Caution and Innovation Reign at Silmo Fair

Buyers were watching their purse strings at the recent edition of the Silmo eyewear salon.

PARIS — Buyers were watching their purse strings at the recent edition of the Silmo eyewear salon here. However, since demand for eyewear remains relatively healthy, many distributors and brands have seen positive growth this year, and remain confident they can ride out shopper jitters with wider product and price options, including modernized, subtle twists on vintage and classic frames, plus unique, but easy-to-wear styles.

Held at Villepinte in the north of Paris, the four-day event ended Oct. 2.

Thanks to the rising population of aging Westerners in need of optics, plus emerging wealth in Asian and South American markets, the global economic crisis and current euro-debt woes have stirred, but not rocked, the eyewear industry, with many companies boasting impressive growth.

In a sign of the importance of emerging markets, Silmo will launch in February a mini-salon in Mumbai, and another in April in São Paulo.

Musadik Rajani who co-owns Gafas, a high-end eyewear chain in Toronto, said he was looking to buy originality with a vintage edge and fine details. He was pleasantly surprised to find some high quality options at reasonable price points at the fair.

Bernard van Ommen, country manager for international eyewear marketing consultants Cecop, said distributors have been reducing prices and improving their service because they are nevertheless, “struggling to sell.”

He warned that, since the sector still benefits from relatively strong demand, vendors should instead, “increase their prices, to highlight the quality of their product.”

“If the big companies are lowering prices, the small ones shouldn’t follow, because it could kill them,” he added.

At Marchon, which has been adding designer brands at a brisk pace (new licenses due to launch next year include Salvatore Ferragamo, Valentino and Nine West), vice president and managing director for Europe Nicola Zotta said their growth was in the healthy double digits in Europe as elsewhere.

Yet while buyers are “still consuming,” and France and Spain have seen business jump as much as 30 percent, consumer sensitivity is very strong on prices, he agreed. Stores are also stocking less in Europe in particular, and many have been forced to delay payments.


In order to “satisfy clients with less buying power,” Marchon expanded its product variety by about 10 percent, said Zotta, and like many others at the fair, focused more on risk-free minimalist, classic styles. Sixties, Seventies and Eighties styles have impacted trends, and in a sign of optimism, more fresh color choices were added to certain brands, like Lacoste, said Zotta.

Marchon plans to move into larger, more ecologically efficient new headquarters in mid-October in Melville, N.Y., and plans to double business in the next five years.

Aviators and cat-eye variations were still strong at the show.

In optics, the balance between sophistication and a touch of originality was key, with many brands adding subtle creative touches on temples.

Paris-based eyewear brand Oko launched a collection called My Muse, featuring an optics line inspired by designer David Beddok’s muses — his friends and customers — while the collection’s sunglasses range was inspired by movie stars. The designs featured touches of bright hot, retro colors and shimmer as well as sculpted layers of acetate.

Eighties Euro-chic-style sunglasses brand Le Specs, which is Australian, was showing for the first time in Europe at Silmo, since its re-launch in 2006.

Having hit the U.S. market this April, American brand Empower also made its European debut at Silmo, with its product set to enter French stores in December for the first time. The brand’s lenses allow the user to switch focus electronically from standard focus to reading focus, and have wider fields of view than regular progressives. The product retails at 1,400 euros, or about $1,850 at current exchange.

Mikli collaborated with Jean Paul Gaultier on a line that made its debut in Gaultier’s Paris fashion show this season, sporting three sided, fan temples.

London based Cutler and Gross, which has just opened a store in Toronto, said they are scouting a store location in New York. Marking a shift from the brand’s usual bright, jewel colored repertoire, its latest collection, carrying a so-called “Hong Kong Motorcycle Club” theme, features nudes and pearl colors for both optics and shades. Among the more eccentric models, the “Sadzy” featured plastic frames bent to look like a furrowed brow.

Mykita launched a new commercial sunglasses line, called Mykita Mylon, created with a new material made with polyamide powder that is laser cut into frames. The material is said to be more durable than plastic, but still ultra light. Its surface is treated with oil using an award-winning procedure that gives a velvety effect, and the touch of soft wood. Retail prices for the new line start at 395 euros, or about $520. The high-end Moscow department store, Tsum, said it was buying the Mykita Mylon collection because it was impressed with the innovative technology. “This brand moves the others forward in technology…It’s much more difficult to make simple products, than complicated ones,” said a Tsum buyer, who requested anonymity.