PARTNERS PRADA, DE RIGO, LAUNCH SUNGLASS LINE

Byline: Kristi Ellis

LOS ANGELES — Prada is making a major eyewear push with its new partner, De Rigo.
The company recently unveiled its first sunglass collection at a party held at the Oliver Peoples store here last week, where company executives also discussed a new distribution arrangement.
Prada and De Rigo, which formed a joint venture in March 1999, have established a new distribution company named Eyewear International Distribution to distribute several new collections.
To complement its new line of Prada sunglasses, which just hit Prada stores and a select group of specialty and department stores and optical stores in the U.S. and abroad, the company plans to launch a Prada optical line this fall and a Miu Miu eyewear line for spring 2001, according to an EID spokeswoman.
She also confirmed that Prada is planning to launch redesigned lines of Jil Sander and Helmut Lang eyewear by the end of the year or early next year, both of which will be distributed through EID.
Prada established a joint venture agreement with De Rigo in March 1999 to manufacture, market and distribute Prada eyewear, the first time the company has entered this arena. De Rigo, the public company that also makes Sting, Fila and Police eyewear, holds a 51 percent stake in the company, while Prada holds 49 percent. In addition, Prada can buy up to 15 percent of De Rigo’s outstanding share capital over the next two years.
As reported in these columns, Prada chief executive Patrizio Bertelli said he expects sales of Prada eyewear to reach $114 million in the first two years.
One-and-one-half years ago, Bertelli and Prada approached Larry Leight, a well-known eyewear designer who has built his reputation on his own Oliver Peoples eyewear brand and the Paul Smith licensed brand, to collaborate on the designs of the Prada sunglasses and optical lines as well as the yet-to-be-released Miu Miu collection.
At the launch party, where the Oliver Peoples and Paul Smith spring collections were also unveiled, Leight, who is a partner in Oliver Peoples, said that he originally had reservations about carrying the new Prada line in the three Oliver Peoples stores.
“We were concerned that the line would take away from the sales of our current brands, but it hasn’t so far,” Leight said, adding that he sold 80 pairs at his L.A. store in the first four business days and 40 in his smaller New York store.
“It will enhance our collection,”said Leight. “So far, we have been experiencing stronger days since we’ve had it.”
The Prada sunglass collection, retailing for $150 to $250, was built around ultra-lightweight metal and plastic frames ranging from high tech wraparound sport shades to more chic, oversized, rimless driving glasses. Many of the lenses are gradated (lighter on the bottom and darker on the top) and in color combinations of yellow and plum, olive green and yellow, and coral.
“The essential identity is neutral-toned, brushed stainless-steel metal with translucent temples and a variety of lens colors in subtle gradients with a hint of mirror flash,” said Leight.
The line consists of about 53 styles, which is much larger than most collections, according to Leight.
“From a retail side, the collection is everyday lifestyle, after-sport, city chic, casual sport with a young, sexy feeling,” said Leight. “It’s a cross between a sports fanatic and an on-the-go person who is fashion conscious.”