6 April 2016
Technical Innovations and Retro Styles Take Point at Silmo
Clever new hinges, a panto revival, innovative materials, brand launches and groundbreaking lenses were all on show at the Silmo optical fair in Paris, with the wider European eyewear industry finally showing signs of cautious optimism.
The overall mood at Silmo Paris was cautiously optimistic, with most exhibitors reporting modest sales growth. This tallied with figures released by research company GfK, which put the combined turnover for the first half of 2015 of Italy, France, Spain and Germany at €8.1 billion (HK$70.1 billion), a year-on-year increase of over 4%.
A separate GfK survey found that the UK, Germany and France dominate the European market for optical frames, with the UK growing strongly. It also found that plastic outsold metal for all frames, most markedly in Spain and Italy.
In a competitive market, many frame makers are seeking advantage through technical innovation. Fidela, based in Morez, France, introduced an intricate spring hinge for Bugatti-branded acetate frames, with 15 stainless-steel parts and "a very aesthetic angle". Frédéric Lafite, the company's CEO, said: "You have to come up with new ideas because opticians and consumers demand it."
The launch collection from French company Baars Eyewear centred on a simple yet effective magnetic hinge. Guillaume Thuau, the company's Creative Director, said: "It's not just a sales gimmick. The idea was that it had to be as good as, or better than, traditional hinges."
Hong Kong company Lezoptics, which targets mid- to high-end customers, spent a year developing a unique screwless hinge. Benny Law, Lezoptics' Director said: "Everywhere people are selling the same frames, so we have to make something different."
Titanium specialist Blackfin, from Veneto, Italy, won the Silmo d'Or for technical innovation for its 'Shark-lock' system, which uses small teeth to hold the lenses instead of screws. The system was premiering in round frames, a shape that Marketing Manager Silvia Botter said was making a comeback.
Belgian company Hoet presented the world's first 3D laser-printed eyewear in titanium, manufactured by Raytech, a US firm based in Middletown, Connecticut. Raytech's CEO, Paul Raymaekers, said: "The technology produces a very strong, lightweight titanium and completely frees the design."
Retailing at about €2,000, the frames are marketed as a customised couture line. Raymaekers said: "Opticians don't need stock, just plastic models to check the size. They order online and we print in three weeks."
Silmo also saw the appearance of new acetates aimed at enhancing comfort. OWP, which is based in Passau, Germany, launched men's styles in ultra-light HD acetate. Meanwhile, the French company ADCL-APLUS is among the first to use UTX (ultra-thin xyl) technology, which enables acetate frames to be 35% thinner and 50% lighter.
Child's Eye View
ADCL-APLUS' extension of UTX technology to its children's eyewear reflects the growing importance of this category, as increased computer use impacts on children's eyesight.
Rob Bresser, Founder of Netherlands-based BBig Design eyewear for children, said: "Kids don't want childish styles, the image you get with the frame should be cool." He said acetate was dominant because it is widely worn by popular artists, while new matte and brushed finishes also emulate adult trends.
Look Occhiali from Italy presented new models in its colourful, ultra-light Lookkino children's range. Marketing Manager Marco de Fina said: "The innovation is that there are no screws – it's a single piece so there are no breaking points."
Benjamin Thaller, Marketing Director of Julbo, a company from Williston, Vermont, said children's eyewear was a major pillar of its business, with very good volume and margins.
Julbo is best known for sports eyewear, which Thaller said is a much bigger market than luxury. Its new Aero is designed for runners who, he said, "need something technical, lightweight and breathable." Aero features Julbo's first single-shaded wraparound lens, providing all-around lens ventilation.
Awarded a Silmo d'Or, Seiko Optical's new Xchanger sports frames, meanwhile, have interchangeable components. Kaoru Yamazaki, Product Management Director for the Japanese company, said: "There are five frame widths and two lengths of temple. You can also change the lenses." The Xchanger is Seiko's first foray into 3D printing, which made the ventilation system and highly curved frame possible.
Some companies raided their archives for inspiration. French brand Vuarnet has reworked signature sunglasses worn by actors Alain Delon and Jeff Bridges, while the new OG Family line, from Oliver Goldsmith of the UK, is built around design details from iconic models.
Optoplast Actman Eyewear, also from the UK, is launching its first own-brand range. CEO James Conway said: "The brand's heritage gives the customer confidence. It is a 'made in England' product, which is quite rare. It's a lot more expensive to manufacture but we think there's a niche." The collection is priced "just above entry-level designer (£160-£200), a segment that Conway said performs very well.
Meanwhile, the Italian Vespa collection, inspired by the 1950s and 1960s, is being refreshed with TR90 injected plastic, a material which Vespa's Trade Marketing Manager, Nicolas Lachaux, said was gaining ground as it enables thinner and lighter frames. He said vintage was a strong trend, especially the panto frame.
Raphael Rambeau, Export Manager for Parisian frame maker Lafont, agreed. He said: "We are coming out of five years of the square, chunky Johnny Depp vintage look, and now the panto shape has become a fashion statement."
Extravagant, celebrity-style frames were abundant at Silmo. New acetate frames from the German brand Frost incorporate a sweeping wave over the browline and come in on-trend black and white, animal prints and ethnic prints. Frost's Creator, Marion Frost, said: "When it's handmade, people view the product as more valuable and distinctive."
Paris-based designer Dzmitry Samal also emphasised the handmade quality of his big, bold and quirky frames, produced in limited editions. New rose-inspired models feature thorn shapes on the temples, while oversized jewellery matches frames built from intersecting geometric shapes. Samal said Italy is his best market.
The Italian company Retrosuperfuture reported strong interest in its futuristic W-shaped sunglasses. Sales Manager Matteo Costanzo said: "It's very new in terms of design, very clean, nothing more than the lenses."
Silmo's Special Jury Prize went to Factory900 for its funky frames incorporating six sun lenses. A designer for the Tokyo-based company, Yoshinori Aoyama, said: "The design is retro-future, like steampunk." The frames are made from ultra-thin acetate using specialist 3D solid modelling, then hand-polished.
All About Acetate
While shedding weight and volume, acetate is proving increasingly versatile in terms of styling. Gaëlle Jommetti, Director/Marketing Manager of Charmant, said: "What's new is the way of treating sheets of acetate, layered in stripes." Designs for its Elle and Esprit sunglasses included marine stripes, patterns and animal prints.
Look Occhiali's de Fina said colour was currently more important than shape, with blue and tone-on-tone reds proving very popular. The Metropolitan line from OWP uses acetate in vibrant colours, black-and-white combinations and matte finishes. Maggie Chen, Manager of the Chinese supplier Mocco Optical, noted an increased use of colour-enhancing laminated acetate.
The latest sunglasses from Lafont incorporate floral-print fabric into the acetate, though Rambeau said bright colours sell less well in Germany.
Looking Good, Naturally
Natural materials, notably lightweight wood, are increasingly popular for frames. Mocco Optical's collection featured bamboo and various woods, including skateboard wood pressed into multicoloured layers. But Chen said Mocco's customers were more concerned about durability than sustainability.
Denmark's Fleye claims to be the first eyewear company to mix wood with carbon fibre, in clean-lined Danish designs. Its CEO, Hanne Rosenvold Anderson, said: "Carbon fibre is light and strong but some customers find it a bit dark, so we wanted to give warmth and life to the surface." Another new combination was wood and aluminium, as seen in Italian brand W-eye's hexagonal-framed sunglasses, which won a Silmo d'Or.
WeWood, an eco-conscious Italian brand, is pioneering frames made from cotton, including fabric offcuts. Its Distribution Manager, Romain Vérigneaux, said: "Today, you have to be different. Independent opticians look for small brands, new things." He said cotton offers more consistent colour and durability than wood, and is quite flexible to work with.
Silmo 2015 took place at the Parc des Expositions Paris Nord Villepinte, Roissy, 25-28 September. It featured 892 exhibitors and attracted 34,250 visitors.
Linda Watkins, Special Correspondent, Paris