There are origin stories and then there are origin legends. Persol’s folding 714 sunglasses have one of the latter, thanks to one Steve McQueen, aka the King of Cool. Persol is Italian, from Turin, and its story dates back to 1917. In the early days it made optical glasses and sunglasses, including models for aviators and drivers; the name derives from “per il sole”, or “for the sun”.
We don’t know what drew McQueen to the 714s – though he was a fan of cars and motorbikes, and became a pilot in 1979 – but drawn he was, apparently turning up on set for The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) in his own pair, which led to them forming part of the memorable wardrobe of the stylish gentleman thief. The actor wore 714s in Bullitt (1968) too, where he plays the titular San Francisco cop (and takes part in one of the greatest car chases in cinema history), and in The Getaway (1972), in which he starred with his future wife, Ali McGraw. He also sported them when he filmed Le Mans (1971), his homage to the legendary 24-hour motor race.
The distinctive teardrop shape of the 1960s 714s comes from the non-folding 649 model that Persol had brought out in 1957 for the tram drivers of Turin. Both 649s and 714s have a quasi-aviator look, but the acetate frame gives them a more sartorial feel. McQueen’s model of choice, the folding 714, was perfect for this stylish, sporty man, who is equally comfortable on a Triumph motorbike in a sweatshirt and chinos, or on the street in a sharp suit.
Today, Persol still produces the 714 (and the 649), and like all the company’s glasses they are hand-crafted in Italy and feature crystal lenses and steel hinges.
Pub fact: in 2006, a pair of McQueen’s 714 Persols – possibly the ones worn in The Thomas Crown Affair – sold for over $70,000 at auction. Now that is eyewatering.