By and
with contributions from Lacy Strohschein
 on November 17, 2008

PARIS — Even eyewear, a stalwart of the accessories category, appears to be feeling the pinch, with some retailers who attended the Silmo eyewear fair here slashing budgets by nearly 30 percent.

A sobering up of styles underscored the mood at the show, which ended its four-day run on Nov. 2 at the Porte de Versailles. This was evident in a prevalence of retro forms, brushed instead of shiny metal finishes and classic colors and patterns, particularly tortoiseshell and browns. Bling, retailers agreed, is out, replaced by more discreet “stealth wealth” options such as subtle tone-on-tone logos often positioned on temple tips or “aerial” logos along the tops of the arms. Touches of color came in unexpected places, such as on sidepieces or edging a rim.

Exceptions included Karl Lagerfeld’s attention-grabbing “shield” sunglasses, featuring the designer’s moniker splattered in bold type along their arms, among bestsellers at Marchon, along with Pucci’s festive retro eyewear designs.

“People are responding to color and people are responding to price,” said Robert Schienberg, vice president of global communication for Marchon, adding that bridge eyewear collections such as Michael Michael Kors, CK by Calvin Klein Inc. and Coach are benefiting from the financial crunch.

“It’s difficult right now. Retailers are still after designer brands, but we will see a decrease in price points,” said Cheryl Canning, worldwide brand manager for Cachet, a division of L’Amy America.

Styles that flatter, notably rounded, “glamour shapes,” were booking best, she said.

“Every day is a crisis in Lebanon,” said Carine Rad, who was shopping for her family’s eyewear business there called Shoufahsan.

Steering away from the classics, Rad said she was after more artsy, vibrant and colorful designs that are popular in Lebanon.

Several retailers cited a palpable slowing of business.

“The last two weeks have been a little weird. Things are rough, but it’ll come back,” said Oleg Rabinovich, co-owner of Artsee Eyewear, a 1,000-square-foot art gallery and eyewear boutique in New York’s Meatpacking District.

Co-owner Julio Santiago said he plans to open a second store in Miami in November 2010.

Having cut her budget by 30 percent, Min Yang, owner of Vuen, a boutique in South Korea, was among several retailers who sensed fewer exhibitors at the event.

Eduard Balayan, owner of Russian optical wholesaler Luis-Optica, was disappointed by the weak exhibitor turnout this year, particularly from Italian brands. With Russia starting to feel the effects of the economic downturn, he said he expects a 10 percent decrease in sales this year.

Vinay Seksaria, director of Lenseye, which operates nine eyewear stores in Bombay, said Indian retailers were scarce.

“We’re feeling cautious. India has been hit very badly by the crisis and it’s becoming more complicated and expensive to import,” Seksaria said. “There are usually around 200 to 300 Indians at this event, this time I believe there are half-a-dozen of us.”

Alexandre Soulas, an eyewear parts purchaser for Cartier, bemoaned the dearth of suppliers.

“Acetate is everywhere, with certain brands introducing carbon frames,” he said.

Launches at the fair included Delfina Delettrez’s collaboration with Alain Mikli; Alyson Magee; Bless, and Italia Independent’s new eyewear patent, comprising an interchangeable aluminum optical eyewear and sunglasses line featuring sailboat cable details.

Marchon also previewed Jil Sander’s new shades at the fair. Retailing at 200 to 300 euros, or $260 to $390 at current exchange, the collection plays on contrasts, juxtaposing shiny and matte surfaces, or block colors with transparency, featuring beveled origami details inspired by the house’s ready-to-wear line. Marchon said the collection would officially launch at Mido in Italy in March. The firm also said it has renewed its eyewear license with Fendi for the next five years.

“It’s a marketplace that will go for natural selection — the weakest links will fall,” said Alessandro Lanaro, chief executive officer of New York-based manufacturer Modo.

The firm introduced its Phillip Lim optical range at the fair, featuring granny-chic tortoiseshell specs and neo-geek “Eighties’ Bill Gates” specs, as well as the techno NetJets sunglasses line featuring techno aviator-style titanium frames with flexible arms, thanks to incisions in their temples.

Having just signed a deal with luxury Israeli chain Optica that will distribute the firm’s lines in 40 stores, Lanaro, which also opened a concept eyewear shop in New York’s NoLIta district in July, was among vendors trumpeting “fantastic forecasts.”

Several vendors remained upbeat, banking on the view that eyewear, one of the more visible, yet accessibly priced accessories, and a necessity to many, has the upper hand over pricy bags and shoes during financial squeezes.

“It’s the one accessory many women wear every day,” said Philip Roth, buyer for Through the Hayes, a San-Francisco-based eyewear boutique that stocks brands such as All Green, ic Berlin and Bevel. “In California, we usually get a ripple effect — you would think it’s tanking, but we’re doing great.”

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