Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — Kate Spade is taking her signature style to a new category: eyewear.
The hot handbag and accessories company on Tuesday said it has signed a licensing deal for ophthalmic frames and sunglasses with Safilo Group, the giant Italian eyewear firm.
“Similar to bags, there can be a lot of personality in the eyewear category,” said Spade, interviewed at the company’s headquarters on West 25th Street.
“We have been encouraged by a lot of our customers to do this, and it is something we have been planning to do for a while.”
The women’s eyewear line will launch at retail for spring 2001 and will we sold in the company’s current retail distribution, which consists primarily of upper-end department stores, as well as in a limited number of eyewear stores.
The eyewear line will also be sold in the designer’s three freestanding stores, which are located in Manhattan, Beverly Hills and Boston.
Many of the details of the line are still being developed, although Spade said the collection would offer an edited assortment of fashion-forward products.
Price points are still being determined, but will likely fall in the high-end range, with retail prices of about $130 to $200, said Claudio Gottardi, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Safilo USA.
“This is a very big opportunity,” said Gottardi, who declined to give a sales projection for the line.
“Our tradition in the sunglass market is to offer quality product with excellent design. We believe we have found in Kate Spade a company that believes in the same philosophy.
“Our idea with Kate Spade is to grow with them,” he added. “We will sell the collection in select markets in the beginning. We are not looking for big numbers. We are looking for quality.”
Gottardi said the line would not directly compete with Safilo’s other licensed products — which include Gucci, Valentino, Christian Dior and Polo Ralph Lauren — because Kate Spade will carry a different price point than most of its existing offerings.
Licensed products comprised about half of Safilo’s overall sales of $2 billion worldwide. In the U.S., sales are about $800 million.
Kate Spade founded the accessories company with her husband, Andy, who is chief executive officer, in 1993, and is best known for her functional handbags available in a variety of fabrics and colors.
The eyewear venture marks the fourth licensing deal for the firm, which currently sells shoes and paper under license.
A line of beauty products developed by Estee Lauder is set to debut in fall 2001.
The Neiman Marcus Group bought 56 percent of Kate Spade last February.
The Spades and two founding partners own the remainder of the company, which now sells its products in about 400 stores, primarily in the U.S.
The company is on track to have sales of about $60 million this year.
Spade noted that no other new categories are on tap at the moment.
“This will be it for a while,” said Andy Spade. “We are now going to concentrate on pursuing the international side of the business.”
Currently, the line is sold in France, Germany, the U.K. and Japan, and Spade explained that the firm wanted to expand both its retail presence and its wholesale distribution in Europe, and considers London to be its next frontier.
In the U.S., two new stores in Greenwich, Conn., and Chicago are planned for later this year and other locations such as San Francisco are also being explored.
The firm is also in the process of developing its Web site, Spade said.

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