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LAS VEGAS — With an uncertain economy, eyewear makers are holding steady with trends, broadening price points and investing in already strong and emerging markets.
At the Vision Expo West trade show, which wrapped up its three-day run at the Sands Expo and Venetian Towers here Saturday, fashion-forward and luxury sunglass firms showed off more retro-inspired frames, increased textures and patterns and more precious materials combined with toned-down logos and less bling. The trends were generally a continuation of last season rather than drastic new looks, while color, still evident in subtle incarnations, was less of a story.
Several new licenses and some old ones with new manufacturers bowed at the show, which is focused more on the optical market while the spring installment highlights most of the fashion sunglass business. Debuting at the show were lines from Diesel (now produced by Marcolin Eyewear), Calvin Klein Jeans (an expansion of the Calvin family at Marchon), Mark Nason (the first license for the California-based shoe and bag brand, produced by Viva International), Original Penguin (a new license for Kenmark Group) and Tumi (a new partnership with REM Eyewear).
The news at Safilo Group, which makes eyewear for Giorgio Armani, Dior, Gucci, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, among others, was a new Precious Metals collection for Armani priced up to $1,350 versus its average $300 to $400 luxury retail price point. The line had a subtle look, in 22-karat gold-filled nameplates and temple tips, Indian water buffalo horn brow bars and temples, stingray insets and leather-wrapped frames and temples. Gucci showed off a new bamboo temple, and Dior its refined colorations and ultraluxe Dior Homme Frames, which cost $5,500.
Celebrity favorite Sama Eyewear continued the subtle luxury trend with 24-karat gold sprayed lenses for $560 and handmade Japanese components, as well as colorblocking on acetate frames and combining solid colors with patterns such as tortoise, or textures such as wood grain.
David Yurman, known for incorporating precious jewelry elements into its sunglasses, took a more fashion-forward turn with retro-style plastic frames incorporating signature jewelry hardware, and Judith Leiber (like Yurman, produced by Legacie) stuck to her Swarovski Elements-embellished look with some bold and colorful new styles.
The main focus at the show, however, was the American business climate, which continues to weigh on the minds of some of the biggest eyewear makers in the world.
Claudio Gottardi, president of New York-based Marchon, was focused on growing the company’s international portfolio and its business in emerging markets. Marchon unveiled three new licenses to launch next year — Ferragamo, Valentino and Nine West, in addition to introducing Lacoste eyewear later this year.
“When I joined the company two years ago [from Safilo], the company was too much in the American market and we needed more international opportunities. There are significant opportunities for emerging markets like China and Brazil, so we looked at brands with the best positioning there, both internally and ones we could acquire,” he said.
The company has doubled its square footage in New York, opened a second factory in Italy and invested $60 million in SAP technology to manage its inventory. Gottardi said Marchon plans to reveal two more licenses in 2012 and expand direct distribution in more countries to keep up with the demand. “There are 50 million people with eyewear purchasing power in China, India and Brazil, but in the next 10 years, that will grow to three billion people, doubling the eyewear market. That’s why we are investing now,” he said.
At Italian competitor Luxottica, Andrea Dorigo, president of Luxottica Wholesale North America, was more focused on its existing business, led by the Ray-Ban brand.
“In general, we have seen fashion eyewear as a category become more stable and resilient in a way that the optical side has been traditionally. The slowdown has not been as major as in other accessory categories,” he said, adding that “2011 was a record year for us and the outlook for 2012 is good based on consumers’ needs to replace fashion glasses and the category gaining acceptance.”
Ross Brownlee, chief operating officer, Safilo Americas, said price sensitivity was still an overall issue, but for true luxury customers, items like Armani’s Precious Metals group were not meeting resistance. “While there is certainly still some price sensitivity in the marketplace, consumers are willing to invest in quality and craftsmanship. Luxury brands that offer product reflecting their history and heritage are having success. The consumer is looking for special product, and is willing to pay for it,” he said.