From its beginning as Giovanni Ratti’s line of vintage eyewear for such “adventurous” types as early drivers and aviators, Persol soon blossomed into a chic line of glasses that appeared in many different forms, including cat eye glasses in the 1960s. Most Persol glasses were and are sunglasses rather than corrective eyewear, true to the company’s origins.
Construction of Persol cat eye glasses
Though very elegant and stylish, they remain functional eye protection against glare and small objects flying into the eye while driving, thus keeping a whiff of the original functionality of driver’s goggles, too. They are interesting in the history of cat eye glasses and vintage eyeglasses of all kinds because they show both the numerous technical advances that the fashion houses made, and the shifting cultural tides of Europe and the world.
Aviator glasses and driver’s goggles had to be sturdy, and Ratti carried this tradition on into his Persol company’s products, too. For example, the lenses were made from a pure silica crystal that gave extra toughness and more shielding to the wearer’s eyes.
The lenses were tested by dropping a half ounce steel ball onto each from a height to prove they wouldn’t break. This is reminiscent of the medieval European custom of firing a crossbow quarrel at a breastplate to prove it had been forged strong enough to keep out arrows. This, of course, would not be possible with mass produced eyewear, but Persols were always handmade in Turin and remain so to this day.
The 1960s witnessed the introduction of the Persol Model 649, extra-large sunglasses to protect the eyes of Italian tram drivers. Though the large lenses had a practical function, this was the start of the fad for large fashion sunglasses that caught on across the world and continues even now. However, genuine Persol vintage eyeglasses, including cat eye glasses, can be identified in many cases by the “arrow” – a gleaming metal piece that wraps around the hinge of the temples, and which represents a sword – and by the distinctive “keyhole” bridge that is designed for extra comfort.
Persol vintage glasses and culture
Persol cat eye glasses and other sunglasses are also a fascinating barometer of cultural changes. As noted in the first article about them, glamor, fashion, and adventure (that is, something with an element of challenge, danger, and excitement) are often knotted together in our culture. However, as cars and aircraft improved, and being a driver or a pilot became little more adventurous than driving a wagon had been a century earlier, so Persol’s image sought a new avenue to give style a thrill of danger and excitement.
There was little room for adventure in the mid 20th century world of most law-abiding people. The daredevil mountain climbers of the present day, for example, were barely starting to be noticed by the larger public. So, people turned to movie gangsters and other perilous characters to bring the edge and mystique they wanted to their glasses instead.
Elegant criminals in movies of the 1960s, played by popular actors, were often shown wearing Persol glasses. Thus the ancient European cultural mix of high fashion and high adventure was preserved, even if it now had a thuggish slant.
Even now, in the 21st century, the glasses appear in James Bond films – showing that the link between adventure, danger, and aesthetics still continues since its birth before the Age of Charlemagne. The history of cat eye glasses of the 1950s and 1960s is much more than just a catalog of designs; it also gives glimpses of the underpinnings of the human soul.