Founded more than a century ago, Persol is undeniably one of the world’s most eminent and iconic eyewear manufacturers of all time, as well as one of the oldest currently in operation. Based in the Italian automotive hotbed of Turin, Persol boasts an ever-growing catalog of top-shelf eyeglasses and shades. And while most individuals are well aware of the Persol name — and the somewhat exorbitant MSRPs carried by the brand’s offerings — far fewer are privy to just what exactly it is that makes the company so legendary and what sets Persol’s glasses apart from the rest.
In an effort to shine a light on the more idiosyncratic aspects of the heritage eyewear outfit, we’ve generated this go-to guide on everything you need to know about Persol, its history, innovations, and brand identity. Additionally, we’ll also be highlighting the most popular and celebrated sunglass models currently offered in the company’s lineup to present a more well-rounded and robust complete guide to Persol sunglasses.
Aviation To The Silver Screen
A Condensed Telling Of The History Of Persol
The company that we today know as Persol was originally founded back in 1917 by Giuseppe Ratti. A photography enthusiast as well as an eyewear expert, Ratti was employed by his family’s business, Berry Opticians in Via Cabatto, and in his day-to-day working he routinely interacted with aviation pilots that would complain about the discomfort and glare issues that glasses of the era suffered from. This ultimately prompted Giuseppe to craft what became Persol’s inaugural offering, the “Protector.”
Engineered specifically for pilots, the Protector — which was more goggle than glasses — featured a padded check seal, an elastic-banded strap, and special smoked crystal lenses that were made from silica. From there, Ratti and his Persol brand would continue to grow, and with its success came the resources needed for the company to innovate in its space, something it routinely did. One important example is Persol’s “Maflecto System,” which it patented in the 1930s, consisting of a flexible metal stem at the temple that allows the frame to pivot and flex in order to better fit the wearer’s head.
Interestingly, the company originally focused exclusively on high-performance glasses models for pilots, drivers, and other specific applications, though it wouldn’t take long for Persol’s purpose-built designs to start attracting the attention of the more mainstream fashion world. In 1962 Persol’s glasses officially landed on US shores and in the decade that followed, the brand saw an absolutely enormous influx in popularity and sales.
One factor that no doubt played a pivotal role in Persol’s rapid growth and prolonged success was the myriad of appearances its glasses made in blockbuster Hollywood movies. The 1960s saw a number of Persol models famously worn by the likes of Marcello Mastroianni, Paul Newman, and Steve McQueen, who routinely wore Persol shades both on and offscreen. These onscreen appearances would cement Persol’s iconic status and kick off a legacy that lasts to this day. In 1991, Persol also opened its first US boutique storefront on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, just four years before being acquired by the Luxottica Group, an Italian eyewear conglomerate and currently the biggest optical outfit on the planet.
Quality, Craftsmanship, & Tradiiton
The Unique Properties That Set Persol Apart
As a bonafide powerhouse in the eyewear industry, Persol unsurprisingly attracts some of the best and brightest minds in the industry, and as a result puts out some of the most elegant, and beautifully-designed glasses in existence. But its handsome aesthetic designs are only one small aspect of what makes Persol’s wares unique, with the company possessing several other hallmark traits that appear across the elite Italian manufacturer’s entire product range.
A brilliant amalgamation of form and function, Persol’s glasses sport an unrivaled level of attention to detail, with a near obsessive-focus on subtle touches. What’s more, Persol exclusively utilizes some of the finest materials that money can buy and are expertly crafted. As an example, all of Persol’s non-metal-framed models are currently made by hand in Italy using its own unique cellulose acetate constructions. The company’s non-acetate models are crafted from equally high-quality constructions such as titanium.
The immense importance placed on fit and finish, coupled with the use of ultra-premium materials and genuinely striking industrial designs collectively make Persol’s glasses objectively unique, justifying the steep price tags and explaining the company’s legendary status in the fashion world. And though it’s been extensively imitated and knocked off, Persol’s distinctive Silver Arrow logo is another signature element present on nearly every pair, introduced in the 1930s and modeled after the swords carried by soldiers in the Roman Legion.
The attractive qualities that Persol glasses possess have long caught the eye of tastemakers and the Hollywood elite, and this is no different today than it was in the 1960s. In recent years Persol glasses have been donned by everyone from Jay-Z and Chris Brown to Leonardo di Caprio and Ryan Gosling to Justin Timberlake and Johnny Depp — just as Newman and McQueen did before them. Persol’s silver screen appearances haven’t slowed either, with the glasses appearing in a slew of noteworthy TV shows and movies including being worn by Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale and Álvaro Morte in his portrayal of Sergio “El Profesor” Marquina in Netflix’s hit Spanish heist series La Casa De Papel.
The Language Of Persol
Key Terms To Know When Shopping
The Persol monicker is actually a portmanteau, derived from the words, “per il sole,”’ meaning “for the sun” in Italian. Additionally, there are several other key pieces of terminology that one should be privy to when shopping for a new pair of Persols. Below, we’ll briefly touch on five key terms.
Acetate: First discovered in the 1940s, acetate is an allergy-free plastic derived from plants that can be molded and shaped. Often accented or decorated with other metallic constructions, acetate is used across the board for all of Persol’s non-metal-framed models.
Crystal: Offering markedly higher levels of clarity than your average lens, Crystal is the type of lens construction employed by Persol across its entire catalog — just one of the numerous premium materials that go into Persol’s wares.
Reference Numbers: Not unlike many high-end watches or firearms, Persol uses a product code (or reference number) system to label its different eyeglass models and sub-models, with the first three or four digits in the code denoting the model, and any accompanying numbers or letters signifying the specific sub-model.
Silver Arrow: The name of Persol’s sword-inspired logo (mentioned above).
Victor Flex: A more contemporary follow-up to the Maflecto System, Persol’s Victor Flex feature consists of a triple-notch nose/bridge that can slightly twist or flex, affording a more precise fit and thereby bolstering comfort.
Seven Of Persols Most Lauded Sunglasses
Now that you’re all caught up on Persol’s history and the aspects that make the company so reputable, let’s dive into some of the most important Persol models currently in production.
Popularized by Marcello Mastroianni in the film, Divorce Italian Style, the Persol 649 Original first appeared on the scene in 1957, originally having been designed specifically for public transit drivers in Persol’s home city of Turin. The amply-sized lens was intended to maximize protection from the sun and particles and the equally-beefy frames sport the brand’s Meflecto and Victor Flex features. Decorated with prominent and pronounced Silver Arrow logos, the 649 Original is now produced in an enormous range of frame choices and lens color options. More than six decades after their release, the 649 remains an eyewear icon and one of the company’s best-selling models year after year. And, though Steve McQueen is more famously associated with another Persol model, the “King Of Cool” nonetheless was also known to wear the 649.
Persol’s iconic 714 model is actually based on the 649, though has been largely tweaked and reworked with a thinner frame, a flatter brow line, and a sharper point below the bridge with more room separating the two lenses. One of the most notable features on the 714 is the additional hinge located in the middle of the nose bridge and the second pair of hinges found halfway down each arm that together allow these timeless glasses to fold in half into a compact, pocketable form and neatly stow away in an included carrying case that Persol sells with each pair. Like the 649, the 714 has been one of Persol’s all-time best-sellers for decades, and as such, the Italian firm now produces the 714 in a wide variety of frame and lens options.
This version of the 714 — which was the world’s first-ever folding pair of sunglasses — maintains the silhouette of the regular model but adds a myriad of touches that were present on the pair worn by Steve McQueen, with Caffe-colored acetate frames, polarized blue gradient lenses, and special “Steve McQueen” script adorning the inside of the left arm. One of the most famous pairs of driving sunglasses of all time, this limited edition 714 model comes from Persol with a uniquely-designed brown leather carrying pouch that’s secured via an antique brass snap — both of which will slowly start to form a patina over time with regular use. The special edition case also boasts an embossed Persol logo and a matching “Steve McQueen” text that’s also been hot-stamped into the leather.
A more contemporary, dapper, and understated take on a sunglasses design, the 3210 is more minimalistic and boasts a smaller frame than its 649 and 714 predecessors, though is no less elegant or timeless with its time writer-inspired metal detailing. Equipped with all of Persol’s hallmark traits, the 3210 has the Meflecto system, handmade acetate frames, crystal lenses, and smaller but still instantly recognizable arrow-logoed hinges. One novel element on the 3210 however, is the design of the bridge, which is comprised of a slightly downward-curved metallic piece connecting both halves of these sunglasses via dot-secured wire set into the acetate on the wearer’s side of the nose. Like other massively popular models from Persol, the 3210 is produced in a wide range of frame and lens color options, including a version from the iconic Italian brand’s Key West Collection.
Persol’s 3048 was designed to be more in line with modern wayfarer glasses, without losing any of the special properties that make Persol’s glasses so sought after. The traditional wayfarer sunglasses silhouette has been bestowed with Persol’s signature handmade acetate frames and arms that are held to the main chassis via the outfit’s arrow hinges. Persol’s Meflecto system is still present too, as are crystal lenses. For those that aren’t fond of the tortoise look but are still interested in picking up a pair of Persol’s, the company also makes the 3048 in a solid black acetate construction version, as well as multiple partially-transparent solid color options. The 3048 is also a stellar candidate to compare side-by-side next to a less premium pair of wayfarers, as you can literally feel the difference in quality in terms of materials and overall craftsmanship.
An admittedly more outside-the-box design, Persol’s 3199 features a wide “eyebrows” brow-line that’s mated via a metallic bridge and supports a pair of suspended lenses wrapped in a thin matching metallic metal frame. The 3199 is manufactured in your regular solid and tortoise frame options and is sold with solid or gradient lenses, though one incredibly noteworthy feature on many of the models in the 3199 range is the use of lightly-mixed acetates with dramatic contrasting colors that creates an almost marbled appearance, similar to colored forged carbon fiber. Person’s 3132 glasses also offer a similar, albeit more understated look, with a more studious and less playful overall character. 3132 or 3199, either way, all of Persol’s key hallmarks are present.
El Profesor Sergio (PO3235S)
One of the most famous instances of Persol glasses being featured in mainstream film and television in recent years was on Netflix’s Casa de Papel, in which the leader of the fictitious Royal Mint-robbing crew, “The Professor” wore an iconic pair of aviators. This would ultimately culminate in an official collaboration in April of 2020, yielding four special edition models including a replica of the Professor’s specs, the PO3235S, or “El Profesor Sergio.” These acetate-framed aviators sport a number of unique details that differentiate them from the existing 3235 — another thoroughly iconic Persol model. The most high-end version of the El Professor sees its standard metallic details jettisoned in favor of top-shelf, genuine 24 karat gold plating. As per usual, the 3235 is sold in a slew of frame and lens options, with ten different versions currently constituting the lineup.
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