By  on May 19, 2008

MILAN — After a flurry of eyewear licensing deals in the last year, many exhibitors at the Mido trade fair said they were focused on cultivating new lines and consolidating their brands — but watching for opportunities.

"Our strategy is not based on the number of brands in our portfolio, but on covering the market efficiently," said Luca Biondolillo, head of international communications for Italy's Luxottica Group, which recently signed deals with Tiffany & Co. and Stella McCartney. "That said, if an important brand came available at the right time and at the right price, then we would obviously be interested."

Most vendors said they were concentrating on their own lines. However, representatives of Italy's Marcolin and America's Marchon both said they had new licenses in the offing, without providing details.

The four-day show ended here on May 12.

Although the spiraling dollar and the slowdown in U.S. consumer spending undermined first-quarter eyewear sales this year, in some cases by double-digit decreases, many of those exhibiting at the Fiera Milano pavilions said they were upbeat about business for the rest of 2008.

Speaking in his capacity as Mido president on the eve of the fair, Vittorio Tabacchi, chairman of Italy's Safilo Group said: "Given the latest analyst assumptions, the worst is over for the eyewear sector."

A number of vendors reported at least modest growth and said there was a lot of opportunity in the sunglasses and optical markets, as consumers bought more eyewear more frequently.

"Many people now tend to use [eyewear] as they do shoes," said Laudomia Pucci, image director of Emilio Pucci.

This "accessorizing" was increasingly true in optical, where designers were taking inspiration from sun frames and adapting it to medical frames without infringing on functionality.

"Seasonality for sunglasses is beginning to spill over into optical frames, which are more accessible in terms of price," said Luxottica Group marketing director Fabio D'Angelantonio.

Demand for luxury sun frames priced around 400 euros, or $623 at current exchange rates, and over had not wilted despite economic conditions, vendors said. Sales of midmarket glasses have been under more pressure, although manufacturers said they were responding to it with creativity and color.

Luxottica-owned Ray-Ban presented a new collection of its Wayfarers that played with color contrasts, such as purple for the lens and burgundy for the arms, or white for the exterior of the frames and black for the interior. Capturing the imagination of all James Bond types, Marchon-licensed Calvin Klein Collection plans to launch men's and women's sunglasses with a USB key built into the frame.

In general, collections included reworkings of vintage styles in two-tone acetate. Shapes were larger and rounder than last year, particularly for women's luxury sun frames, where butterfly shades were common. Where metal was used, it was often combined with plastics and included technical composites such as titanium and nickel, and logos and Swarovski detailing were more discreet.

Italy's Visibilia SpA, which produces eyewear for brands such as Bluegirl, Blumarine, Emanuel Ungaro, Jeckerson, Laura Biagiotti, Mandarina Duck and Trussardi, presented its new collection for Irvine, Calif.-based label St. John for the first time at the fair, after initiating the license in January. St. John styles focused on elegant interpretations of classic forms, such as aviators with intricate openwork metal temples.

St. John eyewear is available exclusively in St. John boutiques in the U.S. and Japan, although Visibilia president Dan Emanuel Levi said he intended to extend distribution to U.S. department stores and St. John units in Russia and the Middle East in the second half of the year.

Visibilia said it had also signed an agreement with U.S. firm Legacie for the exclusive distribution in Europe of the Kata and bejeweled Leiber luxury eyewear lines. Levi said Visibilia would likely not be launching any new brands until the latter part of 2009.

"We will concentrate on consolidating what we already have," Levi said. "We don't want to have a list of brands out of our door but the right number of brands, happy to work with us. That is our philosophy."

After launching Emilio Pucci eyewear last year and Karl Lagerfeld in January, Marchon is set to launch Jil Sander later this year to help further penetrate international markets, chief executive officer Al Berg said.

"That continues our strategy of rounding off our European brand portfolio," Berg said, adding that Marchon was growing in all its markets worldwide and generating "very nice profit growth."
Robert Schienberg, Marchon's senior vice president of global communications, said the company had two "big European brands in the pipeline" that he declined to name. Marchon also produces eyewear for Fendi, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Nike.

Pucci revisited the company archives for inspiration for its collection, although "there's nothing nostalgic about it," said Laudomia Pucci, handling plastic sunglasses in two-tone purple acetate.

"Funnily enough, when we were putting together the collection, we got the idea that we had to be quite classic, but we have been using unclassic colors and shapes," she said. "Maybe because [eyewear] is becoming such an 'It' object in the fashion world, you have to be strong with it."

That was also true for Fendi, which said it was launching sunglasses to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its iconic Baguette bag. The frames, which were not on show at the Mido fair, come in 10 colors and are decorated on the inside with a cartoon illustration by Silvia Fendi, a spokesman said. The naïf pattern also is featured on the lining of the bags.

Fendi presented a $4,000 pair of white and black shades with mink-accessorized shades for luxury après-ski wear and optical frames with a cork inlay to complement the latest collection of shoes and bags.

In many cases, shape and material took precedent over color or decoration for luxury frames.

Tom Ford presented a collection of uberminimal large organic shaped sun and optical women's acetate frames in translucent tones. Meanwhile, Roberto Cavalli reined in his usual flamboyance with a more discreet selection of eyewear, still peppered with Swarovski crystal, but more sparingly.

Maurizio Marcolin, ceo of Marcolin, which produces eyewear for Tom Ford, Roberto Cavalli, Mont Blanc, Ferrari, Kenneth Cole, Timberland and Miss Sixty, among others, said shape was "more important" for luxury looks, whereas "you allow yourself to go crazy with color" for midrange frames.

Luxottica-licensed Versace and Dolce & Gabbana also presented frames, which typified a trend for symbols or more discreet logos.

Versace adorned the arms of some plastic frames with a glittering diamanté flower motif, while Dolce & Gabbana presented the face hugging black sunglasses as worn by Matthew McConaughey in the company's latest fragrance ad, which have the logo on the inside of the temples.
Safilo, which has licenses with such brands as Giorgio Armani, Dior, Gucci, Valentino, Bottega Veneta and Yves Saint Laurent, showed predominantly vintage looks. Yves Saint Laurent presented a collection with its new lateral Y logo in metal worked into acetate frames, while Dior relaunched its voluminous Josephine sunglass model from the Seventies.

Financial analysts have speculated that Safilo's relationship with Gucci Group could have soured after the nonrenewal of the Stella McCartney license, which was snapped up by rival Luxottica. However, Safilo's Tabacchi dismissed that.

"The end of the Stella McCartney relationship will have no repercussions on the relationship with the maison," he said. "There remains an excellent relationship with PPR and especially with Gucci, with which we have collaborated for more than 15 years."

The 39th and next edition of the fair will run March 6-9 to be closer to Milan's shoe, leather and fur expos, following fashion week, in what organizers have labeled "a worldwide week of fashion accessories."

From Sept. 4-6 in 2009, Mido will also inaugurate a second event in Rome, dubbed Mido Business Forum, at the Italian capital's new exhibition complex near Fiumicino Airport.

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