When it comes to sunglasses, Persol simply epitomizes Italian class. The brand’s prestige remains the envy of most eyewear giants, who cannot hope to compete with its history, authenticity and stylishness.

Persol was founded in 1917 by Turin-based photographer Giuseppe Ratti, who also owned Berry Opticians. He had been spending quite a bit of time in airports talking to pilots, who often complained about the sun blocking their vision. Consequently, Ratti began working on technically advanced sunglasses in a small courtyard in Via Caboto that would satisfy the demands of sports drivers and pilots. The Persol brand name was developed from the Italian expression “per il sole” which means “from the sun”. It highlighted the glasses’ ultimate goal of blocking out the rays of the sun.

Since the brand’s inception, Persol’s sunglasses have been made with an unbelievable attention to detail. Among other innovations, the company developed the Meflecto patent in the late thirties; it was the first flexible stem system that allowed glasses to adapt to all types of face shapes.

When faced with a pair of Persol sunglasses, the first thing that most people recognize is the silver arrow symbol on the stem, which was inspired by the swords of ancient warriors. Though initially designed by Ratti, it went through a variety of changes. Today, it is an iconic symbol immediately associated with the brand.

The first Persol sunglasses model was the Protector, which combined high quality and comfort. The pair incorporated round smoked lenses, rubber edges, and elastic bands. The glasses’ signature brown-yellow crystal lenses, which were made using neutral crystals drawn from pure silica, served their main purpose: protection from the sun. Ratti was considered by many to be an innovator; his early design led to interest from quite a few Air Forces and their pilots. The model was also made popular by legends of the motorcycling, driving and flying world, such as D’Annunzio, De Pinedo, Ferrarin, Chiron, Nazzaro, Fangio, Opessi, Bolognini and Ghersi.

Today, many eyewear aficionados immediately examine the stems of their Persol sunglasses for the word “Ratti”. This indicates the original factory where Persol sunglasses were produced before the brand was sold to mass manufacturer Luxoticca Group, which also owns Ray-Ban and Oakley. These pairs are rare, truly vintage pieces that are quite valuable today.

The brand maintained its ascendancy during the fifties, with the Model 649 becoming a huge success. Its novel design led to countless imitations and copies. The model was originally built for Turin’s tram drivers who needed to protect their eyes from dust and air. However, when famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni – star of La Dolce Vita and 8½ – wore them in the movie “Divorce Italian Style”, the Model 649 cemented its place in eyewear history. Indeed, according to the 1994 French book “Qualità: Scènes d'objets à l'italienne”, the Persol 649 is the object most representative of the Italian genius of today and yesterday.

While the 649 was undeniably successful, the model 714 is considered by many to be one of the most sought after pair of sunglasses ever. It is similar to the 649 model, but is foldable and incorporates a frame folding design. A variation of this pair with tinted blue lenses was worn by American screen legend Steve McQueen in classics such as The Thomas Crown Affair and The Getaway.

During the eighties, Persol was no stranger to technological innovations. It participated in a variety of expeditions that aimed at testing its lenses in the desert and at high altitudes. This included organizing excursions to the Svalbard Islands in Northern Norway, sponsoring and participating in multiple editions of the demanding Paris-Dakar race and supplying an entire racing team with sunglasses for the Pharaoh’s Rally in 1991.

One of the most memorable expeditions took place in 1989, when the excursionist Enrico Rosso, along with his team and ophthalmologist Paolo Gugliermina, reached the Himalaya’s summit (23251 ft.) wearing Persol glasses. When the journey came to an end and the team returned home, Gugliermina reported that no one on the expedition had suffered any eye problem. This success was attributed to the Persol lenses, which were specifically designed to withstand such tough conditions. The brand was thus measuring its products’ performance in extreme conditions, which ultimately paved the way for the use of new, state-of-the-art materials.

1991 marked another milestone in the brand’s history as the first Persol shop opened on the famous Rodeo Drive Street in Beverly Hills. Over the following years, Persol gradually expanded to reach different markets and by 1994, the brand’s products were available in approximately 40 countries.

Persol never forgot to cater to its female audience and in the early nineties, renowned Italian actress Ornella Muti became a brand ambassador, with Persol creating the popular 803 model especially for her. Similarly, in 1993, American actress and model Carol Alt was presented with her own personalized model, the Carol 853.

Persol even managed to infiltrate the Football world, which one does not necessarily associate with fashion and eyewear. Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero was a brand embassador during the late nineties and AC Milan icon Filippo "Pippo" Inzaghi represented the eyewear giant in 2004. These sports icons communicated Persol’s elegance and class effortlessly.

The combination of fine craftsmanship, history and authenticity means that owning a pair of Persol sunglasses is more than just a simple fashion statement: It is the epitome of luxury and a reminder of the traditions and innovators that have come before.

About the Author:
Christian Manasci is a blogger and social media enthusiast. He is passionate about sports, online marketing and the latest fashion trends. He currently works with the Middle Eastern eyewear brand Magrabi Optical.