The classic Italian eyewear company Persol has just launched the second of three annual exhibitions celebrating obsessive craftsmanship in cinema. This year’s Persol Magnificent Obsessions: 30 Stories of Craftsmanship in Film is set up at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York. The show launched last Wednesday with a party starring some of this year’s honorees, including costume designer Arianne Phillips, actress Patricia Clarkson, and filmmaker Todd Haynes, as well as VIP guests Zoe Saldana, Abbie Cornish, Terry Richardson, Jaime King, Rebecca Minkoff, John Turturro, and Sandy Powell.
It was near dusk when the celebs started pulling up in their black town cars and posing on a red carpet dropped in the middle of the Astoria sidewalk, in their pick of Persol shades. Local passersby gawked at the glistening celebrity perfection: a middle-aged couple, soft as the soft-serve ice cream they were licking, commented on the stars’ white teeth; a small cohort of kids in soccer gear picked up their ball and paused for awhile; an iPhone wielding young woman berated me to tell her which celebrities were which.
Inside, curator Michael Connor, handsome as any celebrity, guided the VIPs and guests through the exhibit, introducing Ed Harris’s genius acting in Pollock, and in-house honorees Todd Haynes, the brilliant filmmaker behind Far From Heaven and I’m Not There, and Arianne Phillips, costumer for W.E. Patricia Clarkson, looking enviably elegant in black, was the most attentive listener of the pack.
After a panel discussion between John Turturro and Antonio Monda (conclusion: it doesn’t get better than Fellini), the Gossip Girl set (young, hip) started to roll in and the party got started. Twin Shadow and Terry Richardson DJ’ed. The male model cater waiters delivered trays upon trays of dry mojitos, the “drink of the night.” Zoe Saldana, dressed in green and blue, as long limbed as a Na’vi, danced with her girlfriends and graciously posed for pictures.
Persol is a heritage brand with an emphasis on craftsmanship. The sponsored exhibition, curated by Michael Connor, claims to celebrate the stories of “obsessive craftsmanship behind some of cinema’s most iconic on-screen moments.” The thrust: “Just as it takes 30 manual steps to create the perfect pair of Persol frames, Persol Magnificent Obsessions showcases how each instance of cinematic perfection takes hours, weeks or months of painstaking research and craftsmanship to develop and is truly a labor of love.”
Perhaps it sounds like a stretch. But corporate sponsored museum exhibitions are a thing. They are usually far more insidious. There is a long-standing relationship between Persol and cinema and celebrity. That relationship alone could make for a fascinating exhibition. But Persol has chosen to showcase the work of others. At the launch party and in the exhibition (open until August 19th), Persol’s brand name may lead the way but it doesn’t overshadow. Instead, Persol has opted to let the content of the exhibit shine.
Persol’s Brand Director, Chiara Bernardi, was kind enough to speak to BULLETT about the eyewear company’s history in the cinema, costume design, and this year’s Magnificent Obsessions.
What is your role at Persol?
I am Brand Director, which means that I give global strategic directions on the brand, working together with corporate and local teams to make them happen.
Persol made its first film appearance in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. The main character Marcello’s sunglasses speak so well to his character. I remember pausing the film to research who made the frames. There’s a longstanding relationship between Persol and the cinema—Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. What are your favorite Persol screen appearances?
The relationship Persol has with cinema starts at the very beginning of the brand origins. For sure Steve McQueen and Marcello Mastroianni endorsements have greatly contributed to the brand awareness and recognizability. It is very hard to me to make a ranking. Persol is spontaneously featured in different movie genres, from Mission: Impossible to Somewhere by Sofia Coppola. My favorites appearences are the most spontaneous ones that at the same time perfectly fit into the movie’s mood and plot.
What are some of your favorite fashion in film moments, eyewear or otherwise?
Working in this industry the first thing I notice is eyewear, of course. I am fascinated by costume design, and this is something I’ve learned working on Persol Magnificent Obsessions; eyewear is for sure a great part of it.
Costuming the past vs. costuming the future. Which is more intriguing to you?
Costuming the past is something we are very good at, and it is a very comfortable territory for a brand with such this heritage. Costuming the future is much more challenging: it takes deep brand understanding, discipline and risk taking attitude.
Do you have a favorite part of this year’s Persol Magnificent Obsessions exhibition?
As in the first edition, I love every single obsession because I have experienced the passion that all our contributors put on it, the time spent working hard “just” for the innate pleasure of “making things right.”
Persol Magnificent Obsessions: 30 Stories of Craftsmanship in Film will be open to the public through August 19th at the Museum of Moving Image.