There is a group, a rather large Group, in Italy that has been quietly buying out talented indie eyewear brands to flesh out their portfolio of mainstream luxury licenses that they produce. The Group is immense in scale, yet their presence so masterful that you cannot avoid seeing the omnipresence of the brands that they possess on the shelves and on the web.
The peculiar nature of the Group is such that you won't see their name anywhere on their luxury products. Yet they own brands like Ray Ban, Oakley and Oliver Peoples. Under licences, they develop eyewear for designer houses such as Prada, Versace and Bvlgari. Look intently at the frames and you will be hard pressed to find any sign of the real "Super Brand": Luxottica.
You see, Luxottica have a knack for being at the right place at the right time. For example, they nailed, in almost a prophetic way, the consumerist hunger for the vintage Wayfarer style. What was once tired and dated became a source of retro-inspired fashion, but Luxottica reinterpreted the Wayfarer into a symbol of mechanisation and pure capitalism.
The stylistic pantoscopic tilt was gone and, crucially, the wonderful cotton-fibre based cellulose acetate was replaced in favour of petroleum based injection-molding. Cost-effective, easy to mass produce and lighter. Not so luxurious, I hasten to add. Switch out a few logos and tweak an angle here and there and you have a recipe for success. Check out this video from Luxottica's factory:
Luxottica's drive for success is insatiable - and admirable. They adapt and plan, to keep abreast of the competition. Today (Thursday 1st March), after months of hard wrangling, Luxottica's eye-watering 48-billion-euro ($58.49 billion) mega-merger with Essilor is confirmed by The European Commission without setting conditions.
Now, who are Essilor? Well, they're the largest lens supplier in the world and own 50% of other lens manufacturers like BBGR, Shamir and Nikon. Essilor have quite the financial clout that they can buy out lens laboratories at a canter.
You are just as likely to be wearing a pair of lenses made by the French company than to bump into a pair of sunglasses made by Luxottica. And just like the invisibility of Luxottica in eyewear, you are none the wiser about your lenses.
Is the hegemony of lens manufacture a concern for the consumer? How confident can you be that you are genuinely offered choice? Essilor cleverly positioned themselves as market leaders, and their products are found at chain opticians, independent opticians and online!
They are - almost - inescapable.
I say almost, because we take pride in sourcing lenses that aren't influenced by Essilor. We take pride in being free from the pressures of Essilor (and Luxottica). We offer, for example, a spectrum of colourful anti-glare choices as well as the thinnest plastic lens - the 1.76 bi-aspheric. We also introduced to our clients a purple mirrored tint and a honeycombed lens to reduce excess glare. These choices aren't available by Essilor, nor Nikon, nor Shamir nor BBGR.
Cutting edge technology and design isn't found in places where people stay confined in their comfort zone. It's found where risks are taken, where innovative thought is cherished, where failure is seen as a badge of honour - a scar to remind you why you tried.
My concern is that the voices for shouting out the merits of independence and creativity are drowned out by the heavy churning crashes from the monolithic, mechanised industry who is orchestrating the market to the tune of billions.
Talk about the mega-merger is quite a taboo in optical circles but it's certainly the biggest elephant in the room. Today, it seems, that the elephant has just purchased a complete pair of spectacles and no one has batted an eyelid.
So, the next time you visit a store looking for real quality and choice, perhaps ask who and where your frames and lenses are made. You might be in for quite an eye-opener.
If you are fond of independence and transparency, then book an appointment with us, and together we can celebrate craftsmanship, design and innovation in the world of eyewear.
Comment below about how you feel about the coming merger. Are you concerned about choice? Do you wish to see diversity? Or is this news just symptomatic of the world that we live in and that would should embrace this future? Maybe. but I end with quoting Elie Wiesel, "The opposite of love is not hate - it's indifference".
Until next time, keep crushing the eyewear game! Janan signing off.