When Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay took those final heavy steps toward the summit of Mt. Everest on the morning of May 29, 1953, they became immortalized as icons of mountaineering and sport. Hillary received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II (Norgay earned the George Medal) and the 40-foot rock face that posed a final critical obstacle before the summit was given his name as a label.
But not all the names of those who accomplish great feats in the mountains are remembered, and many more are simply lost to the unrelenting pace of time. Yannick Seigneur is one of those names. To those who remember him, Seigneur was a mountaineering legend. He was the first French climber to make three separate ascents of peaks over 8,000 meters (roughly 26,247 feet), and the first person to climb Makalu, the fifth tallest mountain in the world, by its difficult West Pillar Route. He also made it to the top of Everest, 27 years after Hillary and Norgay.
No queen bestowed any regal honors upon Seigneur’s shoulders; he doesn’t have a rock named after him. He doesn’t even have an English Wikipedia page documenting his exploits and accomplishments. But Seigneur’s climbing legacy does live on, in an unlikely yet fitting place: a pair of glasses.
Originally released in 1972, Julbo’s Cham Sunglasses are the direct result of Seigneur’s climbing career. After stints working for Pomagalski (the cable car and chairlift company also known as Poma) and Rossignol, Seigneur dedicated himself to mountaineering full time while lending technical advice to the product development team at Julbo as a tester — it was an early form of brand ambassadorship.
To create Seigneur’s pro model glasses, Julbo built on the foundation it had established for mountain eyewear in the 1950s with the Vermont glasses. The Cham employed the same leather eye shields and nosepiece as its predecessor but expanded the circular lens shape of the original into an aviator style that offered greater protection from the harsh elements climbers experienced at high elevations.
This year, Julbo decided to bring back the Cham sunglasses as an homage to the original. In an age of plastic polycarbonates, the glasses may be more fashion statement than technical mountaineering equipment, and the retro packaging may not carry Yannick Seigneur’s name like it once did, but the Chams remain an icon nonetheless — they’re a nostalgic nod to an era when first ascents were more common, and a salute to a climber who managed to bag a few of them in his time. Below, you’ll find a quick Q&A with Julbo’s Design Lead, Clément Bonnet-Matthieu, on the re-release of the sunglasses.
Q: What’s been updated with the new release of the Cham glasses?
A: There were two goals really. The first was to create as close a pair as the original: mountain, durable and iconic. The second was to make these a more wearable version of the eyewear for style on the street. Hence these are category 3 lenses for normal wear. You can drive with these safely!
Q: What inspired you to revisit the design?
A: At some level, it was just time. We have displays of past product at our headquarters and many of our athletes were asking us for the Cham to be reissued.
Q: How do you approach the design of a product with such a history behind it?
A: Some of it is not to mess with what isn’t broken. We sourced leather as close to what had been on the original and aimed to keep it unbothered. I think you can make mistakes by getting too deep into adjustments.
Q: Why do you think that an item originally meant for mountain climbing has become, today, more of a fashion statement?
A: People are searching for an authentic connection to the mountains, to the outdoors. The history that Julbo as a brand, and that this pair in particular — along with the Vermonts — bring to climbing lends a bit of that origin to people seeking more.
Q: Do you think equipment has the same ability as famous climbers to become iconic?
A: Sure. If you look at key pieces of unchanged equipment, there are icons that have personality and story and history. We all wear a uniform to tell the world who we are. Loving a famous climber and celebrating their achievements is a way to shape our place outdoors. Connecting to equipment used on epic historical climbs is similarly aspirational.