By  on April 26, 2010

When Rachel Bilson steps through the glass doors at 605 Fifth Avenue on Wednesday to celebrate the opening of Sunglass Hut’s new Manhattan flagship, she will do so as more than just another bold-faced name on a VIP tip sheet — she’ll be there as the retailer’s first eyewear ambassador.

“It was time,” says Fabio d’Angelantonio, chief executive officer of the Luxottica-owned Sunglass Hut. “We wanted a symbol of our philosophy, somebody who’s familiar and relevant to our target [consumer], but at the same time was herself sunglasses obsessed.” And, indeed, peruse the paparazzi shots of Bilson and you’ll always find her in Ray-Ban frames — and, as luck or savvy marketing would have it, Ray-Ban happens to be a Luxottica label.

“I was very flattered when Sunglass Hut approached me to do this,” Bilson writes via e-mail. “I can’t say what makes me a good style adviser for them, but I am a huge sunglasses addict. I don’t leave the house without [a pair].”

Like other fashion envoys, the actress will do her share of Sunglass Hut public appearances as well as promotional campaigns (the first of which will be shot next month). But her duties don’t stop there. Come June, Bilson will also act as an in-house editor of sorts, with her own trend blog on the company Web site — thus, her official title of “style director” — and participate in online consumer chats as well as Q&A video podcasts with key industry figures. First up on that roster: an interview with Tory Burch.

“I love talking about fashion, so I can’t wait to talk to professionals who share the same passion,” remarks Bilson, adding that her ideal subject would be Karl Lagerfeld. “He’s an icon and he wears sunglasses at all times.”

The company’s other main initiatives this year are the two flagships being unveiled in New York and London this week. Both boast revamped layouts that put the focus on customer interaction. “We don’t believe in talking to consumers. We believe in having a conversation with them,” says d’Angelantonio. “A lot of times shoppers are shy and intimidated about trying sunglasses on. It still happens today in many department stores where the shelves are locked. We want our consumers to have fun with the product.”

The new interiors include floor-to-ceiling mirrors so shoppers can judge how the frames complement their looks entirely. There’s a station that allows them to tell the difference between polarized and nonpolarized lenses, as well as a customer service area for eyewear adjustments and cleaning. And the company has also upgraded its SocialSun system, which it launched last year. The interactive display lets visitors take multiple photos of themselves trying on sunglasses for comparison and e-mail them to friends or post them on Facebook. Now, if a frame isn’t available in the color they want, they can use SocialSun to make a purchase on the spot, too.

Whereas the London flagship on Oxford Street, which will open with a party on Thursday with guest DJs Alice Dellal and Emma Chitt, takes up 1,000 square feet, the New York outpost includes a total of 6,000 square feet — and a VIP room on the second floor. Here, Jenny Lewis of the band Rilo Kiley will perform on Wednesday, while Little Joy’s Fab Moretti and Binky Shapiro will DJ.

But these aren’t the only projects in the pipeline. This June, Luxottica will unveil a new capsule collection for Vogue Eyewear, done in collaboration with the CFDA. Members Devi Kroell, Kara Ross and Matt Murphy, all of whom won an internal design contest, have created limited edition sunglasses to be sold exclusively at Sunglass Hut.

Priced at $129.95 retail, the shades each work a vibe specific to the designers’ signature styles. Ross created sunglasses with acetate accents resembling zebra wood, while Kroell opted for a snakeskin-covered frame. Murphy, meanwhile, went futuristic with a pair inspired by the sleek curves of a race car.

“We wanted to work with American designers,” says d’Angelantonio. “And it was a way to open up these designers, who typically have a very high retail price point, to consumers with an entry-level price point.” The CFDA and Luxottica plan to continue the partnership next year with another batch of designers.

“Our ambition is to keep building the sunglasses category as one that’s more relevant to the fashion world,” continues d’Angelantonio. “That’s really the goal we want to achieve.”

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