MILAN — Exhibitors at the bustling MIDO eyewear trade fair faced an uncertain global forecast with optimism, launching new proprietary or exclusive eyewear lines in ever more extravagant forms and materials. At the three-day fair in Milan, which closed here on Feb. 29, bold designs and unconventional details defined new styles where retro inspirations, futuristic features and eye-catching embellishments abounded in sunglasses and prescription eyewear.
Juxtaposed, superimposed and mixed elements offered surprising effects, like the California maker Dita, whose line of Japanese handcrafted frames combined acetate and titanium into complex, intricately constructed statement frames that retail for $400 and up, or Blake Kuwahara’s colorful, high-end acetate models that meld two frames together, such as its new limited-edition collection with L.A. Eyeworks, with models retailing for $625.
Meanwhile, a single mask-like lens was superimposed over fronts in sunglasses by Saraghina, a brand named after a bright blue and silver sardine-like fish. The fast-growing Italian maker of inexpensive, colorful styles aims to become the Zara of eyewear, offering fashion forward, Italian-made frames that retail under 100 euros, of $110 at current exchange rates.
“It’s an accessory that is growing,” said Saraghina designer and owner Angelo DiStefano, who said his sales had doubled last year and that he expects business to double again in 2016.
Balenciaga’s big, pentagonal fronts by Marcolin, and Giorgio Armani’s oversize, fluid frames with floral prints on the temples embodied a boom in dramatic statement styles that climbed up and down price points. Vogue’s colorful spring collection emphasized a thick contemporary cat eye with decorative details, such as fan-like incisions and imbedded Swarovski crystals. Both Armani and Vogue eyewear are made by Luxottica.
Swarovski crystals also embellished exclusive high-end glamour statements like limited-edition rounded Jimmy Choo sunglasses from Safilo with a removable Swarovski and metal ornament, and Yves Saint Laurent sunglasses — as seen on the runway — by Kering Eyewear with a tiara-shaped crystal pavé and metal studs for a sparkling cat’s eye effect. Those retail for 360 euros, or $394.
Kering Eyewear, formed last year to produce in-house the luxury giant’s eyewear, presented outside of MIDO in its fashion district showroom. Kering Eyewear will introduce Gucci eyewear for spring 2017, when its current license with Safilo expires, said a spokeswoman. It also explored a jewelry theme through fluid golden hinges and gem prong ornaments on Pomellato sunglasses.
But eyewear as jewelry was taken to its logical extreme by Austrian minimalist brand Silhouette. At the fair, the company launched its Atelier collection of rimless, ultralight models in precious metals, woods and gems, such as a solid 18-karat gold model with optional diamonds and sapphires. For gold with gems, it retails in Europe for 6,000 to 9,000 euros, or $6,575 to $9,863.
“It is aimed at luxury markets in the Middle East, Asia and European metro areas. It will be sold through handpicked retailers, also in affluent markets of the U.S.,” said Doris Günther, head of global marketing and communication for Silhouette. She added that the brand marked the milestone of surpassing more than 10 million rimless titanium frames sold, presenting a new collection of the signature model in 12 colors and shapes.
Retro rounded lenses permeated classic models throughout collections at MIDO, where nostalgic nerd and intellectual looks took Bohemian and street-style twists. American stalwart Ray-Ban, owned by Luxottica, presented rounded phantos shapes with acetate brows and coined metal rims and bridges. The semi-rimmed front from the Fifties found futuristic, geometric expression in the Marni collection by Marchon, which won the license in September.
Marchon launched the Marni collection at MIDO, along with Etro and MCM, according to Claudio Gottardi, president and ceo of Marchon Eyewear. “These new brand additions complement Marchon’s existing luxury portfolio, which includes Salvatore Ferragamo and Chloé,” he said.
Marchon also produces Valentino eyewear, but Luxottica revealed that it would take over the license with the couture house in a 10-year deal starting next January. Marchon, meanwhile, said it agreed to a long-term extension of its license with Lacoste, originally signed in 2011.
Marcolin, meanwhile, said it will introduce a collection for Moncler this year.
Barberini Eyewear, a new division of the world’s leading lens maker for sun protection, launched its first branded eyewear collection, which kept to classic aviator shapes to emphasize its innovative Platinum glass lenses.
“We are focusing on the quality of the lenses,” said general manager Stefano Fabris. “They offer unique UV 400 protection that protects eyes beyond the limits of visible light, including infrared.”
Rare earth minerals fused to the lenses also increase human perception of color contrast, enhancing vision overall, he said, adding, “There is higher definition of colors.”
With few exceptions, eyewear exhibitors large and small reported double-digit revenue growth in 2015, while the bustling trade show broke records. Attendance surged seven percent to a new high of more than 52,000 visitors, while MIDO’s social media buzz doubled over the last edition to exceed 10,000 Instagram and Twitter posts with its official hashtag.
“This is the only place to be if you want to find something new,” said Bob Karir, owner of three stores called Karir Eyewear in Toronto. “The market is doing very well for special products.”
“The general feeling is positive,” said MIDO president Cirillo Marcolin. He reported macroeconomic factors have shaped the eyewear sector in favor of Italian manufacturing: slow global economic growth, the low price of oil, rock-bottom interest rates and the weak euro against the dollar. He added that the midrange is dropping out of the eyewear market, pushing production toward Italy and China.
“Italy has a 23 to 24 percent global market share in eyewear production, but 75 percent of the high end,” Marcolin noted.
Italian production rose 12.5 percent in 2015 to 3.57 billion euros, or $3.88 billion at current exchange, and exports, which account for 90 percent of Italian eyewear manufacturing, rose 12.3 percent to 3.4 billion euros, or $3.7 billion, according to Italy’s National Association of Manufacturers of Optical Articles. The trade association pointed out that even Italy’s domestic eyewear market rose 5.7 percent, showing its first significant uptick since 2007.
“Last year I referred timidly to toward a tendency of reshoring. Now I see a series of companies, especially big players, who are consolidating their presence in Italy,” Marcolin added.
Marchon said it’s expanding Italian production capacity with a multimillion-dollar investment under way, while eyewear maker Marcolin, where Cirillo Marcolin serves as a board member, opened a factory in Italy last year.
Meanwhile, Marcolin ceo Giovanni Zoppas said the company grew in all geographic areas around the globe last year, producing 15 million pieces and increasing turnover by 21 percent in 2015.
He saw opportunities for growth in the year ahead focusing on the distribution strategy, including the development of travel retail and duty-free shops. He also cited plans for tailored fitting for local Asian markets, and development of prescription eyewear opportunities in the Middle East and Far East.