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Inflation Pushes Shoppers Toward Luxury Eyewear

Executives at Vision Expo East say that shoppers are flocking to luxury eyewear as an accessible way to buy into coveted brands.

The Marcolin booth at Vision Expo East.

Major eyewear brands exhibiting at this year’s Vision Expo East show say that, despite economic uncertainty, they feel reasonably optimistic about the year ahead.

Executives for three of the industry’s biggest players say that good foot traffic at the show — which took place at the Jacob K. Javits center from March 15 through 17 — was reason enough to brightly look ahead.

Emanuele Cappellano, North America chief executive officer for Marcolin, said of the attendance at Vision Expo East: “The good thing is that traffic is quite high compared with last year. I see that there is a big improvement.”

Thomas Burkhardt, president at Marchon, added of the show: “The layout is better [this year]. We’re very happy with the traffic and just generally people are back in New York City and happy to be here.”

Inflation is, of course, top of mind for executives in any field. In eyewear, companies say that inflationary conditions have spurred a somewhat surprising response from consumers.

Luxury continues to boom, according to all companies consulted. The entry price points are also performing well. The mid-range market, however, appears to be suffering the most constraint.

Burkhardt added: “It’s becoming a tough business, to be honest, because for two frames in the mid-price you can have one luxury frame. It’s clearly impacting the market.”

Cappellano said, “We see an important inflection point in the middle segment, where there’s higher resistance. Luxury is less sensitive to inflation.”

“I think this is a matter of acquisition power in the middle class,” Cappellano added. “In that case many people may have the possibility to go up and buy luxury. Or maybe they prefer to do some cautious buying and purchase in on the bottom in terms of price. So the bottom is strong, the upper is strong but the middle is more sensitive.”

Sherianne James, chief marketing officer for EssilorLuxottica Wholesale North America, said that Gen Z is using its discretionary income to buy into the luxury category because eyewear is often among the most accessible ways to enter a brand’s orbit.

“We are seeing brands like Prada, Versace — they can’t get enough. What’s super interesting is we’re seeing that the purchase power of Gen Z is really there and we’re one of the most accessible places to get luxury and this is really benefiting us — this strong desire for luxury products,” James said.

This extends to Luxottica’s long-standing license with Tiffany & Co., which is ramping up under the brand’s LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton management. “We have big things in plans with the license,” James said. “We’re going to be doing a major event at the Tiffany store [on 5th Avenue] when it reopens and we continue to just elevate the design. So for us, the relationship just keeps getting better and stronger.”

On the design front, eyewear producers acknowledged a larger push into gender-neutral styles.

“Every generation has that thing that separates them from their parents and now it’s gender fluidity. We have even been discussing with some of our clients that maybe there will come a time where you don’t need a frame board that says male and female because this generation embraces fluidity. Whether it’s embracing wearing makeup or the comfort level of painting your nails — they want styles that make them feel good that are creative,” James said.

Marchon offers a unisex brand called McAllister, but Burkhardt said that some market conditions are slowing the advancement of gender-neutral designs into the retail mainstream. “We’ve seen over the last years that clearly there’s been a trend of women choosing men’s styles. There is a crossover and we will see it more and more,” he confirmed.

But Burkhardt cautioned: “There’s a consumer that wants to be guided. And what is actually slowing it down is e-commerce because you shop with filters and it’s so easy to click men’s styles to weed everything else out. There is such an overwhelming offer that oftentimes you need to filter and gender still helps there.”

One of the biggest changes at this year’s show is that Safilo did not exhibit. Instead, the major player decided to take its assortment on the road for a new program called the Safilo Partnership Tour — which entails meeting retail partners in key geographic markets. The tour kicked off in February and will stop in states including Texas, California and Georgia through May — offering retail clients an immersive experience, as well a preview of the first Carrera collection designed for women.


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