SHADES OF THINGS TO COME

Byline: Marc Karimzadeh

NEW YORK — The unusually mild winter may have challenged some retail segments, but one category couldn’t have asked for sunnier forecasts.
Most eyewear executives at the International Vision Expo, which ended its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center March 17, claimed that while business was interrupted briefly after Sept. 11, it is now moving at a healthy clip. It’s being energized by a larger variety of fashion styles for sunglasses than in the past, to appeal to a wider range of consumers.
“Last year, the eyewear business was not very balanced,” said Mark Ugenti, vice president of sunglass sales at Safilo Group, which manufactures sunglasses for such fashion firm as Gucci, Christian Dior and Kate Spade. “The trend then was rimless and flash mirror [lenses]. This year, while there was a continuation of those trends, plastics are starting to emerge again.”
Many noted that sunglasses have become an increasingly important accessory, mainly as a result of the growing number of heavily marketed designer licenses. Also, department stores traditionally positioned sunglasses on the main floor for spring and summer, then reduced or moved them altogether during winter. This trend, many said, is on the wane.
“Stores used to replace sunglasses with such categories as cold weather, but many are not doing that anymore,” said Gloria Maccaroni, vice president of marketing at Silhouette Optical Ltd., which manufactures the licensed Daniel Swarovski and Adidas lines. “The sunglass business, especially in better department stores, is a 12-month business now.”
Heather Schettini, marketing manager at Wink Optical, said: “In winter, customers may look for a lighter lens color, or a gradient lens, which blends between optical and sun frames.”
Executives also attribute the growth in sunglasses to consumers being more educated about the dangers of sun exposure.
“They understand they need protection not just for their skin. but also for their eyes,” said Maccaroni.
Richard Morgenthal, president of the four-unit Morgenthal-Frederics stores, said: “The business is so strong because it is more of a necessity, which continues to substantiate the purchase.”
Signaling confidence in the category, sunglass specialty retailer Iacon, which is owned by Oakley Inc., revealed plans at Vision Expo to step up its sunglass store locations by 40 percent this year. Iacon has 43 mall-based sunglass specialty stores under the Sunglass Designs, Sporting Eyes and Occhiali da Sole names. The company generated sales revenues over $15.9 million last year.
“We intend to open 18 to 20 new locations throughout the United States,” said Jeff Obstfeld, president.
These will include units in Horton Plaza in San Diego, Valley Fair in Santa Clara, Calif., and Water Tower Place in Chicago.
Despite the upbeat outlook, though, many vendors said that in the aftermath of Sept. 11, store traffic slumped dramatically, which inevitably also had an effect on the sunglass business.
Al Berg, president of Marchon Eyewear, which handles the licensed Donna Karan, Calvin Klein and Nike lines, is projecting 10 percent sales increases this year, despite “a shock in the fourth quarter.”
“We expect business will pick up based on the optimism that the worst is behind us,” Berg said.
Due to the unexpected slowdown in the fourth quarter, many retailers found themselves with unsold inventory.
“Inventory management is much more important than before on both the retailer’s and manufacturer’s side,” said Jim Simon, vice president of CXD, the upscale division of Charmant Group that produces the Christian Roth, Boss and Michael Kors lines. “Many stores are keeping lower inventories, but they are reordering more quickly. That means we have to maintain a much higher inventory level to make sure they get what they need.”
Jan Cory, vice president of department stores for Luxottica Group, which manufactures the licensed Giorgio Armani Occhiali, AK Anne Klein and Chanel lines, added: “Right now, the retailers are being challenged to turn faster and run shorter inventories. We really have to work closely with buyers to identify bestsellers very early and write more frequent reorders.”

NEW YORK — Though the licensed designer eyewear business has gotten quite crowded, many big names in fashion launched their lines at this edition of Vision Expo. Among them:

Judith Leiber
Judith Leiber’s eyewear collection is licensed to B. Robinson Optical Inc., which also produces licensed lines for Cynthia Rowley, Kenneth Cole New York and Kenneth Cole’s Reaction. Leiber is the first brand in B. Robinson’s newly created luxury division called Legacie.
“Eyewear is a very important brand extension for us,” said Victor Lipko, president and chief executive officer of Judith Leiber. “It’s a piece of jewelry for the face.”
Leiber’s 24 styles feature colored Austrian crystals subtly set onto the frames. Some even have crystal patterns that coordinate with signature evening bags. Each pair comes with a frosted faux ring lizard case with crystal accents.
The line retails for $320 to $1,250 and will be made available to upscale specialty, department and optical stores, as well as Judith Leiber boutiques. Lipko, who declined to give sales projections, said: “It is more important to get the right distribution, rather than aim for a dollar figure at the start. When you are a 40-year-old brand, you can take time to get it right.”

Saks Fifth Avenue
Sunglasses already play a significant role on Saks Fifth Avenue’s main floor, and now, the specialty retailer has added its own designs to the mix.
The company licensed Safilo Group for a collection of sunglasses, readers and ophthalmic frames. Gail Pisano, Saks Fifth Avenue’s executive vice president of merchandising, explained that the company chose to take this step because sunglasses have become such a significant and profitable part of SFA’s accessories offering.
“We have most designer brands and are reluctant to carry opening price points for glasses that are mass-marketed throughout the country,” she said. “The strength of Saks Fifth Avenue’s name is so powerful and recognized worldwide, why not invest in our own name?”
The sunglass line features seven styles, with rimless and shield looks and flash mirror coatings and gradient lenses retailing for $85 to $98. The 12 ophthalmic looks wholesale from $43 to $57. Both lines are being distributed to SFA’s 62 units and optical stores, while the four reader styles, which retail for $48, are exclusive to Saks.

Boss Women
Licensed to Charmant and distributed by its CXD division, Boss Women bowed with 11 sunglass and 11 ophthalmic styles.
Styles include wraparound titanium shades, oversize shields inspired by ski goggles with metal frames on shield lenses in brown, yellow or green, and oversize butterfly-shape frames. The line will have a suggested retail price of $125 to $250 and will be distributed to Boss stores, department and specialty stores.

Yves Saint Laurent
Since Tom Ford took over the design helm at Yves Saint Laurent, he has slashed the number of licenses and reexamined existing product lines. For its sunglasses, the company recently signed a licensing agreement with Safilo Group, and the fruits of that deal were unveiled.
The sunglass collection consists of eight styles, including oversize aviators and shields, as well as clean metal shapes, with gradient lenses or flash mirror coatings. Frame colors include dark green, red, shiny black and tortoise. The packaging will be a white leather hard case with a black embossed YSL logo, or a white drawstring pouch.
“We feel the line has a good balance of image pieces with a good amount of salable products,” said Mark Ugenti, vice president of sunglass sales at Safilo.
Wholesale prices are $100 to $115 and the collection will be launching at YSL boutiques, as well as better specialty and department stores, next month.

Vera Wang
Looking to spread her wings, Vera Wang presented her new eyewear collection. The evening, bridal and ready-to-wear designer’s eyewear line is licensed to Couteur Designs, a division of Kenmark Group. There are two collections, Vera Wang and Vera Wang Luxe.
Vera Wang eyewear consists of 14 ophthalmic and seven sunglass styles, with such features as titanium temples, cobalt eyewire, spring hinges and the designer logo. It will wholesale from $60 to $95 and be distributed to optical stores.
Luxe was produced in collaboration with Oliver Peoples. Its 11 ophthalmic and 14 sunglass styles have such features as buffalo horn, palladium and goldplating. The Luxe collection wholesales from $65 to $400. Oliver Peoples is handling the distribution of the line, which is aimed at upscale optical stores and specialty department stores.

Cool Sunglass Trends

Rimless shields with colored lenses like green, burgundy and orange.

Oversize, retro-inspired acetate frames and aviators in various sizes.

Subtle logo treatment on temples, brow bars and even lenses.

Double bridges and suspended rimless lenses mounted from a brow bar in metal or plastic.

Gray flash and gradient lenses.

Mounted lenses, some of which don’t fill the frame entirely.

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