PARIS — The heightened interest in surf- and sports-inspired styles was a key influence at the Silmo eyewear trade show held here recently at the Porte de Versailles.Buyers shopping for spring and summer merchandise said sporty styles are no longer limited to technical frames, gaining new respect in fashion glasses, as well, and seen in collections from Prada to Oliver Peoples.Wraparound frames and flash-mirrored lenses were key trends in sunglasses, while color and large-scale frames were hits with buyers of optical frames. According to industry information, eyewear is an $15.8 billion business at retail in the U.S., including optical eyewear and lenses as well as sunglasses, from all channels of distribution."The strongest fashion direction is coming from surf brands and the influence they’ve exerted on the so-called ‘fashion’ brands," said Patricia J. Rombero, merchandise manager for sunglasses for DFS, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s duty-free shoppers’ division. "It’s another example of street style working itself up to the couture level."Meanwhile, buyers said business over the last year has been tough, but stable. Most said they would maintain their buying budgets for the upcoming season, with a handful saying they would increase modestly. Rombero said: "We depend on tourism and it’s down."Jonathan Foreman, owner of Observatory, a high-end optical shop in London, noted: "Business is not as good as it was a couple of years ago. Still, it’s OK. We have to be realistic with our buying budgets now."Foreman said he used to carry only four or five lines in his shop, but is expanding his assortment. He said it was a reflection of the trend of customers buying more than one pair of spectacles or sunglasses at a time."There’s a lot of creativity in eyewear at the moment," he said. "For people who wear glasses, there’s never been a greater time."Foreman said he was looking for "big or exaggerated" spectacle frames. "It’s definitely not small at the moment," he said. "Nobody’s buying small."Amin Mamdani, director of operations at Josephson, a Canadian eyewear chain, said he was "looking for color and detail work" in eyeglass frames."I’m staying away from anything with a label on it," Mamdani said. "Frames keep getting bigger. My customers right now want creative and special frames. Everything I like frames the eyes in some way — they are frames that are to be seen and admired, they are not meant to disappear on the face."Steve Levenson, marketing manager for U.S. optical retailer Kaiser Permanente, cited the return of three-piece mountings, in a variety of high-tech materials, and color as important trends.As for the trend for surf- and sports-inspired styles, he said: "In many ways, it’s good for the optical industry. It builds on a lifestyle approach and tells customers that they need more than one pair of glasses: one to wear while doing sports, for instance, and another for going out at night."Although Levenson admitted business has been "challenging," he said Kaiser Permanente planned to increase its buying budget by 8 percent for next year. Organizers said 37,716 people attended the fair, up from 29,342 the previous year.
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