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Marchon Signs Michael, Sets Sight Abroad

Eyewear company Marchon does good business with U.S. brands but is looking to create a presence in the international market.

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NEW YORK — Marchon Eyewear Inc. has begun to focus its business on international shores.

In a market dominated by European eyewear companies, Marchon has concentrated its $400 million business on American brands like Calvin Klein, Nike, Coach, Nautica and Disney. But with a few strategic licensing changes, the company is gearing up to expand its reputation in the European and Asian markets.

In June, Marchon acquired the global rights to Fendi, which it had distributed in the U.S. and Canada since 1991. In addition, Coach has begun a push into Japan and Asia. Allure Eyewear, a division of Marchon, has assumed the Oscar de la Renta license, which will bring the eyewear firm into Latin America. And this month, Marchon has acquired the Michael Kors and Michael Michael Kors eyewear collections and will roll those out internationally beginning in 2005.

“When we got involved with [Michael Kors], we were viewing it more as an American play to replace our Donna Karan and DKNY business, which it’s perfect for,” Marchon chief executive officer Al Berg said regarding the firm’s loss of the Karan license three months ago. “But to our pleasant surprise, there is a very good following for the Michael Kors collection outside the U.S.”

Berg hopes to see 20 percent growth for the company next year as a result of the distribution and brand changes.

Part of that is expected to stem from the Kors license, which is effective in January (the Michael Kors collection is handled by Charmant Inc. until then).

“Marchon is really capable,” Kors said. “For a designer to have that possibility that anything is possible, in terms of what materials we can work with or how things are executed, is wonderful.”

And it’s clear the designer’s head is spinning with ideas. What’s unclear is whether he’s turning to Us Weekly or People for inspiration.

“It’s funny, so much of what I love is based on paparazzi images. They might be real people, they might be celebrities. So many of the images that provoke me and turn me on are of men and women wearing sunglasses,” he said. “Whether it’s Steve McQueen or Jackie Kennedy or whether it’s the Olsens today or Brad [Pitt] and Jennifer [Aniston], sunglasses are such a huge part of your personal statement.”

This story first appeared in the August 23, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The Kors collection for spring retails from $170 to $250, and will range from the sporty to the superglamorous. The line includes shield styles with gradient lenses, and frames with temples shaped like bamboo mimic the luxe look for which the designer is known.

Acquiring the Kors license plays into the manner in which Marchon handles its business. “Our strategy has been very clear,” said Berg. “We only work with the biggest and the best [brands] so that we have large sales, economies of scale, and we can win the battle between having a great brand name and excellent value of product.”

The Kors license, he added, is no exception. “[We believe] that Michael himself, John Idol [Kors’ ceo]; Silas Chou and Lawrence Stroll [Kors’ owners] will really turn Michael Michael Kors and Michael Kors into the next major brand. Michael Kors is very talented. He’s got a very nice elite following, and with the expansion plans the entire company has, we think it’s going to be a very exciting ride.”

Acquiring the Fendi global rights, Berg said, introduces the company to international brands as an able competitor among European firms like Luxottica and Safilo, which together hold the majority of the major European licenses like Chanel and Gucci.

“The challenge for us was convincing international licensors we’re a very viable option,” Berg explained. “We’ve had brands offered from Europe, but never class-A ones. Since the Fendi announcement, we’ve had phone calls from three incredibly great European brands.” By 2006, Berg’s goal is to add a major French or Italian fashion house to the Marchon group.

“I’m very pleased with the next nine to 12 months’ visibility,” Berg said. “Then hopefully I’ll be able to choose my next big brand.”

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