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Shades of Summer

NEW YORK — Sunglasses may be necessary for sun protection, but can they also shield the eyewear industry from war, economic jitters and a slump in consumer confidence?<br><br>Vendors at the International Vision Expo seem to think so. At the show,...

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NEW YORK — Sunglasses may be necessary for sun protection, but can they also shield the eyewear industry from war, economic jitters and a slump in consumer confidence?

Vendors at the International Vision Expo seem to think so. At the show, which ended its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Center March 23, many said the sunglass sector continues to move at a healthy clip.

Sunglass retail sales exceeded $2.5 billion last year, according to the LaBelle, Fla.-based Sunglass Association of America. While overall attendance at Vision Expo declined by 17 percent, the department store traffic was up, according to Jan W. Cory, vice president of sales for department stores at Luxottica Group.

“All of the major New York accounts came in,” Cory said. “The talk among customers was not doom and gloom, and that’s encouraging.”

Claudio Gottardi, president and chief executive officer of Safilo USA, noted: “Traffic was slightly down over last year as a result of the war and concerns about security. A majority of the local customers were present and active, while a considerable number who had to come from far away had canceled their presence.”

The eyewear industry has seen some shifts in recent months, with several new license deals, or changes in licensees or distribution strategies. Safilo Group landed licenses with Bottega Veneta, Stella McCartney and Giorgio Armani, who terminated his 14-year license with Luxottica Group. Luxottica in turn clinched a 10-year deal with Versace to design, distribute and produce Versace, Versus and Versace Sport sunglasses.

Through its Avant Garde Optics division, the firm also will handle Prada eyewear in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Marchon Eyewear, meanwhile, will produce and distribute sunglasses for Coach, to bow at Vision Expo West in Las Vegas in September. Rumors are percolating that Marchon will also be clinching the Louis Vuitton deal. A spokesman declined to comment.

Among the sunglass trends at Vision Expo:

Two-tone and oversize plastics.

Cylindrical lenses and soft cat’s-eye shapes.

Semi- or quarter-rimless and mounted lenses.

Colors such as red and burgundy.

Temple details like stripes and whipstitch motifs.

“We are seeing more attention to the frame detail because there is only so much you can do to the silhouette,” said Mark Ginsberg, senior vice president of designer brands at Marchon Eyewear.

Eric Domège, co-creative director at CXD, Charmant Group’s exclusive division, which makes Christian Roth and Michael Kors sunglasses, added: “Color is very important, but we are also seeing a return to tortoise worked with layers and different colors on the frame’s inside.”

Christian Roth presented quarter-rimless designs and 3-D laser engraving on brushed acetate made to look like leather, while Michael Kors looks included bamboo-like temples and laminated two-tone frames, in such combinations as mocha with bright green.

Chanel sunglasses at Luxottica featured split temples, pearls inserted into lens cutouts and Chanel’s C-logo charms hanging from temples.

“It’s all about embellishments such as pearls, stones and logo hinges, and stones around the perimeter of the glass,” said Cory. “The sunglass business is whimsical. People are buying it as a wardrobe pick-me-up.”

Safilo launched Stella McCartney sunglasses, which feature three leather-like plastics and three metal shields in such colors as gold, shiny silver and silver pink. The line will ship to the Stella McCartney boutique in New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey New York and select Solstice locations this month.

“We’re offering a more balanced assortment between plastics and metals,” said Mark Ugenti, Safilo’s vice president of sunglass sales. “Rimless is still very strong for us, but plastics are starting to become more important. We’re moving away from bright lens colors and focusing on more subtle colors such as brown, clear mirror and gray-azure.”

Among the newcomers at the show was Kangol, which launched its eyewear collection manufactured in a license with Bollman Hat Co. The line features oversize plastic frames, mounted lenses, cylindrical lenses and wrap-around frames with drop temples, and lens colors such as red, pink and blue. Kangol Eyewear will be available in better department and specialty stores by early summer at $65 to $80. The company is projecting first-year retail sales of $1 million.

Moja Design presented its new Boom by Atom collection inspired by industrial spy cartoons of the Twenties and Thirties, which features temple details such as a metal grid and cartoon story lines. The line is available to department and specialty stores, and wholesale sales projections are between $200,000 and $400,0000 for sunglasses, according to Adam Wolman, president.

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