FLORENCE — A renewed desire for self expression and individuality is boosting the independent eyewear industry, according to executives who flocked to the Stazione Leopolda here to attend the three-day trade show DaTE.
According to Michele Saladino, chief executive officer of Revolutionary Eyewear, this new positive wave is being fueled by both opticians and final consumers. The company is the Italian representative of several key independent eyewear brands, including Chrome Hearts, Jacques Marie Mage and Kuboraum, as well as a range of emerging labels.
“I think that the past year and half, the lockdowns, the feeling of being isolated, had a strong, deep impact on the perception of people,” he said. “On the one hand, the Italian opticians that traditionally tended to be kind of conservative understood the importance of switching gears to preserve their businesses and on the other hand, I have the feeling that final consumers need to feel more and more special. They realized that the shopping experience they had before the pandemic was not fitting their needs anymore and they now are now searching for something more exclusive, personalized.”
What’s more powerful than a pair of eyeglasses to give a twist to consumers’ personal style?
“I really believe that eyeglasses are the only accessories that really differentiate one person from another and that’s why consumers are more and more looking for special pieces with a strong identity,” said Dante Caretti, founder of independent eyewear consulting firm Caretti Consulting and of DaTE.
“This year, more than ever, DaTE was a pivotal driver for the industry, as well as the place where in-person meetings, sharing and business was possible. For three days, we were surrounded by keen interest and a craving to invest in the future and in new projects. We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this edition,” said DaTE, Mido and Anfao president Giovanni Vitaloni, highlighting that the number of visitors increased 55 percent compared to the previous season.
“The past two years were unbelievably complex and DaTE 2021, which actually never suffered a slowdown, finally put the industry machine back into motion. The extraordinary motivation demonstrated by the exhibitors and the determination of the companies and visitors made it possible to place beauty, craftsmanship and design ingenuity at the core of the supply chain. The hard work and participation of everyone made this possible. Together, we can continue to work hard to bring a renewed driving force to the industry and to shape the future of eyewear,” he added.
According to Caretti, the independent eyewear sector accounts for 6 percent of the global eyewear industry, which is dominated by giant companies including Luxottica, Safilo, Marcolin and Marchon. “Based on the current performances, we can say that the segment can grow to account for 10 percent of the eyewear industry soon,” he predicted.
Caretti highlighted that both brands with affordable prices and luxury labels are growing their businesses, “a sign of the fact that there is a big demand at all levels for eyeglasses with a strong identity and that don’t relate to huge fashion houses.”
However, as Saladino stressed, “The market is leveling up, with the average price positioning in the luxury segment.” This is due to the continuous research and development investments that brands are employing, he explained, as well as to the increased costs and shortage of raw materials. “In addition, shipping costs, especially from Asia, have tripled recently.”
Price is certainly not an issue for the fans of Chrome Hearts’ eyewear collections, which feature frames produced in the company’s Los Angeles factory and retail from 1,000 euros. The brand’s signature style, inspired by the gothic aesthetic, as well as by hard rock influences, reflects into eyeglasses that now include frameless designs with handmade temples crafted from precious wood, including rare white ebony.
Requiring a day to realize a pair, Bird&Cage buffalo glasses retail at around 2,500 euros. Designed and handcrafted in New York by eyewear guru Max Shustovskiy, a former business partner of Alain Mikli, Bird&Cage styles in precious buffalo horn are inspired by frames worn by movie stars of the ’50s and ’60s, including Marcello Mastroianni.
One of the main trends that emerged at the DaTE trade show was the increasing intersection of the worlds of eyewear and the jewelry and watch industry.
For example, leading niche eyewear brand Jacques Marie Mage stands out with its limited-edition collections that include gold and silver hardware, while Berlin-based cult brand Kuboraum unveiled a pair of folding eyeglasses showing intricate hinges inspired by clock gears and French label Ahlem showcased palladium frames pleated in white, rose and yellow gold.
In order to raise the bar of his signature high-end craftsmanship, the Jacques Durand company, which is based in the Vicenza gold district, currently employs a group of artisans who previously worked in the goldsmith segment. At DaTE, the French-Italian brand presented innovative acetate frames offering a high level of personalization thanks to adjustable temples and hinges.
Pink gold and silver details embellished the styles offered by Miami-based luxury brand T.Henry, which offers frames retailing between $800 and $1,700 in classic silhouettes and coming in packaging that’s inspired by supercars.
Combining wearable, approachable design with special details and the use of experimental techniques is the focus of Masahiro Maruyama’s refined frames, which are inspired by the sculptural process, celebrating imperfections through carefully studied asymmetries, intentionally unfinished details and surfaces with a raw vibe.
Meanwhile, eccentricity took center stage in a range of cool collections. For example, Kazoku Lunettes unveiled sunglasses, all crafted in Japan, that showed dramatic silhouettes, and heritage brand Cazal revamped some of its oversized ’70s silhouettes to reflect today’s trend of bold self expression.
DaTe also served as an International stage to unveil new eyewear projects. Among them, In Sana is an Italian brand established three months ago by Silvia Fresco. An Amsterdam-based creative, the designer kicked off the project by chance. “While I was going through a difficult moment of my life, I started sketching some sunglasses,” said Fresco, who is originally from Belluno, the heart of the Italian eyewear district. “My father works in the eyewear manufacturing sector and a friend of his pushed him to realize prototypes from my sketches….And that’s how everything started.”
Inspired by the world of techno music, Fresco presented her first lineup at DaTe, which includes six edgy frames, three in acetate and three metallic. Playing with geometric lines, the designer distorted traditional shapes to create catchy frames with a ’90s clubbing vibe. Currently available at the brand’s online store, they retail from 320 euros to 380 euros.
Among the emerging brands at the show, Voa Collective, established by a low-profile Spanish-Colombian creative duo, stole the spotlight with a powerful and concise collection of four styles, each of them produced in a limited number of 100 pieces. Channeling a retro-futuristic, ’90s inspiration, the tiny, narrow sunglasses, handmade in Japan and retailing at 1,400 euros, sport geometric lines and multiple lenses, creating an unconventional effect.
Narrow or more generous shapes wrapping around the face made up the collection of emerging label Port Tanger, which also looked at the post punk, ’90s clubbing scene for inspiration for its lineup, which retails for around 300 euros.