Chief executive officer Giovanni Zoppas, however, keeps his feet planted firmly on the ground, defining the company as more of a start-up. This status, he believes, is also helping it to better weather the changes in the current landscape.
While the concept of Thélios originated in 2016, the company became operational in 2018, a joint venture between LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which has a 51 percent stake, and storied Italian eyewear maker Marcolin, with the remaining shares. LVMH also owns a 10 percent stake in Marcolin.
Compared to the Kering Eyewear model, “LVMH believes there is room to manage its own brands in eyewear with the same consistency that the group has in terms of quality, design, production and distribution. The latter is fundamental to guarantee the equity of the various brands, and production is thus a qualifying element on the market,” Zoppas explained. The joint venture in a category such as eyewear meant LVMH could “acquire a number of skills that are not easy to recreate and not easy to put together in an organization that must dedicate itself to all the processes, from design to sales.”
Since its inception, Thélios has grown to produce and distribute eyewear collections for Celine; Loewe; Kenzo; Fenty; Fred; Berluti, and Rimowa. In addition to Dior, it is also launching Stella McCartney’s collection for spring. Zoppas also revealed the company is unveiling a new brand for men called 9.81, a reference to the universal constant of gravity (9.81 Newtons).
Dior, which was previously licensed to Safilo, will drive “a change of pace” for Thélios, Zoppas said. “It is one of the most important brands in the world, and also within the eyewear segment.”
His goal is “to maintain the brand equity on the market, enhance it through a more selective distribution in the right locations. The service must be in line with the value of the brand, combined with research on design, materials and accessories such as the lenses, in sync with the evolution of the Dior world. It’s not rocket science but consistency is key, and this was lacking before. For many brands, this is what we are asked to do — to bring consistency, it’s an accruing factor.”
Thélios will also expand Dior’s men’s segment. “We believe there is a lot of space to grow here, there is a strong interest in the men’s collections and we’ve expanded them, adding more depth, in both optical and sun, in the number of styles and models,” Zoppas said.
Signature details present in Maria Grazia Chiuri’s women’s ready-to-wear collections for Dior, such as the “CD” logo that adorns the “30 Montaigne” bag, and the signature “Christian Dior” from the “Book Tote,” embellish the glasses, combining minimalist metal models with bold, oversize shapes. Similarly, the company is leveraging Kim Jones’ successful men’s collections for Dior, reproducing the “Dior Oblique” motif and the “Dior stitching” from the brand’s tailoring segment for the glasses.
“In the development of the collections there are Dior’s distinctive traits that are always avant-garde, and there are timeless models, but surely also styles that break the rules, that have that strong ‘wow’ effect,” contended Zoppas.
The executive relies on years of experience in the sector, as he was previously CEO of Marcolin, which has been producing and distributing eyewear collections for brands ranging from Diesel and Dsquared2 to Tod’s and Tom Ford. “Dior has such strength that normally this kind of avant-garde model will help stage a store’s window but not sell much. But in the case of Dior, its designs serve both purposes because they are consistent with the style of the maison,” claimed Zoppas.
The Stella McCartney collection reflects the namesake designer’s deep commitment to eco-responsibility, and has allowed Thélios to take significant steps in this direction. Among the innovations cited by Zoppas, the lenses are composed of 40 percent bio-based content from castor oil. The frames are made using bio-acetate, a more ecological formula containing bio-based content derived from wood and cotton seeds alongside plant-based plasticizers. The frames have obtained the Environmental Claim Validation from UL, validating their bio-based content composition.
“Her designs are avant-garde without betraying the expectation of beauty, function and innovation,” said Zoppas.
“Thélios is a dynamic project, and with Stella McCartney we want to go beyond [the norm], we want to use recyclable materials. In eyewear, however, we must work with metals and acetate. This is not sustainable or recyclable, but we are in the midst of a project with two players, which will be announced soon, and from 2022, the collections will employ acetate that is recyclable,” Zoppas proudly revealed. “We must enter into the circular economy.”
To this end, Thélios is working on materials, packaging and labeling, also mindful of the savvy Gen Z consumers and their expectations.
“We are moving from a storytelling dimension to value telling,” he said.
The general consensus is that Thélios will gradually produce eyewear collections for most if not all the brands under the LVMH umbrella, but, asked about the Fendi license with Safilo, which will end on July 1, Zoppas declined to provide an update. “We must earn the confidence of the LVMH brands. If Thélios will become and remain a leader in eyewear, the brands will come to us. No example is better than Dior, if it’s here it’s because they think there is the basis to do very well with us. Each brand will make their own decision in time, without disrupting the existing agreements,” Zoppas underscored.
Thélios partly produces for Louis Vuitton and Zoppas believes this as an opportunity for Thélios to see the brand as a benchmark. Vuitton’s eyewear is sold only through its own boutiques, he added.
Innovation is also key for the new 9.81 collection, which features an exclusively patented mechanism, the “Courbure Variable,” a variable curvature of the temples, which allows a perfect fit for every situation, both indoors and outdoors. The titanium employed makes the frames super light, high-quality and durable. The new brand will introduce three collections a year, introducing additional styles and seasonal shades for both optical frames and sunglasses. Prices range between 290 and 490 euros.
Zoppas said there are growth opportunities for Thélios in the optical segment, which he targets to account for 55 percent of sales.
The CEO declined to provide total sales figures, but said 70 million euros were invested in setting up the state-of-the-art plant in Longarone, a one-hour drive from Venice and Italy’s main eyewear hub, inaugurated in 2018, and in offices and machines. The company has offices in Milan, Paris, New York and Hong Kong, although Zoppas said it is evaluating a move to another city in China.
Thélios counts 670 employees ,of which 460 are in Italy. “We hired 155 people in 2020 and 65 already since the beginning of the year,” said Zoppas. “This is basically a start up, growing with the introduction of new brands.”
The average age of employees is around 35 years old and 50 percent of the workers are women. “The age is linked to the fact that we seek people who are in sync with our technology, but they must also have artisanal skills, the know-how of an atelier, which is a fundamental element to guarantee accuracy in design and functionality. We have made significant investments in training our employees,” noted Zoppas. “All of this is under the Made in Italy umbrella, which is absolutely key.”
In 2020, Thélios produced around 2 million pieces.
Zoppas addressed the current uncertainties and said that “in the future, we will need to be ready to manage the hysteria of markets. In the past, we planned depending on growth trends that were more or less linear. But today there are such peaks and lows, which are tied to the pandemic but also to the fact that purchases made on the internet are of the here-and-now, customers are increasingly demanding and have no patience, they want their products when they want them. Scarcity is much less appealing than in the past – at least in physical stores.” For this reason, it is key to manage the production process and the pipeline in a more efficient way.