PARIS — In a world increasingly concerned with perfecting the body and mind, the eyewear industry is sharpening its focus on the well-being and sports sectors.
At the recent 50th anniversary edition of eyewear trade show Silmo — held Oct. 6 to Oct. 9 at Villepinte in the north of Paris — Safilo Group showcased the new Lowdown Focus frame from its performance eyewear brand Smith, billed as the first brain-sensing eyewear.
Housed under the SafiloX banner, the minimalist frame, which for now is only available on the U.S. market, is fitted with captors equipped with brain-sensing technology developed in partnership with InteraXon Inc., a Canadian company specializing in EEG — or electroencephalography — geared at improving mental focus for enhanced performance and personal well-being.
The wearer slips on the glasses, pops on headphones and follows instructions via an app geared at training the brain — through sounds of the ocean, say, or bird song — to better focus and relax. Inspired by gaming technology, the app gives real-time feedback on cognitive performance and goals.
“For one century, we have been protecting ourselves from the sun, and helping people to see better. Now there is a new frontier, which, again, is located on the head; this application can really change quality of life,” said Nicola Belli, the group’s director of front-end innovation. “We don’t train the brain as we do the body; we have a lot of ways of improving the body, through going the gym or food, but we do very little for the brain, which is what is controlling our life.”
Belli said the team is also exploring other applications such as in the medical field. “We can detect a lot of brain-related diseases, or measure levels of pain to better control drug dosage,” Belli said. “The last frontier is controlling things with your mind. We have a very nice robot in the office that we can drive through a combination of focus, eye movement and hand movements.”
Novelties at the recently relaunched heritage French eyewear brand Vuarnet included Vuarnet Ice shades, a sportier take on the Glacier goggles worn by Daniel Craig as James Bond in “Spectre,” with anti-glare tinted lenses and removable wings.
Meanwhile, Rosario Toscano, managing director and vice president of global sales at L.A.-based luxury eyewear label Dita, revealed the brand is readying the launch of a line geared around sports and lifestyle for 2019. Novelties from its current line include a 3-D-printed frame with the look of an oversize swimming goggle.
Other projects include the launch of an upscale men’s sunglasses-driven Epiluxury capsule in 2018 with frames priced between 1,500 euros and 3,000 euros.
Materials will range from wood to gold, as well as a $50,000 frame with diamonds.
“Floyd Mayweather likes to put diamonds on his Dita frames….and there are markets like India, China and the Middle East that are driven by this segment; there’s strong demand for high-priced Dita product,” Toscano said.
The recent seismic shifts in the eyewear sector have stirred up new energy, she said.
As reported, Kering ignited a string of changes when it decided to set up a new dedicated entity in 2014 and bring eyewear production in-house. Then this year — following the Luxottica Group and Essilor merger in January that will create a $16 billion giant — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Marcolin in February announced the creation of a joint venture that from 2018 will design and manufacture eyewear for the Céline, with the goal of “becoming, in the future, the preferred partner” of the LVMH group in the eyewear business. LVMH holds 51 percent of the joint venture; Marcolin group controls 49 percent, with the name of the new company to be announced soon.
LVMH has also taken a 10 percent stake in Marcolin, which produces and distributes eyewear collections for brands including Tom Ford, Tod’s, Balenciaga, Moncler and Dsquared2, among others.
These shifts give “a clear message that the fashion world is deeply interested in eyewear — way more than before,” Dita’s Toscano said. “Eyewear is still very conservative as a market, because there is the optician element that makes it very medical device-driven. There are limitless opportunities.”
Sales at Dita for 2017 are expected to increase by around 35 percent, slowed by the company’s repositioning and tweaks to its distribution strategy in certain countries.
With the recent acquisition of the iconic Christian Roth eyewear brand opening the brand up to a younger consumer, hooking the attention of the Millennials — “a group that is very difficult to target because they change their mind every hour” — is also a key focus over the next three years, Toscano said. The brand’s new campaign is geared around the theme of “stationary nomads; the idea that today we travel with our phones.”
“We have just hired an amazing team of people and created our own digital marketing platform inside the operation, creating a lot of content. Millennials like to watch videos, read stories, things not just related to the product otherwise it’s really boring for them. We are using that as our leverage to get to this consumer.”
“We have great teachers in our own Mykita house. Highsnobiety is our neighbor and they have an enormous foothold in the younger generations and forming trends all over the world,” said Mykita creative director and founding partner Moritz Krueger. Authenticity is key, he said, namely through collaborations with relevant brands like Los Angeles’ 424.
The brand, which in 2016 saw “double-digit growth in both order book and topline,” launched its Mykita Lessrim line at Silmo that is based on neo-geek, ultra-thin flexible frames in flattened stainless steel. The frame appears to be rimless, but in fact lies flush in the groove of the lens perimeter and — using color or a high polish — leaves a faintly shimmering outline.
Krueger described it as a “modern interpretation of a segment that tends to be in the more conservative, dusty draw.” Due to launch in December, the line houses seven optical models and one sunglass frame.
The brand also launched its online platform, dubbed the Mykita Partner Portal. Billed as a virtual shelf extension, the site offers information on stock transparency, technical manuals, marketing material, offering 24-hour access to Mykita’s new web shop, service area and brand tool kit.
“It’s a take on the fast-moving fashion houses with the aim of emancipating the order process,” Krueger said.
Among buzzy Silmo newcomers, Japan’s Megane and Me caught the eye of Nathan Attali, founder of Paris-based opticians Vu d’ailleurs. The tight collection had a “lightness” to it, “with fresh forms and materials,” and stood out from the pack, he said, mentioning minimalist metal frames among key trends.
Stephanie McLean, cofounder of Westdale Optical Boutique in Hamilton, Canada, said: “The trends have gone a bit lighter and larger, but the real beauty lies in things that not everybody is wearing like some crazy jeweled things that are not your typical Dolce & Gabbana frame. In every line there are things that 95 percent of the population won’t wear, but that 5 percent that does wear it, and it looks fabulous on, that’s what makes fashion exciting.”
Business is pretty good “considering the fact that people go online now, and a lot of the companies are selling online, and the business has changed a lot,” McLean added. “There used to be a lot more loyalty. Considering that the competition is stiffer, it’s actually quite good.”
The licensing behemoths participating in the show were holding a more measured view of the sector’s outlook, meanwhile.
Joanna Onland, chief commercial officer of Western Europe at Safilo Group, said the market overall is “flattish” as a reflection of the volatile socioeconomic climate further impacted by a series of natural disasters that have hit this year.
“We’ve had the hurricane in the U.S. and in the French overseas territories, those people have lost everything. I think Paris now is more agile, more resilient, it’s gradually picking up,” she said.
It’s been a tough year overall for the group, she said, with sales heavily impacted by the transfer to a new SAP information system in the group’s distribution center in Padua in northern Italy which led to delays on deliveries, “but in the long-run it will help us be a better supplier for our customers.”
The recent exit of the Gucci license and its replacement by the Strategic Product Partnership agreement with Kering for the product development, manufacturing and supply of Gucci eyewear has also affected the performance of the group which in February reported a 2 percent contraction in full-year sales for 2016 to 1.25 billion euros.
The eyewear industry, “which as a whole is sometimes a bit old-fashioned,” is going through a shake up, Onland echoed. “People are looking at what’s going to happen following certain mergers, brands going here and there, this is the volatile area.”
Safilo’s strategy is to keep a balanced platform and zero in on market demand, with developments in its Atelier Division — which houses the Elie Saab Couture and Oxydo licenses — reflecting growing demand for niche eyewear. The group also has its volume drivers like the Polaroid and Havaianas licenses geared to the mass segment, and in its mid-level “fashion luxury” portfolio of licenses that includes several brands in the LVMH stable, including Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Marc Jacobs and Céline, which will expire at the end of the year.
“Every single market is challenging” said Giovanni Zoppas, chief executive officer of Marcolin group, which expects to “maintain profitability at a good level,” with organic sales expected to increase by around 5 percent versus a turnover of around 450 million euros in 2016. “Considering what is happening — think about what’s going on in Korea, and in the U.S. with the department store issue, the earthquake in Mexico, China — it’s a good result,” he said.
“We are in the upper part of the profitable companies in this industry…sure we are looking to increase our sales, but we are also looking to improve the quality of the sales,” Zoppas said. “And quality brings profitability, and profitability brings the capability to invest money for the brands you’re representing.”
Among launches, the group presented designs from its debut eyewear collection for the Atelier Swarovski brand, due to launch in January 2018. Marcolin has been designing, manufacturing and distributing eyewear collections for the Swarovski line since 2009.
“It’s a demonstration of working hand-in-hand with a brand,” said Zoppas, recalling how Nadja Swarovski spent an entire day in its factory in Longarone, Italy, in the Cadore eyewear district.
“I remember it was a very hot, humid July and when we went for a tour of the plant, the air conditioning was down. It was a tough day, but she went through the manufacturing lines for three hours because she was really interested in understanding. This is not typical,” Zoppas said.
“We are not simply exchanging briefs, which is the basics of a relationship with a licensor and licensee, we are sharing much more to do with the overall strategy of the brand and this is the only way to which you can understand which are the guidelines for the future, the countries the brand wants to invest in…to be able to give answers to the needs of the brand,” he added.
Marcolin is also looking to ramp up its marketing activity, he said, having recently lured back former group brand manager, Davide Rettore, from Kering Eyewear. The executive — “who has a 360-degree understanding of the industry but with a special background in marketing” — now serves as Marcolin’s ceo for North America.
“The support of merchandising will become more and more important to support sales. Products are of the essence but visual merchandising is going to be a very important tool, especially in the sunglasses business,” Zoppas said.