Byline: Phyllis Macchioni

MILAN — Sales in Italy’s eyewear sector are on the upswing, and manufacturers are increasingly counting on designer names and fashion trends to fuel the momentum.
So it was no surprise that the mood at Mido, Europe’s largest eyewear fair that ended its four-day run here May 8, was upbeat.
“Fashion is in a constant state of change, and eyewear, particularly sunglasses, have become an important accessory,” said Cirillo Marcolin, president of Mido.
Color and glamour were the big trends for 2001 and more than 150,000 new models were unveiled. Exhibitors offered rose, mint, lilac, golden yellow and a variety of other colors for both frames and lenses. Oversized and wrap-around frames got Hollywood touches with sequins, laser-cut designs or leather. Large mask-like sunglasses, often made from one oversized lens, looked like chic welding glasses. Other models featured frames so thin and delicate they seemed to be part of the lens.
There was also an eclectic mix of materials, including wood, plastic, rubber and metal. Ultra-high tech materials, including carbon fibers, nylon, rubber-covered metal and nonscratch, shatter-proof polycarbon lenses, were often used in sports models.
The number of exhibitors increased 5.4 percent from last year, and for the first time, foreign exhibitors outnumbered Italian exhibitors, 639 to 504. The sector’s 8 percent to 9 percent growth in the first quarter has been encouraging, according to Paolo Cannicci, president of the Association of Italian Optical Products Manufactures.
Most of that growth has come from exports as a result of a weak euro and a strong dollar. Sunglass sales increased 5.9 percent from the same period in 1999. Exports of optical frames did not fare as well, showing a 6 percent decrease compared with a year ago.
Claudio Gottardi, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Safilo Group, said his company registered record sales in 1999, and results thus far this year were looking even better.
“In the first quarter, we have seen a 31 percent increase in sales over last year,” said Gottardi. “Our collections are doing particularly well, due to a series of planned investments, new publicity and improvements in our distribution system, and the excellent exchange rate hasn’t hurt us, either. In the United States, we are just starting to market Kate Spade, a line aimed at the 13-15 age group.”
To keep pace with increased demand and to improve service, some companies are reorganizing.
“This year we have put all our lines — Italian Occhiali, Filos and United Optical — under the Filos umbrella with a centralized distribution center,” said Filos president Lucio Lozza. “We have restructured our sales force worldwide and now all of our lines are carried by every sales manager. This has improved sales a great deal.”
Italocremona has restructured its distribution system and, according to company president Lorenzo Cremona, the new system is working well.
“We recently started distributing our products in Luxembourg, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and Austria and can now offer overnight delivery,” he said. Only 20 percent of Italcremona’s production is sold in Italy; the rest is exported.
“The America market is important for us,” said Cremona. “We felt it was important to shorten the time to market because fashion changes so fast now, and to keep up with the competition, we must always have new items. Both our Versace and Versus lines, for example, have been completely redesigned, making them more up-to-date.”
Expanding rather than restructuring distribution is the strategy for DeRigo, according to Maurizo Dessoli, chief financial officer. In the past two years, De Rigo has purchased General Optica, the Spanish distribution house, and Dollond & Atchison, one of the principal distributors in Great Britain.
Dessoli said De Rigo had grown fivefold in the past three years, mostly because of its aggressive approach to signing new agreements with major fashion houses.
The firm, which has a joint venture with Prada to produce that company’s eyewear line, recently signed a letter of intent with Fendi for a new line of Fendissime eyewear, and a contract with the LVMH Group to produce and sell eyewear under the Celine brand, which will bow in the first half of 2001.