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When Eyewear Is Art

Every eyewear company has its celluloid moments. For Persol, the U.S. big-screen debut came in 1968’s “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

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Every eyewear company has its celluloid moments. For Persol, the U.S. big-screen debut came in 1968’s “The Thomas Crown Affair,” when Steve McQueen wore its PO 714 frame in the movie opener. While that sighting might not resonate as widely as Tom Cruise sporting his Ray-Bans in “Risky Business,” it soon will — if Persol execs have anything to do with it.

Enter the new Incognito Design Exhibition, on view starting June 24 at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. It’s aimed at celebrating — and helping the public discover — the rich 92-year history of the company. “We found this brand in our portfolio,” says Fabio d’Angelantonio, chief marketing officer of Luxottica Group, which picked up the line in 1995. “It had a fantastic story, but we weren’t telling it. We weren’t telling consumers enough about what the brand stands for. It was right to restart a journey for Persol.”

That journey, in fact, began three years ago. Incognito initially launched at the 2006 Milan Triennale, before heading to Paris last year for a brief run at the Palais de Tokyo art museum. This third leg of the exhibit, which takes over the Sculpture Garden at the Whitney for five days, marks its Stateside debut. The gist is the same — to showcase and promote the various design patents, technological innovations, historical and cinematic moments — as is the layout, which is divided into three parts. There’s a video wall, a 26-foot-long interactive touch-screen table and collection displays. “We wanted to engage the consumer and have them interacting with the brand,” says d’Angelantonio of the tech-savvy setup. So those display cases, featuring iconic styles like the PO 714? They’re actually 3-D projections.  

There is, however, one key difference between this Incognito exhibit and the others. In April, Persol held a separate exhibit of artists’ collaborations, called “A Work of Persol,” at the Milan Furniture Fair. Videos of participating Persol artisans will be on display for the first time. D’Angelantonio notes the actual artwork will not be on view. “So much of Persol is not just the final product, but the process and manufacturing through which this product has been introduced,” he explains. “That’s the similarity with the world of art. We’re celebrating the process.”

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