LAS VEGAS — Are plastics back? Is gold the new silver?These and other questions were addressed at the recent edition of Vision Expo West, the giant eyewear show here that returned after it was canceled last year because of the Sept. 11 attacks.Traffic was steady, though most veterans said it was slower than the 2000 edition because of the Jewish holidays and the 9/11 anniversary. The show, which ended its three-day run at the Sands Expo & Convention Center Sept. 14, featured about 500 exhibitors.While several mammoth booths loomed over convention goers, many companies scaled back their displays this year."Usually, our booth is five times this size," said Jean Scott, Luxottica’s vice president of product development, gesturing to the still-towering space. "But we didn’t feel that now was the time to spend money on being flamboyant."Scott called it a time of "cautious optimism" in the marketplace, where companies must convince increasingly educated consumers that they’re getting bang for their buck.With that in mind, key trends registering with buyers included plastic frames, high-tech and sport-influenced lenses in shades of honey, brown, red and green, and the continuation of shields, wraps, and gradient and flash-mirror lenses.Among Luxottica’s upper-end licenses, key themes were rounded edges and subtle shields. At Chanel, topaz and gold flash lenses replaced silver tones, while larger, Eighties-style shapes dominated with somewhat subtler logos than in seasons past. At Ferragamo, crystal embellishments continued, this time on metal frames sporting subtle carved logos on the temples and nose bridges. Armani offerings included flat metal frames in rounded rectangular shapes.At Safilo Group, a runway show featured fall looks from Valentino, YSL, Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade, Max Mara, Christian Dior, Gucci and Burberry. Vice president of sales Mark Ugenti said: "Rimless is still a huge part of our business, but plastics are starting to come back. Larger frames, à la Jackie O for the 21st century, look expensive and glamorous. Colors are more muted and the brown, clear-mirror lens incorporates two of last season’s best-selling trends."Ugenti also noted that while logos remained important for luxury brands, companies are getting more creative with their placement. The market may already seem saturated with every designer brand imaginable, but Ugenti believes there’s still room to grow."We’ll still see a lot of consumers trading up in their eyewear, as the average market price point is still $40 compared to our $80," he said.At Marchon’s sprawling lounge-boutique booth, cocktail waitresses served drinks while buyers checked out the latest styles from Donna Karan, DKNY, Calvin Klein, CK Calvin Klein, Nautica and Fendi. Mark Ginsberg, newly appointed president of brand development, noted that Calvin Klein’s ultralight and thin, stainless-steel frames provided a counterpoint to Fendi’s flashy purple rimless lenses and gold frames. At Nautica, wood and high-tech flexible temples made news, while Donna Karan’s line also married comfort and technology with ultralight titanium shields.Meanwhile, several attendees took side trips to The Four Seasons at the other end of the Strip, where about eight high-end companies, including Vera Wang, Alain Mikli and Kyoto Eyewear, decided to show.In the Oliver Peoples suite, designer and founder Larry Leight showed off light, clear plastic frames with subtle colorations and polarized glass lenses. One floor down at the L.A. Eyeworks suite, where the windows and mirrors were adorned with colorful words and phrases, the news was also color, in unlikely lens-frame combinations like green and yellow, and orange and turquoise.Meanwhile back at the Sands, multiline Italian company Allison Eyewear saw plenty of interest in its colored wrap styles from Extè and Romeo Gigli in shades of red and burgundy."We’re still building our sun business," said Diana Downs, national sales manager. "But there’s always opportunity to show buyers something new."

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