Robert Marc’s strategy for growth goes against the blueprint many fashion brands and retailers have lived and, sometimes, died by.
The optician and eyewear designer, who celebrates his brand’s 35th anniversary this year, hasn’t licensed out his name to other categories, hasn’t sold his product online, hasn’t changed his production process — each pair is still handmade — and hasn’t tapped a celebrity from his long roster of clients to serve as a brand ambassador.
“It’s been 35 years of a very slow, controlled, deliberate growth,” said Marc from his Midtown office. “We never get ahead of ourselves.”
So far, the controlled approach has worked for Marc, who operates eight stores in Manhattan (five of them are on Madison Avenue), distributes his eyewear to 450 shops globally and whose brand was acquired by Luxury Optical Holdings in 2014. According to Marc, LOH wanted to ramp up the production of his eyewear and distribute it across its network of 62 stores in the U.S. And as the brand has gotten older, Marc’s grip has started to loosen and things he didn’t consider in the past are becoming goals for the future.
“I want to figure out how we can sell on the Internet. I’m interested in opening more stores outside of Manhattan and I’ve become more interested recently in seeing if there is someone we could collaborate with,” said Marc. What’s stopped him from these endeavors in the past? “I don’t know. Maybe my single-mindedness.”
Marc became an optician before opening his first eyewear boutique in 1981 on Columbus Avenue, which is still operating today. Marc said when he introduced his store, eyewear was perceived as a medical device as opposed to a fashion accessory, but he wanted to change that.
“Everyone would just put everything they had in the window. And everyone had the same things,” said Marc. “I was putting interesting lenses in classic frames to give them a new look and putting eyeglasses on pedestals. The idea was to elevate eyewear to an accessory and that’s how it all began.”
He worked on the eyewear collections for brands including Calvin Klein and Fendi before launching his own line in 1999, which is known for its modern design sensibility, craftsmanship — the eyewear is made in France and Japan — and Marc’s signature hinge branding. Early on his line was well received by costume designers — he worked with Woody Allen for 20 years on designing the glasses for his films — and celebrity customers including Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon and Katie Couric.
“It’s great when people see our eyewear on celebrities, so I’m sure it’s helped, but it’s not what we focus on,” said Marc.
According to Marc, the main focus for him has been the customer and he’s been able to maintain a loyal client base amid the recent influx of competitors in the eyewear category, which Marc said he welcomes.
“I’m not sure everyone in my arena would say that, but I’ve always thought that all of the licensed eyewear and the newer brands have been great,” said Marc, who is a member of the CFDA’s eyewear division, which was launched in 2014. “It offers something for everyone and brings more attention to the category.”
Even with more product available and a more open mind, Marc is still loyal to his own designs, which make up 75 percent of the assortment in his shops.
“Oh, no,” Marc quickly responded, almost aghast, when asked if he wears anything other than his own line of eyeglasses. “But I guess I shouldn’t say that. Every now and again I wear something vintage.”