By  on July 17, 2007

With both price and demand for designer eyewear soaring higher than ever, Oakley enters the women’s sunglass market by storm while Safilo Group inks a deal to design Balenciaga’s first ever eyewear collection.

As the cost of designer bags and shoes continue to rise, it seems that sunglasses, coined the last affordable luxury, are becoming less affordable with each approaching season. Eyewear seems to be suffering the same fate as its luxury counterparts, with upscale brands designing 18-karat gold and diamond-encrusted eyewear with price points in the thousands.

WWD reported that stores across the country are selling out of glitzy, high-priced eyewear. Cartier, the fastest growing luxury brand in America, according to Frédéric de Narp, president and chief executive officer of Cartier in North America, is the leader of the pack with its $130,000 limited edition jeweled shades. Chrome Hearts’ Disfunctional frame sells for $10,000, and at Bergdorf Goodman, gold and wood Cartier frames sell for between $3,000 and $5,000, luxury frames from Kieselstein-Cord for $4,000 and Oliver Peoples for $6,000. For those without a disposable income, Leiber Eyewear offers hand-painted frames with Austrian crystals for a more affordable $465 to $1,100, and Fendi’s limited edition styles with painted flowers and studs retail for $600.

Oakley, famed for its high-performance unisex (although mainly geared for men) eyewear, is launching a new marketing campaign to endorse its women’s sunglasses, which had a soft-launch in 2006. Three new women’s styles are hitting stores and retail for $120 to over $200 and come in metal, acetate and plastic. Because the unisex frames were designed with more of a male consumer in mind, female wearers found the previous styles to be too large for their faces. Oakley was able to design frames that were able to perfectly accommodate the female face with the help of its sponsored team of women’s athletes, and the new styles for women will have frames with narrower bridges and shortened temples.

In 2006, Oakley’s revenues increased by almost 20 percent to $552.9 million, due to the launch of women’s sunglasses, and expectations are high for 2007 sales as well, according to Jennifer Bradley, Oakley’s women’s program manager. With it’s new slogan, “Uniquely Oakley,” the spring ad campaign for women’s frames will be directed at athletic women in an 18 to 35 age demographic. The online, in-store and magazine ads include four surfers and two mountain bikers for the spring, and snowboarder and silver medalist in the 2006 Winter Olympics Gretchen Bleiler (as well as two other professional snowboarders) for the fall.If you are still pining for the metallic plated leggings that marched down the Balenciaga fall runway, at least $50,000 a pair (and topping out at $150,000), you might have to settle on the slightly more affordable wraparound sunglasses in order to achieve the Jetson’s futuristic (or modern medieval, depending on who you ask) look. Balenciaga’s foray into the world of eyewear has generated quite a bit of buzz, and will be unveiled in October.

The Safilo Group, who produce eyewear for luxury brands such as Giorgio Armani, Gucci, and Dior, signed a five year agreement with Balenciaga to both produce and distribute its eyewear worldwide. To keep the air of exclusivity that has always been synonymous with the brand, the collections will remain small, with each piece numbered, and styles updated every three to four months, according to Vittoria Tabacchi, chairman of the Safilo Group. As of now, the deal only includes women’s sunglasses, but prescription and men’s styles will be added in the future.

For a detailed look at the stores behind the headlines, see the following archived articles:

Made in the Shades: Eyewear Goes Deluxe
Eyewear Follows Accessories Trend with Soaring Prices
Oakley Casts Eye on Women
Safilo Inks Deal with Balenciaga Eyewear

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