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In Dark Economy, Eyewear Remains Bright

Retailers are looking for the next big thing in eyewear, and it looks like it will be the past big things.

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LAS VEGAS — Retailers are looking for the next big thing in eyewear — and it looks like it will be the past big things.

This story first appeared in the October 13, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The recent relaunch of vintage styles including Ray-Ban’s classic Wayfarer style has ignited the eyewear industry with a demographic that spans celebrities to high schoolers — and everyone is eager to know what’s next.

Elaborate designer sunglasses by the likes of Bulgari, Chanel and Balenciaga with price points north of $500 have been hot sellers in recent years, but lower price points — such as with Ray-Ban’s Wayfarers which hover around $140 — are a new growth area.

The question of the next hot item was on the minds of many of the 500 exhibitors and 12,800 attendees at International Vision Expo West, which closed its three-day run on Oct. 5 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center and Venetian Hotel Resort Casino here. The answer, although it varied depending upon the source, underscored the power that throwback looks continue to hold over the sunglasses world.

Luxottica Group, the eyewear behemoth that struck gold with the Wayfarer, is mining the Ray-Ban archives again in an attempt to replicate the Wayfarer’s success. The company is trotting out the boxy Caravan aviator, retailing for $119, in the spring and is betting that the plastic-metal combination Clubmaster, at $129, will hit it big for spring 2010.

“Everybody is going back to the icons,” said Maristella Brentani, Luxottica’s vice president of product. Speaking specifically of the Clubmaster, she added, “That is going to be the new ‘it.’”

Safilo is promoting the U.S. return of Carrera shades, especially the familiar Champion and Safari styles that retail for $150. Carrera had not been distributed in the U.S. for years before entering nearly 100 Solstice stores in August, where the blonde tortoise Champion has become the top Carrera frame, and spreading to better department and specialty stores in January, when two additional styles called Hot and Cool will be introduced.

Oliver Peoples’ candidate is the Sheldrake, a vintage-inspired round sunglasses style priced at $350 retail.

Eyewear firm Modo unveiled Swedish brand Tretorn’s first sunglasses collection of some 15 styles for the 25- to 35-year-old urban consumer who is active.

Blake Kuwahara, who designs Carolina Herrera and John Varvatos eyewear for Base Curve, a division of REM Eyewear, said slimmer plastic shapes and understated embellishments are gaining momentum. He highlighted as an example a $425 modified butterfly Carolina Herrera runway style with mother-of-pearl inlaid into cast metal on the temples that will be exclusive to Ilori’s SoHo store.

“A fresher look now is the thinner profile,” Kuwahara said. “It is the late-Seventies, early-Eighties silhouette.”

Other brands showed slight plastic sunglasses, including the oval Sabina for $375 from Oliver Peoples and an oversize $385 Balenciaga pair with downsized plastic frames.

The crumbling economy appears to have given rise to the discreet aesthetic. Logos are continuing to be reduced, if not totally eliminated, and tasteful wood, leather and jewelry touches often take the place of splashy branding. Fendi discarded the logos in favor of stitching down the temples, reminiscent of the brand’s Selleria accessories collection, on sunglasses priced at $500.

“There is still a customer that loves the stronger logo treatments, but the other customer who wants the sophisticated design is speaking with a louder voice,” said Mark Ginsberg, senior vice president of design at Marchon, which holds the eyewear licenses for such brands as Fendi, Coach, Michael Kors, Pucci and Karl Lagerfeld.

The first David Yurman Eyewear lineup from Legacie mirrors Yurman’s jewelry collections, with accents directly from its cable and Waverly pieces. The eyewear will be carried in Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and David Yurman stores, and runs from $150 to $5,000.

“If people are going to spend money in this economy, they want something special,” said Lori Robinson Blas, president of David Yurman Eyewear.

In the absence of prominent logos, color and mixed materials took center stage, notably on a $265 Versace frame with metal attached to the bottom of the front and $295 Valentino frame with metal-and-plastic braided temples. Purple continued its strength from the previous season, and orange and turquoise were popular for the upcoming spring.

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