By  on May 23, 1994

MILAN -- High-tech materials and looks that were fashion-forward as well as basic were in focus at the Mido eyewear fair here.

On display were new frames crafted from stainless steel, titanium or Rhodoid, a lightweight eco-friendly material derived from cotton that has a tortoise-shell look.

The four-day show, which ended May 9, boasted a roster of 907 exhibitors, including 442 foreign firms and 465 Italian companies. Attendance came to 27,600, about the same as last year, but the 793 Americans present represented a 13 percent increase, according to show management. And for the Italian eyewear industry, which includes a number of prominent makers, the improving U.S. economy is a bright note.

"The U.S. market is slowly picking up again, and we are very pleased, since we export 50 percent of our product there," said Giorgio Rizzo, export manager at Safilo SpA, an Italian firm that produces designer eyewear under licenses with Gucci, Missoni, Gianfranco Ferre and several others.

However, Rizzo, like others, pointed out that the domestic market in Italy is still weak.

While the industry continues to grow, the recession in Italy and elsewhere in Europe slowed that growth last year, according to the Associazione Nazionale Fabbricanti Articoli Ottici (ANFAO), the Italian eyewear manufacturers' association. Last year, the industrywide wholesale volume was $1.2 billion (1.9 trillion lire), up 8.5 percent from 1992, but this gain was not up to the double-digit increases achieved in recent past years, according to a spokeswoman.

The better news was in exports, which in 1993 reached $631.5 million (1 trillion lire), up 17.8 percent from the year before.

Meanwhile, makers from Italy and elsewhere were busy showing off new products at the fair.

Marchon International, the U.S. eyewear company that makes Calvin Klein eyewear under license, rolled out a group of ophthalmic frames made of a stainless steel alloy and tipped with titanium, which doesn't conduct heat.

Larry Roth, co-president of Marchon, noted that Klein's eyewear line, which was launched 1 1/2 years ago in the U.S., hit the Scandinavian countries, Greece and the U.K. in April and will roll out in France and Spain this fall.Safilo incorporated Rhodoid into its own new ophthalmic brand, Back to Basics, which is scheduled to hit the U.S. market at the end of the year. It also unveiled its licensed Burberrys ophthalmic line.

"Burberrys reflects English elegance and is in line with that company's classic tradition, while Back to Basics has a Nineties, no-nonsense attitude," said Rizzo, adding that sunglasses collections will be added to both lines in the fall.

This year, he noted, Safilo is projecting a gain of more than 15 percent in its wholesale volume, to $221 million (350 billion lire). In 1993, volume was 303 billion lire.

Also on the technological side, the U.S. firm Ray-Ban introduced a sunglasses style designed specifically for driving. The lenses adjust to different degrees of daylight, which helps sharpen color distinctions.

On the fashion front, the Luxottica Group, a major Italian manufacturer that holds the licenses for Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Byblos, Genny and Yves Saint Laurent, tried out a variety of new looks. The Armani eyewear featured elongated oval metal frames, while Valentino showed ophthalmic frames done in simple shapes with lacquered bead embellishments and sunglasses in colored plastics. Looks in the YSL line included large, elongated frames in shiny and antiqued metal finishes, as well as rounder shapes decorated with brightly colored stars and gold hearts.

Luxottica is projecting an 8 percent volume increase for this year over last, according to Susi Belli, marketing director. The company's 1993 sales hit $416 million (659 billion lire). Other looks coming from major manufacturers included frames with an ecological theme done in natural stone colors in the Krizia line, shown by licensee Italcremona.

In Italcremona's licensed Gianni Versace line, signature Versace sunglasses showed up in brown and black plastics with goldplated metal touches, while the Versus line had shiny metal frames with colored sunglasses lenses and metal and fake tortoise shell combination ophthalmic frames.

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