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Eyewear Goes Transparent

Eyewear is getting a clearer view — both creatively and in business terms.

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Michael Kors

Michael Kors

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Oliver Peoples

Oliver Peoples

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3.1 Phillip Lim

3.1 Phillip Lim

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Valentino

Valentino

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NEW YORK — Eyewear is getting a clearer view — both creatively and in business terms.

This story first appeared in the March 25, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Translucent frames are a key trend for fall, along with retro and cat-eye styles, mirrored lenses and matte plastic. These looks, exhibited at International Vision Expo East at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here from March 14 to 17, are expected to help the sector maintain its momentum this year as its key players come off a 2012 that saw most of them generate strong growth in sales.

Earlier this month, Luxottica SpA posted record annual sales. Revenues for 2012 increased by 13.9 percent year over year to $9.1 billion, and emerging markets saw 26 percent sales growth. Safilo Group SpA’s sales for 2012 grew by 6.7 percent to $1.5 billion despite a 7.2 percent drop in net profit from the simultaneous acquisition of the Polaroid Eyewear business and phasing out of the Giorgio Armani licenses, which were taken over by Luxottica.

Safilo chief executive officer Roberto Vedovotto revealed that performance in Asia last year increased as a result of the “development of the high-growth markets and channels, but also [due] to the improvement recorded in the most mature market of the area, Japan.”

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He noted that several Asian countries are seeing double-digit growth.

In European markets, Safilo experienced a strong recovery due largely to Carrera and Polaroid, according to Vedovotto. The company purchased the latter in April 2012 and spent the remainder of last year building the brand in Europe. Vedovotto acknowledges that the economy is still fragile in this region — particularly in Italy — but this was partially offset by quickly growing emerging markets like Russia.

Brazil and Mexico are the leading emerging markets for Safilo — the business is performing well from luxury brands to diffusion lines like Marc by Marc Jacobs and Boss Orange — and according to Vedovotto, Latin-American markets registered double-digit growth too. Brazil is currently the fourth main market for the brands in Safilo’s portfolio.

“Whenever there is a trend, we’re able to interpret it in a different way for each brand,” Vedovotto said, adding that polarization, color, the continuation of cat-eye, the infusion of iconic details and mirrored lenses are some of the themes leading the eyewear charge.

Holding up two pairs of glasses — one Marc by Marc Jacobs and the other by Céline — he explained the group’s differentiated approach for its brands. The two lines incorporate crystal elements, but each does it in a way that’s unique to the brand’s aesthetic and price point. The $120 Marc by Marc Jacobs frames have fluorescent stripes down the arms, and the $325 to $365 Céline glasses have transparent acetate frames with rainbow temples.

However, the two biggest pushes for the company in 2013 are Polaroid and Carrera, according to Vedovotto, who added that the U.S. and Latin-American markets are among the most significant opportunities of growth going forward.

“Today’s savvy customer is increasingly looking to merge fashion with function. Once more popular with sport brands and suited to outdoor activities, the benefits of polarization are now offered and available in the most popular fashion brands,” Vedovotto said of polarized lenses found in eyewear from Polaroid and Carrera.

Polaroid Plus, a higher-end collection that retails for $145 — versus $60 and $98 for the Core and Premium lines, respectively — hit Solstice boutiques on March 22.

“It’s an iconic brand, but there’s not as much enterprise in the U.S. Our idea was to buy it and make it big,” Vedovotto told WWD, unfolding the arms of a Polaroid Plus Frame to show the signature P logo featured on all glasses.

In May the company will host the first of five events for Carrera in Milan. Welding the 57-year-old brand’s heritage with fashion and music, a series of parties will take place in New York, Madrid, Beijing and São Paulo following the Milan kickoff.

Marchon Eyewear Inc. president and ceo Claudio Gottardi calls “retro forward” one of the leading eyewear trends, listing Michael Kors, Valentino and Dragon Alliance as a handful of the brands that have reinterpreted iconic retro shapes. Valentino tortoise frames with metal studs retail for $346 and turquoise cat-eye frames for $296.

Gottardi cited Valentino’s 60 percent overall company growth in the past two years as further evidence that there is a “phenomenal opportunity” for the brand’s eyewear category.

He stressed strategic distribution as instrumental in the company’s international growth (outside the U.S.), which has doubled in the past three years. For example, since Ferragamo is so popular in Asia — more than 50 percent of the company’s business comes from the region — it’s key for Marchon to develop the Italian brand’s eyewear in that market.

“There are different perceptions of the fashion market. There are brands that are valuable in China that aren’t [as well] known elsewhere. It’s having the right brands in the right market,” Gottardi said, adding that specialized brands, product and design have been developed for the region. He pointed out that bold frames aren’t popular in China, but in Russia the opposite holds true. In emerging markets like these, as well as Brazil and India, Valentino is “as hot as it can get.”

Currently, 42 percent of Marchon’s sales come from the U.S., 30 percent from Europe and 25 to 27 percent from the Asia-Pacific region.

“[Europe and Asia-Pacific] are neck and neck. It will sometime eclipse U.S. business because that’s where the growth is,” Gottardi said. For the past four years, business outside of the U.S. has increased by 25 percent year over year. “We’re really the only American eyewear company that is global. We’re not on the stock market and we don’t have retail [stores]. It really is a different model,” said Gottardi.

Oliver Peoples design director Lise Tyler cited the Turkish Grand Bazaar and the spices and textiles that could be found there as inspiration. For the brand, this has translated into crystal frames with light-wash lenses, and what she refers to as “beautiful earth tones and colors that exist in nature.”

The brand’s Softee, a $365 to $380 female version of the classic Eighties Wayfarer that’s oversized with an upswept shape, comes in six colors, including new crystal Pecan Pie and Green Havana versions. The $340 to $430 Afton sun and optical styles in Buff are translucent acetate with a slight yellow-beige tint, giving the glasses a vintage feel to complement a retro-inspired design.

The cat-eye — although it’s been several seasons since the frame reemerged as a leading eyewear silhouette — also remains strong for Oliver Peoples. Tyler calls the Fifties- and Sixties-based shape relevant because it’s “feminine, attractive and appealing” to the wearer. The Haley, a vintage keyhole cat-eye, is more classic and retails for $340, while the Alisha, a bit more exaggerated, oversized and intended for a trend-conscious consumer, ranges from $405 to $450.

For Luxottica vice president of marketing Milena Cavicchioli, the cat-eye has finally achieved “mainstream” status in the industry. Miu Miu’s optical and sun offerings embrace this silhouette, as well as geometric and architectural shapes, another leading eyewear trend.

She noted that eyewear is moving away from rectangular frames and there is a clear emphasis on vintage styles. Giorgio Armani’s collection with Luxottica for the Giorgio Armani, Emporio Armani and A|X Armani Exchange lines launched in January — and remains the group’s sole launch this year.

Although many of the frames reference eyewear from the Eighties, the recent Armani Privé ready-to-wear collection had an integral role in the line, which includes elements like distinctive metal detailing, retro riveting on the temple and front and leather blinders embroidered with paillettes and beading. Prices start at $260 for sun and $290 for optical, but can go up to $650 for embellished styles.

“Round frames are still in their infancy, but they’re coming in [to the market] with more strength. It’s niche, but we’re seeing more people wear them,” Cavicchioli said.

Derek Lam’s optical and sunwear, which retails from $270 to $285, mirrors the bohemian feel present in the upcoming fall ready-to-wear collection — at the same time embodying a retro feel. Fashioned from Italian acetate, a subtle modified cat-eye features a gradient frame that transitions from black to a clear and blue crystal.

Phillip Lim’s modified cat-eye is a slightly more bold interpretation of the trend. The Tygr mixes pastel colored acetate (as well as leopard, black or milk) and metal and possesses a keyhole bridge and metal bar along the top.

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