NEW YORK — Summer shades are all about modernizing the past.
Mixing materials, adding texture and infusing frames with color, eyewear makers are updating retro-inspired silhouettes while stretching their price ranges for spring collections.
Be it deepening the offering of polarized sunglasses, reinterpreting classic looks from the Fifties or extending a brand’s comfort zone with vibrant colors or new materials, companies exhibiting at Vision Expo East, which took place from March 23 to March 25 at the Jacob K. Javits Center here, nudged the boundaries in hopes of attracting new customers.
“Future vintage, future vintage, future vintage — that’s the trend now,” said Maurizio Marcolin, style and licensing officer of the Marcolin Group. “People are looking for a reinterpretation of vintage with new materials so people get something that makes some sense from the past in a futuristic way.”
While the retro look has been trending for several seasons now, it’s even more pronounced and better honed than ever, Marcolin said.
Spring-summer shapes will span the gamut from the square framed “nerd look” to glasses with strong geometric shapes. Vintage silhouettes have been scaled down somewhat, and while that ubiquitous cat eye hasn’t gone extinct, it, too, has evolved into a rounder version of its former self.
Trends in eyewear shapes may still be in flux, but colors are a decidedly more developed story, brands said. Colorblocking with fluorescents or with softer, almost translucent pastels and blush tones are reinvigorating the eyewear market from the mass to luxury level. For this reason, plastic continues to be king, but metal is slowly creeping back into collections, as brands mix metal and tonal colors together for texture.
“Metal isn’t happening right now, but I do see it coming back in 2013,” Marcolin, said, explaining that at his own firm successful licensed brands are capitalizing on their heritage.
In the case of Tom Ford, Marcolin has modernized classic looks with luxe materials like buffalo horn, while at Roberto Cavalli, the brand has infused patterns from its runway collections to its frames.
David Yurman also has brought new life to its heritage with a larger-than-usual offering of six collections.
Yurman eyewear has had only six collections in total since launching in 2008. While the collections incorporate elements of Yurman’s jewelry, the spring offering weaves in more color and texture, pairing it with updated silhouettes, and in some cases, the brand’s logo.
Aside from the standard black, frames include a purple-hued tortoise, an olive-colored frame with a lime interior and an obsidian frame, which resembles gray, marbled concrete.
“We tried to create something for every style and face shape, working mostly in acetate frames as opposed to metals,” said brand director Evan Yurman, who highlighted the new Chiclet collection. Chiclet, which retails for between $895 and $1,500, incorporates sterling silver and gold vermeil, with small, square stones that decorate the frame’s temples. Stones include white sapphires, moon quartz, black onyx and green diopside.
Sticking to its heritage of decorative bling, Judith Leiber has stretched its spring collection to include vibrant colors, playing to a younger, fashion-forward crowd. Leiber’s offering includes round and oval sunglasses with stone and enamel detailing with crystals at the temples, as well as aviators and shields with a single row of jagged-set square and baguette-shaped Austrian crystals that adorn the frame’s arms.
The collection, which comprises 10 optical styles and six sunglasses, retails for $525.
“For this season’s Judith Leiber Eyewear Collection, we focused on incorporating a broader color palette, including fluorescents, as well as redefining the frames’ silhouettes,” said Joyce Pokoy-Kurtulus, executive vice president of design and development at Legacie, the luxury arm of B.Robinson, which manufactures Leiber eyewear.
“We wanted the styles to feel modern and playful but still project the elegant and classic aesthetic for which the brand is known worldwide,” she added. “We are moving towards a new modernity for the brand without losing sight of its identity.”
After a period of austerity tied to economic fragility, consumers who once shied from flashier looks are gravitating back to frames with a hint of flash.
“We’ve seen this as a growing trend. I think we’re coming off a fairly long season of understatement,” said Andrea Dorigo, president of Luxottica wholesale North America. “We’ve had a number of brands like Tiffany or Bulgari which were trying to keep [their eyewear] soft or understated. That’s been consistent with consumers’ attitudes. I wouldn’t say it’s now time to show off, but consumers are buying frames with semi-precious stones, for example, with more confidence.”
While Dorigo called out Tiffany’s bejeweled eyewear, he also pointed to more modern techniques such as adding metal, leather, studs, nail heads or crystals to plastic frames with a matte finish. These tweaks not only increase the product’s value, but also its price.
“We’ve seen an interesting dynamic of higher-priced collections being more in demand. It’s not a resurgence of luxury but we’re seeing traction,” he said, explaining that customers are willing to pay a bit more if the product is unique.
Another way eyewear firms have been able to give customers more bang for their buck is by featuring innovative details. Gotti Switzerland, for example, has developed frames with arms that rotate 360 degrees, allowing the sunglasses to lay almost completely flat for easier stowing.
For most eyewear firms, the biggest functionality story is incorporating polarized lenses into fashion sunglasses.
In the past, the fashion consumer wasn’t as concerned about polarized lenses, but now, they are more conscious of the benefits. Pair this with the fact that manufacturers now have the technology to add polarization to gradient or mirror lenses, and polarized lenses are emerging as a sunglass “must have.”
At Marchon Eyewear Inc., 2012 collections for Calvin Klein, Nautica and Nike Performance sunglasses are now 100 percent polarized, according to ceo Claudio Gottardi, who said that moving forward, most of Marchon’s brands will include polarized lenses for key styles.
Marchon, which recently lost its Coach license to Luxottica, has been on an expansion tear since Gottardi joined the firm three years ago. According to the ceo, newly added brands Salvatore Ferragamo, Nine West, Valentino and Chloé have not only more than made up for the void left by Coach, but they’ve also helped the firm pick up new consumers globally.
“Our goal is to develop to the specific demands of the European, American and Asian markets,” he said, explaining that every brand added to Marchon’s portfolio plays differently in each market. Moving forward, the company will likely recruit fewer brands and work on its house brand portfolio.
That strategy is also being implemented at Safilo Group.
“We want to add brands that are relevant, with revenue above $50 million,” said Safilo ceo Roberto Vedovotto. “We want to be the number-one wholesaler of branded frames and sunglasses in the world. In order to do that, the strategy is to have more house brands and fewer licensed brands.”
Safilo, which recently dropped its Balenciaga and Armani licenses, is debuting its first collection with Celine for spring.
Retailing for between $280 and $420, this Fifties-inspired collection includes optical frames and sunglasses that nod to the brand’s popular handbags.
Incorporating polarized lenses, the Celine collection is characterized by square, thick frames with a heavy brow bar, or thinner frames with rounder lenses and a keyhole bridge. Colors range from translucent blush tones and opals to tortoise and darker hues. Safilo, which produces eyewear for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Gucci and Hugo Boss, said it hopes its relationship with Celine will open other doors within the French brand’s parent company, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
Marrying functionality and fun, Dior is another standout for Safilo this season. The brand is launching a frameless men’s foldable aviator, as well as a funky collection of women’s sunglasses called “La Croisette,” which nods to summertime in the French Riviera. These striated acetate retro shades retail for between $325 and $345, while the foldable aviator retails for $395.
Returning to the importance of house brands, Vedovotto said Safilo, whose best-known house brand is Carrera, is looking forward to growing its newest business, Polaroid Eyewear, once the deal closes in the first quarter of the year.
Polaroid, which is better known for its eyewear collection in Europe, will give Safilo the chance to expand its market share in Latin America and Asia, as well as in the U.S.
“The U.S. is much more resilient than Europe,” said Vedovotto, referring to current economic softness in Europe. “But still, our customers are somehow insulated.”
Europe aside, for larger manufacturers with a swath of brands in multiple markets, there’s a fair amount of protection from economic volatility.
“I think 2012 will be interesting. For smaller brands, the industry is hard due to distribution capabilities,” Vedovotto offered. “There’s a lot of overcrowding in the space. We will see more and more domination of the big players.”
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