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MILAN — Design elements from hit handbags like Gucci’s horse bit and Fendi’s “B” buckle graced eyewear frames at this month’s Mido fair, where industry executives were upbeat in the face of intense competition.

“There are just a few of us out there, and we are stealing each other’s market share,” said Maurizio Marcolin, chief of style and licensing at Marcolin SpA, which unveiled Tom Ford frames for prescription eyewear and a new oversized sunglasses model in black, tortoiseshell and marble variations.

Overall, the fashion eyewear industry is robust. Italian eyewear exports last year grew 12.9 percent to 1.73 billion euros, or $2.16 billion, from 1.54 billion euros, or $1.91 billion, in 2004, according to data from the trade organization Anfao. The four-day Mido fair that ended May 8 was the last edition at Milan’s downtown fairgrounds. Fair attendance grew 6.3 percent to 42,000 visitors, said Mido organizers. Next year, Mido will move to a sprawling new convention center in the suburb of Rho-Pero.

Large frames in circular, oval and squarish variations, several of which evoked Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver” or those worn by Jackie Kennedy Onassis, dominated the fair. Logos and brand names featured prominently again this season.

Marchon unveiled its Fendi frames featuring miniature replicas of the buckles on the house’s bags. Safilo also drew on handbag themes, placing horse bits on Gucci styles and small metal buckles on Marc Jacobs glasses. Industry executives stressed the importance of playing up brand identity for an entry-level designer product like eyewear.

“When you see this, there’s no question it’s Fendi,” said Al Berg, president and chief executive officer of Mar­chon Eyewear.

Marchon, which has manufactured and distributed Fendi for the U.S. market since 1991, took over the global license for the brand last year. The company has a three-year plan to make it one of the top eyewear brands in the world. Berg said Fendi eyewear sales are anticipated to grow about 50 percent this year to an estimated $60 million to $70 million.

“The world eyewear market seems to be really strong,” Berg said. “Business is up in virtually every country and every market.”

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Last month, Luxottica and Safilo posted first-quarter figures reflecting robust demand for eyewear. Luxottica’s sales for the three months ended March 31 advanced 21.7 percent to 1.26 billion euros, or $1.51 billion, from 1.04 billion euros, or $1.36 billion, a year earlier.

Revenue at Safilo for the same period rose 7.5 percent to 302.1 million euros, or $386 million, from 281 million euros, or $359 million, in 2005.

“The market is shaping up extremely well,” said Safilo ceo Roberto Vedovotto, who added that the market in the U.S. and Asia is “growing aggressively,” while Europe remains sluggish.

Against that backdrop, eyewear companies are battling to snag lucrative fashion licensing deals. In February, Luxottica inked a 10-year licensing deal with Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., deleting that name from Safilo’s brand portfolio. Meanwhile, there are other deals in the works.

Safilo, which already produces eyewear for Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani, is negotiating to make A|X Armani Exchange-branded eyewear, while Marcolin is preparing to roll out Tod’s frames.

“It’s not easy,” Marcolin said. “Competition is very intense.”

Vedovotto said, “For us, it’s very important to keep being very selective. We don’t have to add brands for the sake of it.”

As for pushing the existing license portfolios, eyewear makers took on diverging strategies to woo customers. Versace, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana and Calvin Klein all favored having their names in oversized typefaces on otherwise minimalist frames. Other brands, such as Giorgio Armani and Prada, toned down the logos and brand references.

Marc Jacobs, Missoni, D&G and Miu Miu emphasized color. Roberto Cavalli, Gucci, Bulgari and Salvatore Ferragamo turned to crystals and colored stones for decorative flourish.