Seeing Eye to Eye

Eyewear remains relatively unimpacted by the pandemic when it comes to the pace of deal making. (Industry players say sales declined dramatically at the beginning of the crisis before rebounding to pre-pandemic or better levels in the fall of last year, according to a report in WWD.) Several key fashion, footwear, and luxury labels have signed traditional, long-term licensing agreements for optical frames and sunglasses—staple products for both consumers and fashion brands—since the beginning of 2020.

In some cases, the deals represent a label’s first entry into the eyewear category. In others, they reflect the significant changes that have been taking hold in the industry in recent years as big licensors in the fashion and luxury space have been assuming more control over their eyewear extensions.

LVMH, which has a portfolio of labels such as Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Fendi, entered into a joint venture called Thélios with eyewear maker Marcolin to handle LVMH brand activities in this category. Similarly, Kering, owner of Gucci, Brioni, Alexander McQueen, and many other properties, created an in-house eyewear division to manage the business of its own brands (with nine in the venture’s portfolio to date), as well as those of luxury conglomerate Richemont and other IP owners. These two relatively new ventures represent formidable competition to EssilorLuxottica and the other leading eyewear companies.

Here are some of the key eyewear agreements forged since the beginning of 2020, most of which came into force during the pandemic:

  • Max Mara paired with Marcolin in a five-year deal, with the licensee handling design, production, and global distribution of sunglasses and eyeglass frames. Marcolin already produced eyewear for Max Mara’s Max&Co. and Sportmax brands, but did not have rights to the flagship label.
  • Rimowa, an LVMH-owned German luxury luggage brand, granted rights to Thélios to produce and distribute a unisex line of optical frames and sunglasses. Thélios has gradually been taking over eyewear duties for other LVMH properties, including Dior and Céline, and this year announced the launch of its first in-house label. Meanwhile, the Thélios pact is the latest in a number of recent licensing deals and collaborations for Rimowa, which has partnered with the likes of Fendi and Off-White.
  • Converse signed a global deal with Marchon, starting with 43 eyeglass frames and 16 pairs of sunglasses. Styles are influenced by the licensor’s key brands, including Chuck Taylor All Stars and Pro Leathers. Marchon already worked with Converse parent Nike, among many other fashion and footwear brands.
  • Balmain licensed a start-up called Akoni, based in Switzerland, to produce the label’s first-ever eyewear collection. This is a break from the strategy of other luxury and fashion labels, which tend to work with the major global eyewear marketers. Balmain and Akoni’s strategy is to keep prices very high and distribution narrow. After launching the Balmain line, Akoni added a signature collection.
  • Chloé teamed with Kering Eyewear for sunglasses and optical frames for women and children, described as having a 1970s Bohemian sensibility. Chloé is owned by Richemont and joins several of that company’s other brands, including Montblanc, Cartier, and Alaïa, in Kering’s portfolio; Richemont has a 30% ownership stake in Kering Eyewear. Chloé moved to Kering from Marchon, where it had resided for nine years.
  • Both Dolce & Gabbana and Versace renewed their long-time licensing deals with EssilorLuxottica’s market-leading Luxottica brand for 10-year terms. Luxottica, which offers 33 eyewear brands, almost all of them licensed, also announced an agreement with Facebook for a line of connected smart glasses.

While long-term deals are the norm for fashion, luxury, and lifestyle brands in this industry sector, celebrities tend to enter the market through limited collaborations with smaller players, and several of those have come to light since the beginning of 2020 as well. Singer H.E.R. partnered with Diff for four pairs of sunglasses, for example, while teenage actress Millie Bobby Brown paired with Vogue Eyewear for seven styles. One of the broadest of such collaborations is tied to style icon Iris Apfel, known for her fashion-forward eyewear, who this month announced an agreement with Zenni for an “Iris Apfel Edit” consisting of 100 styles of Zenni glasses for women and children, all selected by soon-to-be-100-year-old Apfel.

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