Thélios Buys Storied French Brand Vuarnet
Acquiring it from Neo Investment Partners, the eyewear brand becomes the first proprietary label in the Thélios portfolio.
Daniel Craig is seen at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Oct. 6, 2021, in Los Angeles wearing Vuarnet. (Photo by RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)GC IMAGES
MILAN — Thélios is acquiring legendary brand Vuarnet from NEO Investment Partners, making this the first proprietary label in its portfolio.
“The opportunity to buy Vuarnet came at the right moment for us, we felt ready for this kind of operation after six years in business taking major steps in our industrial set up,” said Thélios chief executive officer Alessandro Zanardo. “We are very solid, we have built expertise in design, prototyping and quality, developed a global commercial network and almost completed the establishment of our branches globally, consolidating our relations with the best retailers in the market.”
Controlled by luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Thélios designs, produces and distributes sunglasses and optical frames for Dior, Fendi, Celine, Givenchy, Loewe, Stella McCartney, Kenzo, Berluti and Fred.
Financial details were not disclosed.
The acquisition allows Thélios to expand its portfolio with a brand that was “born as an eyewear label, not a fashion one,” said the executive, as the company was eyeing to incorporate a brand “that has precise characteristics.”
These include “a very powerful history” that dates back to 1957, when the brand was founded by the optician Roger Pouilloux and French ski Olympic gold medallist Jean Vuarnet, and it has preserved its “strong values, the Olympic spirit but also its luxury approach to style.”
Zanardo underscored that Vuarnet is seen as a hero in France, “he was the first to develop the ‘egg’ [or tuck] position” employed by skiers ever since, and is a “symbol of style.”
While connected to sports, he noted that Vuarnet is not necessarily a technical brand but one linked to nature and sustainability.
The Vuarnet models “have made history, with their iconic designs,” continued Zanardo, and have gained popularity by appearing in several international movies, worn by Alain Delon in the 1969 film “The Swimming Pool,” by Jeff Bridges in “The Big Lebowski” in 1998, and by Daniel Craig in “James Bond — Spectrum” in 2015, among others. Incidentally, Thélios is once again the eyewear sponsor of the Venice Film Festival, running until Saturday as part of its three-year agreement inked last year.
He also highlighted the importance of the internal know-how of Vuarnet’s factory, where sunglasses are made with glass, or mineral, lenses, unique to only a few brands, he contended. “In a world that has progressively veered toward an almost entire use of plastic lenses, glass is sustainable by definition and has a superior qualitative performance.” This expertise will help Thélios to expand its know-how in this area.
Vuarnet’s manufacturing site is located in Meaux, France, and has been certified by the French government as an “Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant” (a Living Heritage Company).
In addition, Vuarnet fits with the Thélios portfolio strategy and the other brands, complementing them, and the company plans to further elevate the positioning of the Vuarnet collections, with very selective distribution and to “keep the label pure.”
Zanardo noted that, even though Vuarnet originated in the sportswear sector, “we consider it an outdoors brand, not technical, but more lifestyle, to be worn in an urban context as well.”
Asked if Thélios is considering shifting its focus to developing a stable of proprietary brands, Zanardo said, “Only if other brands will have these kinds of characteristics, if they are exceptional, with a strong know-how and design content,” and that the company is not intently eyeing increasing its portfolio with owned labels rather than licensed ones.
NEO Investment Partners revived the Vuarnet brand, which had almost disappeared since the early 2000s, introducing the “Fellowship” program, its first mountaineering community strategy of ambassadors and friends, and successfully integrating e-commerce to its retail and wholesale distribution.
“Vuarnet’s journey with NEO Investment Partners has been incredible,” stated David Belhassen, founding and managing partner of the investment company, expressing his pride in the “impressive rebirth” of the brand. “As we pass on the torch to Thélios, we are confident that Vuarnet is in the best hands to flourish further.”
The state-of-the-art Thélios plant in Longarone, a one-hour drive from Venice, was inaugurated in 2018, and production spans more than 194,400 square feet, allowing LVMH to strengthen its presence in the eyewear industry.
Neo Investment Partners is an investor in the Victoria Beckham brand.