MILAN — Big is still beautiful, according to eyewear manufacturers.

Exaggerated styles proved not just a catwalk trend, but also a key look for eyewear at the recent edition of Mido. The industry’s growth and Tom Ford staking his return to fashion by launching an eyewear line this year proves that the category is hot, executives said.

Attendance at the event May 6-9 at the Milan fairgrounds was up about 6 percent compared with 2004.

Styles inspired by the colors of an ice-cream stand and topped with an array of sparkling hardware shone in many collections, including the allover Swarovski-studded Missoni frames and Prada’s tricolor sunglasses in horizontal stripes of pink, chocolate and cream.

The prevailing trend was bigger shapes. Oversized frame components showed up at Miu Miu in a look with a thick plastic panel above the bridge and lenses, and in Stella McCartney’s pink plastic aviators with wide temples. Gucci’s oversized green wrap frames with matching tinted lenses incorporated the label’s half horse bit.

The high demand for eyewear continued thanks to the popularity of bigger looks, executives said.

“The sunwear business is now fashion-directional and the large-sized looks have pushed that along,” said Al Berg, president of Marchon Eyewear. “The reason the industry is growing is that the entire design of the product has significantly changed over the years — now it is fresh and exciting.”

Marchon showed Fendi’s new high-end Selleria line, which it plans to put in 6,000 doors worldwide by mid-2006. The company hopes the hand-stitched leather and gold pave-accented frames that retail from $400 will push a 40 percent growth in Fendi’s eyewear sales next year.

At Luxottica, Versace president Santo Versace said his company’s eyewear sales grew 50 percent in 2004. He attributed the gains to cooperative teamwork between the fashion house and Luxottica. Versace recounted how Donatella Versace and Leonardo Del Vecchio, president of Luxottica, devised new eyewear looks on the floor of her apartment on Via Gesu.

“The collection this season is really beautiful,” Versace said. “Our eyewear business has been evolving and now it is so dynamic it works in synergy with what’s shown on the Versace catwalk.”

This story first appeared in the May 16, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Color dominated Versace’s sunwear collection. Bright violet and green low-drop aviators with matching tinted lenses sported a reworked house Medusa symbol and Greek pattern.

License acquisitions were on top of the agenda for other manufacturers. Marcolin announced an eyewear deal with Ferrari and declined to elaborate on its month-old licensing deal with Tom Ford. The first Tom Ford eyewear collection will be unveiled at the SILMO exhibition in Paris in October. Maurizio Marcolin, chief executive officer, said the recent acquisitions were the company’s first after it lost the Dolce & Gabbana license.

“We are not done yet [acquiring new brands] … .It will be a selective addition process and of course they should not overlap with existing brands,” Marcolin said.

Meanwhile, the privately held Safilo Group is mulling the possibility of listing itself on the stock market.

“We are thinking seriously about it,” said Safilo ceo Robert Vedovotto. “Bankers are telling us the market is extremely good and the situation looks good. It would be a partial float in the next 12 months, but we’ve made no decisions yet.”

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