived on. I longed for the very sense of adventure that McQueen and his riding companions exuded on screen. So, I began journeying further and further afield aboard my motorcycles; midnight rides to Dorset, to sleep on the beach and watch the sun rise; long rides to Provence, to breathe in the scent that summer brings; and expeditions northwards, across the fjords and mountains of Norway and into the Arctic. Journeying by motorcycle is catharsis in the truest sense.

But McQueen taught me another thing in On Any Sunday: that riding motorcycles is enjoyed most when done so with friends, and this is something I have tried to adhere to ever since. Indeed, the pool of friends that I regularly ride with has grown to in excess of 20 people. From tech entrepreneurs and doctors to film makers and lowly writers, as individuals we differ greatly, but as a group riding down the road together, we are as one. Whether it’s a long ride over to the continent, a quick evening blast around town, or indeed the country ride on any Sunday, there’s always someone to ride with. And two of these riding compatriots, Edmund ‘Mundy’ Miller and James Sainty, joined me for this shoot at just a moment’s notice. I asked the boys about their own experience and love of motorcycling, of where the roots of their passions lie. ‘For me it was Guevara and Alberto in The Motorcycle Diaries,’ says Mundy. ‘It was about the unknown, unexplored, and romantic notions of freedom.’

It’s the visceral quality of the experience – feeling the wind, and vibrations, the sounds and the smells

For James, it was in the words of Ted Simon that he found inspiration. ‘Jupiter’s Travels planted the seed that the world could and should be explored on a motorcycle,’ he tells me. ‘It’s the visceral quality of the experience – feeling the wind, vibrations, sounds and smells. On a bike I have space to think, feel, get away from it all and be present.’ Indeed, the heroic image of Steve McQueen awoke something in both of them. ‘McQueen defined an era that lauded rebellion,’ says James. ‘He was a rebel, but for a cause: the man lived to race.’ Mundy’s association runs deeper: ‘McQueen’s dare-to-ride attitude inflamed my motorcycling itch further. Plus, he was so damn handsome and cool. He made bikes cooler.’

Indeed, what made McQueen The King of Cool was his unflappable ability to look effortless, whatever he wore. Because of this attitude, everything he wore assumed an air of novelty and charm. So, it’s fitting then that his relationship with Persol was an organic, unfettered one. Persol had long been the leaders in both aviation and motorsport sunglasses, so it’s safe to assume that McQueen, a famed racing driver in his own right, wore them because they were the very best. And when he arrived on the set of The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968, he was wearing his personal Persol 714 sunglasses. As the folding version of the 649 model, the 714 was the world’s first pair of folding sunglasses. The frame was light Havana brown, the lenses tinted crystal blue, and Persol’s distinctive Supreme Arrow shot back from the hinge. It was this pair that he wore throughout the film, thus immortalising the 714s as the coolest pair of sunglasses in existence.

And if that’s not evidence enough, today, over 50 years after McQueen walked onto set wearing his Persols, they are still just as cool as they were back then. That old Yves Saint Laurent adage that fashions fade, but style is eternal, has never been more appropriate. And so, the all-new Limited Edition Persol 714 Steve McQueen pays homage to its forebearer by taking the original and modernising it. While the frames, available only in Havana, remain unchanged, the lenses within this collector’s edition are plated in 24-karat gold. Limited to just 900 pairs globally, these are surely the limited-edition Persol 714s that The King of Cool himself would choose if he were with us today.