PARIS — Balmain will be debuting its new eyewear collection on the runway at its men’s show Friday, a premium line created with new licensee Akoni, a start-up based in Switzerland that was cofounded by industry veteran Rosario Toscano.
Nearly a year in the making, the line — initially a capsule of five sunglass styles (four unisex, one designed for women) before a broader offer including optical frames launches in September — was originally scheduled to be introduced on the runway with Balmain’s women’s collection in February. When the label’s creative director Olivier Rousteing discovered the designs, he decided to advance the rollout.
“As soon as I saw them, I was determined to have them immediately,” Rousteing stated. “Although I knew it would cause more than a little bit of chaos, extra work and late nights, I had to have them — and I had to have them now. So, I pressured all teams to push up the introduction of the glasses, in order to let me incorporate them into my January men’s show. This collection aligns so perfectly with my message — they’re the ideal Balmain accessory for my designs. There was no question — they had to be a part of my January runway.”
The designs are intended to embody the “Balmain Army,” with gold touches, intricate details and a focus on craftsmanship, according to the brand. Launching in April online, in the brand’s boutiques and with selected high-end retailers in April, they will be priced between 500 euros and 1,000 euros at retail.
Rousteing has reportedly already adopted one of the designs — named “Wonder Boy” in his honor — for everyday wear.
Balmain’s previous eyewear license with L’Amy Group, signed in 2011, ended in 2017.
Akoni — which revealed its creation to time with the first products being revealed on the runway — plans to build its business thanks to a handful of high-end licenses, homing in on the top end of the market, and will launch its own eponymous brand in September.
“We are starting with Balmain but the idea is to become a benchmark for high-end eyewear worldwide,” explained Toscano, who has been working in the sector for 20 years, and was most recently global managing director for Dita Eyewear, where he was behind the launch of Thom Browne’s collection.
Toscano strongly believes in the potential of the top end of the market, and Akoni’s own line will have a similar positioning to the Balmain products.
“The only way to succeed today in this segment is by creating the best possible product, and there are no other players in the world that do that for eyewear,” he said.
Times are challenging for the global eyewear market, which has been rocked by major changes in recent years including the merger of two giants, Luxottica Group and Essilor, and the decision made by Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to bring production in-house. The latter in 2017 formed a joint venture with Marcolin Group called Thélios.
The global eyewear market is expected to reach around 155 billion euros in 2024, posting compound annual growth of 5 percent, according to studies by Euromonitor, Worldwide Luxury Market Monitor by Bain & Co. and Altagamma. At wholesale, the high-end frames and sunglasses business is valued at around 3 billion euros.
“Over the past couple of years, with the collaboration between LVMH and Marcolin, and the joint venture between Essilor and Luxottica, of course, you could see it as a dangerous moment to start a new company. But the reality is that because the industry is still very traditional, I think there are huge opportunities,” explained Toscano.
“Fashion brands have not pushed the boundaries in eyewear before.”
Based in Lugano, Switzerland, Akoni’s design team works out of Los Angeles and produces in Japan, with the intention of focusing on the top end of the market — using high-end materials and specialist craftsmanship and creating eyewear as a luxury accessory intended to last, rather than a fashion item. It currently has a team of 25, including eight at its head office.
Materials used in the Balmain collection will include titanium, Zyl or cellulose acetate, made from renewable resources and more hardwearing than plastic, and ceramic nose pads, introduced for the first time for a fashion brand. They will also have high-contrast lenses.