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MILAN — The 49th edition of the three-day eyewear trade show Mido closed on Feb. 25 on an upbeat note. Big players and independent brands are fine-tuning their strategies amid economic uncertainties, while stretching their muscles with digital services, seen key to retain appeal and gain market shares.

The Italian eyewear industry posted revenues of 3.86 billion euros in 2018, up 1.6 percent compared to the previous year, signaling the sector’s endurance, despite geo-political and economic instability, which cast a shadow on the sector last year. According to preliminary figures for the January-to-November period provided by Anfao, Italy’s association of eyewear manufacturers, exports represented 90 percent of sales, with the U.S. topping the list of importing countries with an increase of 2.7 percent compared to 2017. Asia, which accounts for roughly 16 percent of exports, is experiencing a decline, having posted a 2.2 percent decrease in 2018.

Mido, which showcased 1,323 eyewear companies, attracted 59,500 buyers from 159 countries, substantially in line with last year. “The sector is dynamic and confident as Mido moves on to the 50th anniversary milestone next year,” said Giovanni Vitaloni, president of the trade show. “The scenario is still positive despite an international negative trend for business,” he added.

Luxottica took to the fairgrounds with an immersive installation, without showing any physical product. Instead, there were interactive screens, called Smart Shopper, which the company will roll out at 1,000 opticians between April and May, teasing the high-tech service. The tool will allow customers see the full catalogue of sun and optical frames, try them on by scanning a QR code and collect them in-store within two to five days, regardless of the retailer’s stock, in addition to providing personalization services for in-house brands, such as Ray-Ban and Oakley.

“The biggest consolidated paradigm we’re trying to shift is overcoming the opposition between brick-and-mortar retail and e-commerce and bring the latter into the former,” said Paolo Alberti, the company’s president of wholesale. The executive underscored the service will be an asset for customers, but also for the company and “opticians, which will up their retail space [figuratively] from 100 square meters to 1,000 square meters [from 1,080 square feet to 10,800 square feet]. And virtually we own those extra 900 square meters [9,720 square feet]. We’ve gifted [the Smart Shoppers to the opticians] consolidating our trustful relationship with them,” the executive contended.

Luxottica in-store digital tool.

A Luxottica in-store digital tool.  Courtesy Photo

On the business-to-business front, Luxottica unveiled its digital showroom — already installed in New York — which comprises a touch-screen table and screen walls for an immersive experience which highlights the products’ features (via frames’ 3-D renders, a see-through tool allowing to experience the colors of the lenses), as well as the storytelling, presenting the frames that appeared on models on the runways and the designers’ inspirations behind each style. “The slowness of the sales process translates into a sales opportunity,” Alberti noted.

A digital-first approach is core to Marcolin’s recently unveiled new division, which manages the production and distribution of the Victoria’s Secret and Victoria’s Secret Pink brands’ frames. The Longarone, Veneto-based company has inked a five-year licensing agreement with the labels’ parent L Brands in December and will launch four flash collections in 2019 and five in 2020, with product waves available every two to three months at key times throughout the year. Noting the products have pleased customers so far, Massimo Renon, Marcolin’s chief executive officer, underscored in particular the importance of the business model shift. “If the multiple drops with new designs should be doable from Marcolin’s supply chain perspective — and as far as we know it is [doable] — and also absorbable by the market, we would be opening up to a new strategy for the market,” he said. The executive underscored Marcolin’s “simple and innovative” approach as key assets easing the model’s implementation. “If you’re able to make it agile in terms of organization — production, logistics and distribution — then you can apply it to luxury players, as well. Bigger companies probably need to invest substantially in their supply chains,” he noted.

In the wake of a new licensing deal with Sportmax, signed in February, in addition to L Brands’ and a distributing agreement with specialty eyewear label Barton Perreira, Renon said in 2018 the company “has over-performed the industry in terms of gross sales, which reported a higher single-digit growth and also in terms of margin, which I believe to be one of the best in the industry.” In 2019 Marcolin might evaluate new opportunities to widen its distributing portfolio and its digital-driven division now managing L Brands’ labels.

“We’re very optimistic about 2019, Marchon has had an extremely strong 2018, which was not surprising because it was long planned, but we are very much focusing on top-line growth and in gaining market shares,” said Thomas Burkhardt, Marchon’s senior vice president of global licensing, marketing and design.

The U.S.-based eyewear specialist is harvesting the fruits of its 2018 strategy, which provided the company with strong sales in America and Asia, but particularly in the “EMEA region, which was beyond our expectations,” Burkhardt said. This year will mark the launch of the DNKY and the Victoria Beckham eyewear collections, along with a couple of licenses in the pipeline, which the executive said will be disclosed in the year’s second quarter and will see the light in 2020. For the Victoria Beckham brand, which previously managed production and distribution in-house, Marchon aims to “add some new impetus and new ideas to it and also present an optical offering on a much larger scale,” he explained, noting the company’s expertise in the optical category favors its understanding of markets, type of products and target accounts.

Along with Longchamp — “the most successful launch of a new brand in our company’s history,” according to Burkhardt — and Calvin Klein, which is still performing well despite its uncertain course after it parted ways with Raf Simons late last year, Marchon is banking on the U.S. distribution deal it signed with U.K.-based luxury eyewear specialist Cutler and Gross with the aim to expand the label’s distribution to select opticians and department stores in the country, in an attempt to tap into a “polarized and dynamic market,” as the executive described it.

“We need to become more agile to really adapt to the different trends in the market,” the executive underscored. “Consumers clearly are looking for value, but value doesn’t mean cheap, it doesn’t mean you can only sell sunglasses at $129, you can also sell sunglasses at $500 if the consumer perceives the right value and I think we are going to see some of the beneficiaries of this, because anybody that offers a mediocre product and thinks they can get away with it at a premium price, they will see the consequences,” Burkhardt remarked.

Tapping into a new target audience is also high on the agenda of Safilo’s ceo Angelo Trocchia, who joined the Padua, Veneto-based eyewear manufacturer in February last year. In 2018 Safilo has signed early renewals for its licensing deals with a range of brands positioned in the contemporary segment — including Tommy Hilfiger and Banana Republic — which represents the main sales driver, according to Trocchia. To this end, last January Safilo also signed a new deal with Levi Strauss & Co.

“Levi’s is a global brand with a great appeal on Millennials and Gen Z consumers,” Trocchia explained. “It will cover a market share which we probably lacked and also the brand is really strong in Asia,” he said noting the market is one of the company’s key ones alongside Europe and North America. The ceo expects the latter to return to growth as early as 2019. Although preliminary figures for 2018 registered a 7 percent decrease in revenues to 962.9 million euros, the company’s last quarter sales grew 1.8 percent to 249.1 million euros, compared to the same period in 2017.

Reporting its preliminary figures, Safilo said it expected that the cost-saving program put in motion in the second half of 2018 will allow the group to close the year with an adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, margin close to 5 percent, at the high-end of its expectation range for the year. At Mido, Trocchia explained that “Safilo’s strategy encompasses a growth trajectory, albeit a sustainable one, combining a focus on profitability. We’re addressing it by enhancing the efficiency of our plants and logistics and intervening on costs.”

On the luxury front, Safilo signed a deal with Missoni in December and Trocchia believes it is a winning match as it results from the heritage of both companies. The first collection will be unveiled next year. In 2019 the eyewear manufacturer will seek renewals and new licensing agreements, although the executive did non provide further details. “As a newcomer to the sector [as the former chairman and ceo of Unilever Italia], I’m positively impressed by the high interest fashion houses are showing for Safilo,” and mentioned the company’s widely recognized capillary distribution and production know-how, as among the key assets.

Trocchia believes that volatility of the sector; a focus on e-commerce and digital strategies and a speed-to-market response will be pivotal in boosting the company’s and the eyewear industry’s outcome in the next two to four years.

After two-and-a-half years in the role, Italia Independent ceo Giovanni Carlino noted the company is still in a restructuring mode, although it has started to post “improved figures.” In February, Italia Independent and its main investor Lapo Elkann agreed to sell 25.44 percent of the company to investment fund Creative Ventures Srl. “The fund has seen a potential in this trajectory and it’s important, beyond the capital injection, to open the firm’s shares to other partners. It’s important to be independent to be aggressive and innovative, but it’s also crucial to secure stability,” Carlino noted. Exiting unprofitable markets, the executive said the company will focus its distribution on Spain, Italy, Asia — particularly Japan and Korea — as well the U.S., while banking on a streamlined, high-quality range of products. Carlino expects Italia Independent to “return to profitability and grow sustainably ” in 2019.

New York-based Moscot is a family-run business with a global perspective. Last year the 104-year-old brand unveiled its first European retail outpost in Paris and Zack Moscot, the label’s vice president and chief design officer, said the company is on the hunt for new spots in the region. “Europeans have a greater appreciation of eyewear as a fashion accessory, but we see an evolution of the market all over the world as customers have a greater thirst of knowledge for a brand’s history and authenticity,” Moscot noted. While acknowledging market instabilities, he said the company “experienced significant growth in 2018,” driven also by the revamped web site and e-commerce channel.

A digital approach, especially marketing-wise, is part of Dita’s strategy. The Los Angeles-based niche luxury brand — which is also Thom Browne’s eyewear licensee — launched at Mido its Lancier brand, which was teased on social media where, according to the company it generated much hype ahead of its retail debut on May 1. Taking a cue from land, sea and air, the label represents Dita’s foray in high-performance eyewear. For the launch, the brand selected the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Team; two-time World Sailor of the Year Peter Burling and Kirby Chambliss, World Champion Air Race pilot, as Dita Lancier’s brand ambassadors.

Pugnale, a boutique eyewear company based in Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region that generated revenues of 1 million euros in 2018, is upping the ante by branching out with a licensing agreement it signed with Italian premium contemporary brand Amen for the design, production and distribution of the label’s eyewear collections running until 2023. In keeping with its aim to diversify, Pugnale has partnered with fashion brand Anteprima, producing a co-branded capsule collection of three styles. “Our goal is to expand the offering and extend our presence on a global scale,” said Emanuele Pugnale, the company’s owner. He added the next phase encompasses a structured distribution network to target the U.S. and Asia, where the company already performs well.

The next edition of Mido will take place from Feb. 29 to March 2.


WWD List: The Top 5 Trends at Mido 2019

Flamboyant Frames: From Giorgio Armani’s metal handwritten signature serving as the support of a pair of oval sunglasses,to Miu Miu’s cloud-cut lenses and Chloé’s first lenses featuring a piercing, sunglasses were eccentric for looks that get noticed.

Performance Mask: Inspired by ski goggles and more generally by enveloping performance frames, Prada’s white acetate sunglasses featured a saffiano leather triangle logo on the bridge; Carrera’s mask came with degrade lenses, and Billionaire Boys Club’s sunglasses had pastel-hued semi-reflective lenses for sports and fashion enthusiasts alike.

One-Piece Lenses: From more pop iteration such as a Victoria’s Secret Pink’s aviator style bearing the logo on the lens to Sportmax’s diamond-shaped retro design with the lens resting on the frame, and Lacoste’s rounded styles with a mirror effect, the range highlighted the manufacturers’ craftsmanship.

Tiny Frames: Nodding to the Nineties, tiny frames are the rage. Variations included an acetate triangular style from Italia Independent and a Pierre Cardin reedition of a minimalist metallic design.

Seventies Metallic: Reworking the oversize designs from the period, either in round or square shapes, many labels injected a twist, adding embellishments such as golden pearls on a Chloé style, or Salvatore Ferragamo’s signature “Gancini” logo, which was employed as a metallic frame on a rounded shape.