Vision Expo West, which takes place at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas Sept. 26 to 29, will feature more than 400 fashion and luxury brands across optical and sunglasses. While the exhibitors hail from 68 countries, most of the 12,000 attendees — eye-care professionals, buyers and influencers — represent the U.S. market, with a focus on the Western region.
Though the billion-dollar eyewear industry is, of course, international — with Italy and China now among the manufacturing leaders — the U.S. remains a force, and the same Made in U.S.A. ethos that has made a comeback in apparel has also permeated eyewear and accessories.
ClearVision Optical, the 70-year-old, family-run, Long Island-based company is firing on all pistons at Vision Expo, unveiling a new partnership with a manufacturer of vintage eyewear and technical innovations for virtual fitting and 3-D printed frames, and newness in its 2019 fashion licenses.
The new brand, in partnership with Frameworks America, Inc. is dubbed Spectaculars and offers premium vintage-inspired eyewear for $250 to $350.
“Our relationship with Spectaculars is more than filling a void in our vintage product offering. Our story incorporates iconic American eyewear style that has created global trends for decades. We have combined this in a product category that was rooted in American culture and manufacturing — with a real, Made in America product, resulting in something truly unique,” said Peter Friedfeld, executive vice president of ClearVision.
Spectaculars’ roots are vintage, and the team involved in bringing the collection and brand to market are originals — brothers David and Peter Friedfeld run ClearVision and Frameworks owner Bill Vetri is a vintage curator and frame manufacturer who was creating Old Hollywood-style frames for new Hollywood movies long before it was referred to as celebrity placement.
“Today, there is a real need in the market for American-made products and American craftsmanship. Eyewear is an industry that is nearly 100 percent offshore now, and that wasn’t the case when we grew up in this business. The Spectaculars story is unique in the sense that we are working to ensure that our machinery, our raw materials and, ultimately, our eyewear are American-made,” said Peter Friedfeld.
“Plastic eyewear, or what we called cellulose acetate, was actually first created here in the United States, which led to the style trends that today we call ‘vintage.’ Over the years as our industry moved offshore, so did our raw material manufacturing. So, one of our biggest challenges, and I think one of our biggest advantages today, is that we have reintroduced American acetate with our 2019 collection,” he added.
As with apparel, there are initial investments to be made, but advantages to producing at home. As Friedfeld pointed out, “With threats to our industry being made regarding increased duties, as much as 25 percent, we think we have an advantage in pricing as well as lower transit costs due to our Spectaculars product being manufactured locally. It’s a very ‘green’ story that I think our customers can understand easily.”
At the same time, ClearVision has formed a global technology company called TechPrint Industries to foster advances in product manufacturing by bringing together technology and eyewear entrepreneurs in three different continents.
It has used 3-D prototyping for many years, reducing the development time in the market, which is key for a fashion eyewear company. “Now that we are bringing 3-D printed eyewear into the market, we see additional benefits including green technology, lighter-weight product, and compete customization. This is so important when we consider each face is different. We are not one-size-fits-all,” said Friedfeld.
“Our goal with TPI (TechPrint Industries) was to create a new way to manufacture and distribute eyewear and bring complete customization and just-in-time inventory to an industry that had neither. The scanning is simple and affordable, yet amazingly accurate. Consumers can create scans with their eye-care professionals, and eventually on their own. We do believe in the model that the eye-care professional is still a professional who should be involved with the fitting of eyewear. To the end, we are selling a medical product with a fashion influence. The consumer has to be 100 percent satisfied with all aspects of fit, vision and style. The exciting thing that we are trying to do is to be open sourced product, meaning we want to help others grow their own 3-D scan and printed eyewear concepts. Our platform, Scan2Print, can be used by designers, new business entrants, retailers — anyone with a vision,” he said.
While Friedfeld said that 3-D printing of frames is still in its infancy, “We believe in the near future more and more people will be making their own custom eyewear in both style and fit. Tomorrow’s vision includes everything from consumers printing their own eyewear, to new designer collections that were inconceivable prior to the advent and advancement of additive or 3-D manufacturing.”
As far as the newness at Vision Expo, it will be most apparent in the sunglass styles from major fashion brand licenses across all categories, from junior to contemporary, sport to high-end luxury.
Overall, styles have been moving away from heavy acetate frames in bold colors toward lighter-weight metals, wires and neutral hues.
In ClearVision’s Steve Madden license, sunwear classics have been revamped into fun new shapes: aviator styles, asymmetric silhouettes and exaggerated cat-eyes.
The cat-eye is also a style that has done well for celebrity stylist Kate Young, who has designed her own collection for New York-based Tura Eyewear for the last five years.
“The white cat-eye is actually my bestseller,” said Young, who was in Los Angeles over the weekend to do a trunk show at Fred Segal. (Her Kate Young for Tura line also sells at boutiques Miriam Nassar, Need Supply and Mohawk General.) “I also do a lot of pale-pink flattering cosmetic shades, and my style is very minimal.”
While Young used to wear and design heavy acetate frames, she also veered the other direction toward lighter-weight frames for 2019, inspired by the Eighties and Nineties styles that took hold this year.
“I used gold wire for these round clip-on sunglasses, and some styles have enamel on them that is really beautiful,” she said.
Of her relationship with Tura, she said, “I really like making things. It’s a satisfying process coming up with concept and working with materials. As the brand has grown, what’s interesting is what people wear and buy and like. I talk to customers and sales reps, because this is a product women wear every day so there are a lot of practical concerns and a lot of technical considerations.” Young touches everything, from the new logo being unveiled this season to the packaging and the lifestyle shoots, in which she models the eyewear.
For her day job as a celebrity stylist, she says she prefers no sunglasses or eyeglasses on the red carpet “because people want to see your face.”
“Sunglasses are a fashion thing. I think that there is for sure more optical in fashion, too, with Gucci and that nerd-glam chic happening, but in general I’m not such a fan unless it’s part of your real look,” she said.
Young said she’s very much a fan of transitional lenses, which are optical lenses that darken in the sun.
Transitions Optical, the Florida-based leading provider of photochromic (smart adaptive) lenses worldwide, was the first to successfully manufacture and commercialize plastic adaptive lenses in 1990.
This season it’s debuting Transitions Style Colors and Transitions Style Mirrors collections to introduce more fashion into the category just as lenses are starting to take center stage in eyewear styles.
In July, the company launched four new style colors and six style mirror options, giving optical patients and customers the option to use these Rx-able lenses in any of their frames. Transitions Optical also tapped Christian Siriano to design a collection around the new colors, which included pink, purple and blue and were unveiled outside to show off the photochromatic effect.
“Fashion is all about extending yourself and bravely flaunting your individuality. With the new lens color and style choices, Transitions is empowering wearers to make an elegant and bold statement with eyewear at the center of their look,” said Siriano, who will be at Vision Expo West.
Kenmark Eyewear, a 46-year-old company based in Kentucky, has held the license for Vera Wang’s eyewear for 15 years and also manufactures for Zac Posen and Original Penguin.
Wang’s eyewear business has three pillars: The runway-inspired luxury range called VWX, and Rx-able optical and sunglass collections sold in optometrists’ offices under the Vera Wang name. VWX is made in Japan and retails for $300 to $500. Its big focus for 2019 is the lenses, with more exaggerated shields such as the Livia and Han styles, one of which has her logo etched into the front. The Farah style in the optical sun collection also features more gradient lenses and clear pastel colors. There are rose gold metal and acetate combo frames and plenty of spotty tortoise with transparent windows.
For Zac Posen, there are floral patterns done in acetate as well as pink crystal clear styles. Original Penguin, always on the vintage vibe, this season was inspired by vintage professional bowlers such as Earl Anthony. The frames and apparel were adapted from photos of styles that he wore.
Safilo — one of the leading manufacturers of licensed fashion eyewear with a portfolio that includes Dior, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Jimmy Choo, Tommy Hilfiger and Hugo Boss, as well as owned brands Carrera, Oxydo, Polaroid and Smith — is always a good litmus test of the trends, and the delicate gold metalwork, crystal-clear pastel and neutral hues, and larger, shield-like styles seen across its brands signal what many consumers will be wearing come next spring.
Of course, the luxury eyewear narrative has been focused on the shift away from traditional licenses to in-house manufacturing models. Italian eyewear maker Marcolin, which produces for Tom Ford, Tod’s and Swarovski, made news last year when it formed Thélios, a joint venture with LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton that now produces the Celine, Loewe and Fred sunglass collections.
“The new generation of luxury consumers is constantly challenging the market and has become increasingly price- and quality-conscious. They want to experience luxury, not just buy high-end products. Consequently, we need to create the unexpected and provide unsurpassed quality and service for all these brands. One of our key missions is to integrate eyewear into LVMH maisons’ business model, to face this new situation. This is a great opportunity for us to reinvent our previous vision of the business, and recruit new clients. The creativity and design are key for these companies, of course, but the consumer experience is our priority, too. We need to be retail-focused to meet today’s expectations,” said Giovanni Zoppas, chief executive officer of Thélios.
Zoppas said that Thélios’ primary aim is to work hand-in-hand with each of its partner maisons within the LVMH group, regardless of whether or not they belong to the fashion and leather goods sector. One can only guess that might mean more collections unveiled around the upcoming trade shows. “We are in discussions with some to accompany their teams on the eyewear category,” he said. “All the brands of the LVMH portfolio have strong identities. They build on a specialty legacy. We would be proud to be part of their specific projects in the future.”
Blake Kuwahara, the Los Angeles-based luxury eyewear veteran, has been nominated this year for the prestigious Silmo d’OR Award for Best Optical Frame for his “Johnson” style. The winners will be revealed in Paris at the Musée des Arts Forains on Sept. 29. The Paris trade show takes place the same time as Vision Expo West this year, so Kuwahara won’t be present at the LOFT boutique show in Las Vegas, but he did offer insights on how the high-end specialty eyewear market has evolved since he started his line in 2015.
“One of the upsides to what I find to be the sad commoditization of eyewear is the refreshing backlash which is positively driving the luxury sector,” he said. “Everything from barely acceptable quality, appropriation of design, to the ‘disposability’ of fashion has created an equally opposing appreciation for well-crafted, artisanally based, original designs. And there seems to be many new entrants in the high-end segment which are feeding this consumer demand.”
With a healthier economy this year, Kuwahara said retailers and buyers seem to be more confident in offering their clients more directional product and are less price-sensitive than in the past. “Taking these fashion ‘risks’ helps bring excitement to the market,” he noted.
While he’s not sure the end consumer is aware of all the consolidation and luxury brands such as Kering and LVMH taking their eyewear manufacturing in-house, he said it does mean that these luxury powerhouses will be able to better control their distribution to align with their overall brand positioning, “which will hopefully lead to better curating by the retailers. I think that this is a positive move for the luxury sector as a whole.”
Lastly, Kuwahara hails technology for enabling him to realize his latest eyewear vision. “My concept of a ‘frame-within-a-frame’ was realized only through technology and processes that allowed two totally separate frames to be seamlessly fused together. The core materials that are available to eyewear designers (which are regulated by the FDA) have remained largely unchanged over the years. But it’s the advancement of technology which has enabled us to achieve new and different aesthetic results. Handmade frames have a very different touch and hand than mass-produced, machine-made, or 3-D printed frames. It’s the subtle nuances, sculpting and beveling that can only be achieved by handwork that is gaining appreciation by a growing new audience.”