By  on March 29, 2010

NEW YORK — Eyewear companies sought to connect with consumers by evoking brand heritage at the International Vision Expo East trade show.

Most brands offered exclusive styles at the three-day fair, which ended Sunday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here, to help drive traffic to stores.

Licensing firms unveiled spring and summer collections that channeled their labels’ aesthetic cores. They added limited edition or exclusive styles to their offerings as well as lower-priced pieces to target the aspirational customer.

Luxottica Group paid homage to Chanel’s heritage with its new Lovely frame, featuring the Chanel logo along the temple and retailing for $340. For the two-year-old Tiffany line, Luxottica added styles with “Tiffany blue” temple treatments, as well as those with interchanging charms at an opening price point less than $300.

“We made a huge improvement in interpreting Tiffany’s iconic side,” said Kristen McCabe, Luxottica retail’s associate vice president of product for sun and luxury brands. “Originally this line was at the high end, but we realized we weren’t talking to Tiffany’s large group of aspirational customers, so we introduced styles with a $200 entry. We wanted to approach democratic pricing while bringing out its classic aesthetic.”

Safilo Group’s new Gucci Eyeweb aviators offered a clear link to the brand’s heritage with its red, green and white-striped temple treatments. The lower-priced sub-collection is Gucci’s first attempt at offering styles for less than $250.

“We’re trying to give the customer value, we want to provide price points that are the most accessible in the luxury category,” said Mark Ugenti, Safilo’s senior vice president of retail sales.

Oliver Peoples dipped into the brand’s 24-year-old archive to bring back classic pieces such as the O’Malley and the 1955, whose rounded tortoise shapes havea retro, intellectual feel. At David Yurman eyewear, styles such as the Albion and Waverly were extensions of the jewelry, with precious stones as well as gold and silver treatments decorating the frames. The brand showcased a 24-karat gold lens frame exclusive to its boutiques, retailing at $750.

Barton Perreira, an independent line based in Irvine, Calif., teamed with Opening Ceremony on a special version of its best-selling Sebastian style, retailing at $415. It provides special colors for stores such as Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus.

“A store like Opening Ceremony or Barneys definitely wants special items,” said Bill Barton, president at Barton Perreira. “They’re not interested in the brand with 1,000 doors. They’re carrying special things and we want to give that to them. For the department store, it takes more forward planning, but we want to help them get back to where they were and we’ll do so by getting more aggressive on the exclusive side.”

The premium on special product included Marcolin’s Tom Ford eyewear line, which will debut the frame Colin Firth wore in Ford’s film “A Single Man” on a limited edition basis this fall. Prada is creating an exclusive style based on its spring handbag collection for Sunglass Hut, and Ray-Ban is doing a special series of Wayfarer styles, including one by artist Matt W. Moore, also for the Luxottica-owned sun retailer. Versace did a special frame with its classic Medusa logo for Macy’s Inc.

“Doing exclusives can be smart and it can work if lines do it in supersmall numbers, and then consumers have to have their ‘guy’ who’s going to call them the second it comes in,” said David Gonzales, owner of Fred Segal Eyes in Los Angeles. “But when editions are too big, it is a problem. At some point it’s no longer an edition.”

Known for carrying smaller independent lines, Gonzales shopped the show for innovative styles by Barton Perreira, Anne et Valentin and Orgreen.

“In the past, I pulled it in as far as risk taking and I was definitely going safe with everything, and now I’m looking to give the ‘eyewear frontier’ more of a chance, not playing it safe,” Gonzales said. “The market hit the bottom and now it’s starting to come back, so I’m taking more chances with smaller, exclusive lines.”

Firms offered frames with vibrant colors and tones. Cartier’s Double C de Cartier decor sunglasses offered contrasting white and coral acetate for a Sixties Mod-like effect. Two Marchon lines, Coach and Diane von Furstenberg, evoked a rainbow, with bright blues, greens and pinks for the youthful, fashion-forward market. Safilo’s Carrera and Marc by Marc Jacobs lines opted for neon aviators, and Jason Wu’s first eyewear collection, produced by Modo, did a classic square frame in purple, green and navy blue. Blue was a top trend at the show, as seen at Vera Wang, Victoria Beckham and Cutler and Gross.

In the growing men’s eyewear business, Viva International Group signed new licenses for William Rast and Mark Nason. The firm is also reintroducing Gant sun to the U.S. this summer. The line includes double-bridge aviators, tortoise-shell retro looks and subtle logo treatments. Viva made a limited edition two-toned, rounded aviator for the Gant-Michael Bastian collaboration, which will hit stores this fall.

Newcomers joined the Vision Expo show, such as men’s luxury line Zilli, whose eyewear designer Eric Jean unveiled the brand’s first sun and optical collection. The line, dropping in November, retails for $800 to $900.

The ubiquity of retro styles has given rise to more unisex products. Fashion lines such as Super, an Italian affordable fashion company, which made its Vision Expo debut, offered an entire collection of hip opaque and matte acetates, colored tortoise shell and contrast temple styles, which were suitable for both men and women and retail for less than $200.

Marchon’s cadre of brands also evoked the retro trend in its men’s offering with contrasting interior color at Sean John, thick woodlike plastic frames at Jil Sander and tonal aviators at Fendi.

Tom Loughran, event director for Reed Exhibitions and International Vision Expos, which coproduce the show, said attendance was up 4 percent compared with 2009, according to preliminary reports.

“We heard from many exhibitors that attendees were there to buy this year, which was a real sign for us that the optical industry is on the rebound,” he said.

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