1917-1930 The dream takes off
In 1917 in the the city of Turin, Italy, Giuseppe Ratti, a photographer and the owner of Berry Opticians, set out on a journey that would later bring him international success. In the small courtyard of a house in Via Caboto he started manufacturing state-of-theart glasses, designed in such a way as to meet the comfort and safety requirements of aviators and pilots of sport, as well as ideal vision standards.
Thus Protector glasses were born. They had smoked, round lenses that were lined with rubber and fixed to the head by elastic bands. Not long after, this eyewear was adopted by the Armed Forces and by the pilots of the Italian Air Force. This is how one of the most successful Italian companies began its journey: and to mark that happy event, Mr Ratti later chose the stork as a good omen for his company. This bird, with its long and graceful legs, and with the initials G.R. engraved on its wings, was to be Giuseppe Ratti’s trade mark for a long time to come.
Equipment used by heroes
Intuition, brilliance, innovation and quality made Protectors the eyewear of choice of several air forces around the world, including the US Air Force. They were worn, in those years, by aviation, racing and motorcycling champions. Personalities like D’Annunzio, De Pinedo, Ferrarin, Chiron, Nazzaro, Fangio, Opessi, Bolognini and Ghersi were among some of the most famous wearers of this ever-evolving product. Very special inaugural flights were reserved for Protector glasses by Major Gabriele D’annunzio (a tailored model was designed for him) and Captain Natale Palli on 9 August, 1918 on the historic flight over Vienna, and by Francesco De Pinedo on his flight across the Atlantic which lasted 193 hours!
The “Cinesino” (small Chinese person) as the icon of an emerging myth
From the pen of a great cartoonist, Eugenio Colmo, aka Golia, the “Cinesino” took shape in 1920. It would characterise the Berry shop in Via Roma and, with its graphic evolutions, would accompany the glasses for the following 50 years in adverts typifying Ratti’s products, starting with the Persol range, which was born in those years.
The extraordinary brown lens
The 1920s also saw the invention of the famous yellow-brown coloured lens made from neutral crystal, which was produced using pure silica. This lens would soon be mounted on all Persol glasses. Its peculiarity was due to a special “mass” manufacturing process, which defined its colouring and guaranteed a high level of protection from the harmful rays of the sun.
Protector glasses: a concentration of technology to conquer the world
In 1924, Protector glasses earned the first of 14 international patents. Comprising as many as 41 parts, which required 43 different assembly operations, Protector glasses even won over the Swiss Military Department in 1927. Initially, as many as 200 pairs were shipped, after a careful check on the part of the Swiss, who also consulted Italian and foreign military headquarters.
1930-1950 For sun protection: Persol
The subsequent evolution of Protector glasses, led by the determination and the intuition of wanting to design a truly revolutionary pair of sunglasses in terms of quality and fit, resulted in the birth of the Persol brand in 1938. Incidentally, the name “Persol” was aptly derived from the Italian “per il sole”, meaning “for the sun”, to emphasize the sun-protective function of this eyewear. The remarkable features of this innovative product (besides its clear design and crystal lenses – Persol’s pride and joy!) are the Arrow, for functional detail and unmistakable aesthetic decoration, and the Meflecto, a system designed to give flexibility to the arms, thereby offering the greatest comfort.
Meflecto: flexibility for the perfect fit
The end of the 1930s saw the creation of the Meflecto system – the first flexible arm in the world, still a distinguishing feature of the Persol brand. The arm was made flexible thanks to the introduction of nylon or metal cylinders, intersected by a stainless steel core, providing maximum comfort and rendering the eyewear adaptable to the shape of any face.
For the sake of comfort
Those years also saw the introduction of Persol Victor Flex: an application of the Meflecto concept, i.e. a real concentration of technology, this light and comfortable eyewear model boasted a flexible three-incision bridge – patented and still used today in model 649. This bridge permits a comfortable curvature, and so the glasses hug the wearer’s face more closely. In the new models, an internal metallic brace is also applied to the arms so that both their length and curvature can be regulated.
The Arrow: a symbol of brilliance
In the post-war period, the Arrow, the unmistakable symbol of Persol, was introduced: a hinged mount with a decorative arrow on the arm, inspired by the swords of ancient warriors. This innovation, the result of collaboration between Mr. Ratti, his workers and his technicians, was immediately patented in several countries. Many versions of the arrow followed (Victor, Invictor, etc.) until the “Supreme” arrow, which still characterises the Persol brand to this day, was achieved. The road along the way involved several developments and technical and aesthetic adjustments. Both a functional detail and a decorative element, the arrow was to bring Persol worldwide recognition (and imitation!) thanks to its unique style.
1950-1970 Model 649 becomes a legend
Model 649 was created in 1957. It was designed to meet the requirements of tram drivers in Turin who, driving the old-style open trams, needed large protective eyewear to shield their eyes from the air and dust. The original design made this model an instant success – copied over the years by many competitors – until it was ultimately confirmed as a legend in 1961, when the Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni wore a pair in the hit movie “Divorce Italian Style”. Model 649, still extremely fashionable and included in the collection, is protected by several patents and registered trademarks and represents the symbol par excellence of Persol design. Thanks to its distinctiveness, it is even included in the 1992 French volume of “Qualità: scene d’objets à l’italienne” (a showcase of Italian creativity) among the national objects which best represent all-time Italian creative genius.
In 1995, model 649 was chosen to represent the relationship between fashion, design and technology and was displayed at the “Fra Moda e Design, linea infinita” (“Between fashion and design, an infinite line”) exhibition at the Triennale di Milano, alongside creations by Armani, Cartier, Mary Quant, Prada, Rolex, Samsonite, Valentino and many others. And, in 2004, the model was displayed in Florence at the “Excess, Fashion & Underground negli anni ‘80” exhibition (Excess, Fashion & Underground in the eighties) alongside a varied collection of contemporary pop culture items, perfectly demonstrating the agelessness of a legend.
Research and expansion
In the sixties, Persol became a real virtue for Italian industry. The company expanded its portfolio by manufacturing labor working eyewear. Equipped with specific filters for different uses, Labor eyewear was designed to protect the eyes of welders. The range fed on research and specialisation, encompassing over 35 international patents and bringing the Persol name to the forefront of the world’s optical industry. In 1962, the Labor model won over the US market (prior to this, Persol was already providing the “four glass” model directly to NASA). In those years, Persol was being worn more and more by great personalities of our time. And not just by pilots and sportsmen, but also stars of shows and movies, such as Greta Garbo and Steve McQueen, who chose Persol both on set and in everyday life.
From 1980 to date
Research as the basis of technological perfection the eighties perpetuated the great attention that Persol has always paid to technological innovation and the care of its products and lenses. Indeed, Persol took part in many expeditions in order to test its lenses at high altitudes and in the desert, thereby examining performance and protection levels under extreme conditions, as well as experimenting with innovative materials and verifying the effects of the sun’s rays on the human eye.
Between the eighties and nineties, Persol committed to various excursions under the most extreme conditions: from an expedition to the Svalbard Islands in Northern Norway, and sponsorship of and participation in several harrowing Dakar rallies, to equipping an entire team during the Rally of the Pharaohs in 1991. In Vorkuta, Siberia, beyond the 75th parallel, and 65° Celsius below zero, Russian Astronauts – parachuted for survival practices – wore Persol eyewear featuring multilayered, polarised lenses. And that’s not all: the excursionist Enrico Rosso wore Persol eyewear in 1989 while climbing to the summit of Kun in the Himalayas, the Mountain of Salt (7087m elevation) in Indian Kashmir. He was accompanied by Paolo Gugliermina, an eye specialist dealing with eye experimentation. Upon his return, Gugliermina reported that no man taking part in the expedition had suffered any discomfort, thanks to the protection of Persol’s lenses, specially designed for the mission. Other expeditions to the Himalayas, such as the one to Cho Oyu, the “Goddess of Turquoise” at an elevation of 8201m in central Himalaya, took place in the early nineties, again due to the performance levels achieved by Persol: test benches in cooperation with undisputed climbing personalities such as Reinhold Messner allowed crucial studies and optical tests to be carried out to assess the quality of Persol lenses.