Although most of the consumers are unaware of their great authority, the power of big corporations is undeniable, especially in the eyewear brands industry. For consumers it’s the brand they manufacture that speaks load and clear. However, is the market of eyewear brands reacting at the fact that some behemoths manufacturers took off the eyewear industry?
With the increase of world’s population and consumers’ appetite for all things fashion, the emergence of fast fashion brands is as evident as the development of mass market luxury. Moreover, the industry of eyewear is an impressive area to investigate as the vast majority of upscale designer optical and sunglasses are manufactured and marketed by only three large corporations: Luxottica, Safilo Group and Marcolin S.p.A.. These organizations have the license to produce most of the designer’s eyewear such as Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Tiffany & Co., Dolce and Gabbana, but they also have their own brands such as Ray Ban and Oakley (Luxottica), Polaroid and Carrera (Safilo Group) to only name a few.
With its retail headquarter in Mason, Ohio, Luxottica, is the biggest eyewear company on earth and was born in 1961, in Italy. The company is now active in all the world’s continents, having more than 7000 retail locations and operating retailers like Lens Crafters, Sunglass Hut and Pearl Vision – the top eyewear chain in North America. According to a recent investigation made by CBS News, brands like Chanel and Prada are sending their eyewear designs to Luxottica and from this stage on all the procedures, from manufacture to sales, are accrued to this giant corporation. According to The Business of Fashion sometimes these corporations also create the design of what many call the ‘face jewellery’. Another interesting fact about Luxottica is that in 1999 it bought the American brand Ray-Ban with the thought of making it up-scale and now Ray Ban is the top selling sunglass brand in the world. Acquired by Luxottica in 1995, but born in 1917 Persol is a living legend of “Made in Italy” eyewear well known for its timeless design and high quality. As a proof of its heritage Persol glasses were worn by Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, Mastroianni in la Dolce Vita, Nicolas Cage in Lord of War, to name a few. Hence regardless of the fact that Luxottica mass produces in Asia, it also offers its own heritage brands handcrafted in Italy.
Niche eyewear brands
Now, more than ever, the world of fashion acknowledges that shadesare a must-have accessory and both the consumer and the designer are paying more attention to this wonderful fashion ornament. The high prices set by large corporations which seem to have the monopoly on the market created a reaction among a number of independent eyewear designers who are now resonating with more knowledgable and savvier consumers. As the power and influence of the ‘big three’ licensing behemoths is unmistakable, the above mentioned designers are already creating niches for a different type of consumer.
For instance the London-based brand Linda Farrow have collaborated with designers such as Alexander Wang, Dries van Noten and The Row, trying to establish a new concept of glasses as opposite to the mass market luxury . This concept is related to tried-and-true methods rooted in craftsmanship, unique materials and fashion-forward design — qualities for which the customers are willing to pay, as Sedino, the creative director of the brand stated: “We wanted to offer more innovative eyewear, experimenting with shapes and materials used, for example exotic skins, buffalo horn and semi-precious stones.” Britain is also represented by Cutler and Gross, a brand specialized in handcrafted glasses that offer frames which are manually cut and hand polished at the brand’s own family-run factory in Cadore, Italy. The brand targets a specific niche as the brand designer Marie Wilkinson holds: “We have always seen Cutler and Gross as a niche club. We are not aiming for the mass market.”
Another designer with the same perspective regarding the meaning of eyewear is Selima Optique located in New York, who creates colourful glasses meant to “maintain a strong sense of personality, but also flatter a wide variety of faces,” as Naveed Hussain, a spokesperson for Selima Optique stated. In order to give personality to its products Selima Optique has collaborated with fashion brands like J.Crew and Jack Spade.
A new yet promising brand which also falls into the category of niche eyewear brands is Illesteva, located in New York. The 2009 born brand uses unusual materials such as bamboo, titanium and natural buffalo horn to create wonderful glasses handcrafted in Italy, France and Germany. According to BOF, one of the brand’s designers, Daniel Silberman, stated “I couldn’t find a pair of glasses that I liked and I don’t think glasses should cost $700. So I designed my own.” The brand is now stocking in leading boutiques like Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Net-a-Porter, and Opening Ceremony at prices around $350.
Glasses have been seen on the front row, worn by celebrities and highly promoted by brands such as Prada, Givenchy and Tom Ford, hence it’s clear to see they are no longer associated with nerds and ironic geeks- they have finally been accepted into mainstream, grownup style. Therefore, now, more than ever the big corporations that owe and manufacture the vast majority of designer eyewear are taking advantage of the great demand for this highly desired fashion accessory. They set high prices as they have the monopoly of the market.
So instead of taking part in a battle that would be lost from its very beginning which is the direct competition, a number of independent eyewear designers are creating a niche by offering a different type of glasses, so a new experience for their customers. Moreover, regardless of the fact that companies like Luxottica were harshly criticised for not offering enough transparency to their customers, each brand manufactured by them is different, so the consumers’ experience related to them is also different. For instance, they relate a particular pair of glasses to Chanel or Prada and not to Luxottica. All in all, in the minds of consumers Luxottica means variety and it’s tricky to establish a diagnostic regarding the ethics of this issue.