PARIS — The days of designer frames being sold in high-street opticians are looking increasingly numbered now that Dior has opened its first boutique dedicated to eyewear.
It also marks a first for a couture house, the brand said.
The store’s prime location — on Avenue Montaigne here, next to the house’s historic flagship — sends a clear message that Dior, part of the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton stable, is tightening its grip on eyewear distribution and positioning the category to be on par with the rest of its products in terms of brand image.
Proposing sunglasses and optical frames from the Dior and Dior Homme universes, the laboratory-bright, pint-sized space boasts a modern décor based around a sun motif. Features include circular glass lights fitted with giant lenses, and a mix of warm wood accents and reflective glass surfaces. Makeup, leather pouches and logoed trunks for storing eyewear are also for sale there.
The mono-product store reflects, as well, a trend among luxury brands to elevate, and personalize, customer service. At the Dior store, a team of experienced opticians is on hand “to offer advice, make vision tests and mount high-quality graduated lenses,” Dior said. The boutique will propose exclusive eyewear designs and vintage pieces from the archives, too.
“The distribution of this kind of product is becoming more and more important. Brands are increasingly concerned about having eyewear sold through either their own web sites or through retailers they can control — boutiques or very high-end premium department stores in line with their brand image,” said Jorge Martin, head of research at Euromonitor International.
Dior’s intensified eyewear focus follows a series of seismic shifts in the sector as France’s luxury groups look to take control back from the licensing giants.
Kering triggered the string of changes in 2014 when it revealed plans to bring eyewear production and distribution in-house and set up a new dedicated entity. That move sent licensors scrambling to up their game and tighten relationships with brands and creative teams. The pressure was on to make eyewear lines an authentic extension of brands’ design DNA, as opposed to being generic entry-level products with a logo.
Among other industry quakes, LVMH last year said it was creating a joint venture with Marcolin, dubbed Thelios, with its own, new dedicated facility in Longarone, Italy. LVMH so far has entrusted the design and manufacture of eyewear for the Céline brand to the entity, with the stated goal of Marcolin “becoming, in the future, the preferred partner” of the LVMH group in the eyewear business.
Firing its engines, Marcolin — which produces and distributes eyewear collections for brands including Tom Ford, Tod’s, Balenciaga, Moncler and Dsquared2 — in preparation for the joint venture’s creation launched a capital increase of 21.9 million euros and issued a bond of 250 million euros, which is expected to mature in 2023.
As reported, LVMH will control 51 percent of the venture and Marcolin the remaining 49 percent. As per the agreement, the French group is taking a 10 percent stake in Marcolin.
Marcolin’s win was Safilo Group’s loss, with the company already negatively impacted by Gucci’s decamping to Kering Eyewear. As reported, Safilo saw a 2 percent contraction in 2016 full-year total net sales to 1.25 billion euros following the loss of certain licenses.
Safilo, which is due to report its preliminary 2017 figures next week, is focusing on proprietary brands Carrera and Polaroid, among others. Its global market share within luxury eyewear in terms of retail value is 8 percent, versus 70 percent for Luxottica, according to Euromonitor International.
As reported, Safilo’s licensing agreement with Céline expired at the end of 2017. The group in 2016 renewed its licensing agreement for the design, production and worldwide distribution of the Dior and Dior Homme collections of sunglasses and optical frames through Dec. 31, 2020. Licenses with Givenchy, Fendi and Marc Jacobs will expire between 2021 and 2024, respectively, according to Martin.
The Dior eyewear lines are distributed in the brand’s stores as well as a select network of optical chains, a spokeswoman for Safilo said, declining to provide specifics.
Meanwhile, the eyewear industry in early 2017 was rocked by the announcement of the Luxottica Group and Essilor merger to create a $16 billion colossus.
Further disrupting the sector is the recent strategic partnership between Kering Eyewear and Compagnie Financière Richemont-owned Maison Cartier. As part of the deal — geared around “bringing their operations together to create a stronger platform for the development, manufacturing and worldwide distribution of the Cartier eyewear collection,” according to a statement — Kering Eyewear has absorbed the Manufacture Cartier Lunettes plant in Sucy-en-Brie, France.
With global luxury eyewear sales reaching $20.4 billion in 2017, up 4 percent year-over-year, settling for royalties no longer cuts it for the luxury brands, which are keen to bring the category in line with brand image.
In turn, to compensate for the loss of major labels, some of the big eyewear groups have been striking deals with smaller up-and-coming brands from the mass or affordable luxury sectors, said Martin.
In view of the technical complexity of the product, at the end of the day the major luxury groups can invest in having their own eyewear units, which is not the case for the smaller players, he explained.
Though Dior’s mono-product eyewear store could be read by some as more of an experiment than indicator of the way things are headed for the premium sector, “we might see a bit of polarization in terms of distribution,” added Martin.
“These high-street chain optical stores might gradually be focusing on high-street brands, mass and more affordable lines, with high-end product being sold more and more through the web sites of luxury groups or the luxury online retailers like Yoox, Net-a-porter or Farfetch, a more premium distribution,” he continued. The trend mirrors what’s going on with clothing, moving away from wholesale and closer to directly operated stores.
Congratulating Dior on its new eyewear boutique was Luisa Delgado, chief executive officer of Safilo Group, who called it an intimate shopping experience that offers an opportunity to celebrate the brand’s storytelling “underpinned by our 140-year tradition of extraordinary eyewear tradition and craftsmanship, with its unique aesthetic and technical heritage, in a context that fosters storytelling and deep engagement with product and brand.”
She signaled that mono-product stores are “an important emerging development in the eyewear industry.”
“They have over recent years come to complement the traditionally multibrand eyewear retail that is overall evolving significantly, marked by what I’d call the ‘search for differentiation,’ addressing and anticipating most effectively the aspirations and needs of diverse consumer groups,” she said.
Lucie Greene, worldwide director of The Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson, said the growing trend for mono-product stores applies to the beauty, fragrance and eyewear sectors. “Interesting that these are the most licensed categories, where perceptions of quality might have declined recently, and with the rise of cult brands that focus on design, like Gentle Monster. The blue chips in this space have started to look generic and maybe less like real luxury,” she said.
Stores for single categories like eyewear “are a way for luxury brands to ‘celebritize’ product in an immersive setting and make destinations with storytelling, iPads, AR and whatever else,” continued Greene, adding that it also caters to a growing consumer trend for “building fragrance and eyewear wardrobes, etc., as specialist items in their own right.”
Mono-product stores, she said, “make the product elevated and seem more special again, and reinforce brand expertise in this space as opposed to being a generalist.”