By  on September 30, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Eyewear is enjoying its day in the sun.

At the Vision Expo West trade show at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas held from Sept. 14-16, business in the sunglass category was bright.

"Our business across the board is excellent," said Mark Ugenti, vice president of the retail and sunglass division for Safilo, which manufactures such lines as Gucci, Valentino and Marc Jacobs, and will soon be introducing looks at retail for Juicy Couture. "We're having one of the best sunglass years in the past 10 years. There's a lot of newness in the business that wasn't there even a year ago and I think it will continue to be strong for several years."

A new trend in materials appeared at the show, with wood both as an entire frame or as accents on the rims. Prospect, Ky.-based iWood Eco Design, for example, introduced an entire line of frames made from various woods.

For silhouettes, a trinity of sunglass styles shined over the show: oversize plastic frames, frames with embellishment and aviator styles.

"People love any embellishment that ties back to the product," said Ugenti.

Styles that drew from recent runway trends and signature details of fashion houses were in the spotlight, including Gucci's use of its iconic horsebit and buckle in its sunglasses, Dior's application of its canage pattern, bamboo touches for Michael Kors, pearls and rhinestones for Valentino and Coach's signature Cs and kimono pattern.

The new Juicy Couture collection by Safilo had crystal crowns and the word "Juicy" spelled out in crystals on the temple. Although it won't officially launch until February, it was being shown to select retailers.

Also bowing at the show was the Loree Rodkin Eye Couture collection by Sama. The designer and owner of the Los Angeles-based specialty business has designed a line with her signature emblems, crosses and skulls, all named after her celebrity friends, such as Cher.

"The customer is taking chances and they want brand recognition, and price is not an issue," said Ed Jankowski, chief operating officer for Solstice, which operates 51 stores in the U.S. "Our average transaction is up $40 over last year and the customer has done that by cherry-picking the items."Jan Cory, vice president for the Luxottica group, said: "I think there is no resistance in the category anymore. People are buying two pairs at a time to go with different outfits."

"We've never had a better year for our Ray-Ban aviators," said Cory, whose company manufactures Ray-Ban, Chanel, Versace, Prada and Bulgari shades, "particularly after Gwyneth Paltrow wore them in the front row of the Chanel [couture] show."

Most important, said Cory, retailers see the opportunity and are devoting permanent space to the category. She said, "Seven or eight years ago it used to be seasonal, not now."

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