NEW VIEWS FOR EYEWEAR

Byline: Melanie Kletter

NEW YORK — The eyewear market has been percolating in recent weeks as vendors launch spring looks that reflect the fashion trend toward color.
Activity was particularly brisk at the recent edition of International Vision Expo East, where eyewear vendors unveiled their latest collections for spring. Vision Expo ended its three-day run at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on April 2.
According to vendors and buyers at the show, colored lenses and colored frames were a big draw. New and unusual shapes also continued to attract buyer interest. Among the more popular shapes were oversize aviator looks, wraps and rimless styles, as well as geometric shapes.
At Marchon Eyewear, which produces Calvin Klein, Nautica and other lines, one area of excitement was the new Donna Karan and DKNY lines. Marchon now has the exclusive worldwide rights to manufacture, market and distribute Donna Karan and DKNY sun and ophthalmic eyewear collections for men and women, having taken over the license from Lantis Eyewear Corp. earlier this year.
The Donna Karan line carries suggested retail prices of $160 to $220, while the DKNY line has a price range of $85 to $130.
In conjunction with the launch, Marchon is also sponsoring a photography exhibit called “Framed,” which is making its way around the country.
Marchon is working to sign new licensed lines and recently took over the Nike eyewear license, which is expected to launch next spring.
“We are looking for the best global brands,” said Al Berg, co-president of Marchon, based in Melville, N.Y. Berg said the company is on track to reach sales of about $400 million this year, with growth coming from Donna Karan as well as the Nautica line, which it launched about a year ago.
Safilo Group, the giant Padua, Italy-based firm that produces eyewear for such brands as Gucci, Valentino, Nine West, Polo Ralph Lauren and Christian Dior, saw steady traffic during the show, a spokeswoman said. In addition to showing product, Safilo jazzed up the usual trade show atmosphere by holding a fashion runway presentation featuring its newest eyewear.
Oversize aviators were a big draw in the Gucci line, as were wraps in bright colors. Gucci’s prescription eyewear, also produced by Safilo, is getting more fashion-forward and includes new geometric shapes, according to the spokeswoman. The newest Dior shapes, she continued, are targeting a younger customer with streamlined and fresher looks.
Safilo also introduced a new line of sunwear for Nine West, available only through optical retailers. Featuring eight styles, the collection offers metal, plastic and combination styles and includes geometric shapes and wrap designs. The line carries a suggested retail price of $70 to $100. The new line will be backed by trade advertising and a visual merchandise package that will include posters and banners, the company said.
Also at the show, Safilo unveiled a new Fossil sunwear collection. The line is available through optical retailers and comes in acetate, metal and combination styles.
Safilo also recently signed a deal to produce eyewear for hot accessories brand Kate Spade, which is scheduled to launch in spring 2001.
Luxottica Group, the giant Italian eyewear company based in Agordo, Italy, showcased the Ray-Ban line for the first time. Last year, Luxottica purchased Ray-Ban, along with sunglass lines from Revo, Killer Loop and Liz Claiborne, from Bausch & Lomb. To celebrate its first showing of Ray-Ban, Luxottica’s booth featured dancers sporting Ray-Ban glasses and frames.
Luxottica said it plans to focus more on eye care professionals as a primary channel of distribution. To that end, Luxottica has changed the way distribution of the brand is handled, according to Jean Scott, vice president of product development. Now the brand is being distributed directly to retailers without the use of wholesalers. In addition, Luxottica has embarked on a campaign to “clean up” pricing in order to strengthen the image of the brand, she said.
“We will no longer sell Ray-Ban or Revo brands to customers in any channel of trade who sell these brands below MSRP [manufacturers’ suggested retail price] or who do not offer or display our products in a high quality manner,” said Guiseppe Servidori, senior vice president of Luxottica Group, which also makes eyewear for Bulgari, Chanel and Giorgio Armani.
Signature Eyewear launched its new Eddie Bauer collection of performance sunwear at the show. The line, which was unveiled at an event at the Pierre hotel, features the Oakley XYZ optic lens, which is designed to reduce glare.
The unisex line features four styles, each available in multiple lens-color combinations. Retailing for $89 to $159, the line will be available at optical retailers and select sporting goods stores, but is not being sold initially in Eddie Bauer stores, a company spokesman said.
Signature also produces a casual lifestyle collection for Eddie Bauer, as well as eyewear for Coach, Bebe, Nicole Miller and Laura Ashley.
In the Galleria pavilion of Vision Expo, a separate space overlooking the main floor that was devoted to high-end manufacturers, business was also strong.
Silhouette Optical showcased a new extra-light collection made of titanium. One reason the frames are lighter is because they contain no screws or hinges, a spokesman said. Made by hand, the line retails for about $270 and will be launched at Saks; it will then have further distribution starting in early May.
Brendel, a higher-end business based in Furth, Germany, introduced oversize Seventies-inspired shapes, as well as its new Bonneville collections featuring double-laminated frames with color combination lenses such as red on gold and black on red. The temples of the glasses are ornamented with inlays engraved with gold.
At Wink Optical, a high-end fashion-driven eyewear firm, unusually shaped frames were garnering buyer attention, said Julie Koch-Bienke, a partner in the New York-based company. Some of the newest shapes included a butterfly and modified oval looks. “Fun” colors such as pink and sky blue are also part of the newest looks, Koch-Bienke said.
The Internet, of course, was a topic of discussion at Vision Expo, as buyers from Web sites shopped the show and new Internet businesses clamored for buyer attention.
Eyeglass.com, a new Web site that allows shoppers to “try on” different glasses, officially launched during the show. Retailers who use the site receive a special imager to capture a digital image of a customer’s face. Customers can then search for, try on and order frames, and orders can actually be made through the site or through the retailers. Customers then pick up their frames at the retailer, which pays a commission on each sale.
The majority of buyers at the show were opticians and optical retail professionals.
Merna Lowell, owner of Lowell Optical, a three-store chain based in Lowell, Mass., said she was shopping the show for technology.
“Some years I focus on new fashion, but this year I am looking for new technologies, along with new window displays,” Lowell said. One trend she noticed was more interest in titanium, a lighter-weight material.
Vision Expo was not the only eyewear event around town. Oakley opened its first New York showroom on West 37th Street. The space carries the range of Oakley products, including watches, shoes, apparel, footwear and, of course, eyewear.
Frederic Beausoleil, an eyewear designer based in France, unveiled a new collection called Pop featuring seven glasses with colored lenses designed as a set to be worn each day of the week.
“People want to look extravagant and have different pairs to choose from,” Beausoleil said.
Beausoleil has also been working to promote his brand in Hollywood. The company’s eyewear is featured in a handful of movies this season, including “The Wonder Boys,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Hanging Up” and “28 Days.”
Beausoleil keeps a tight distribution. In the U.S., his eyewear is sold in about 250 stores, primarily in specialty optical stores, and in two department stores: Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys. The prices retail for $150 to $1,000, with the average price point about $275.
Cartier also sponsored an event to launch its new rimmed-eyewear collection. The platinum-finished collection is available in three shapes — oval, rectangular and octagonal — and lenses are available in colors such as strawberry, blue, violet and pink by special order only. The platinum-rimmed glasses retail for about $560.
Meanwhile, a new store devoted to fashion frames opened recently on the corner of Grand and Mercer Streets in SoHo.
The store, called Facial Index, is owned and operated by Kaneko Optical Co., a giant eyewear firm based in Japan. This is the firm’s first foray into the U.S. market. The interior of the store features a stark, open interior with only a small offering of eyewear.