Eyewear is, like all accessories, a boundless market of brands, designers, styles, and price points. The gas station sells $10 throwaways, Urban Outfitters sells stylish, cheap pairs…and Chrome Hearts makes frames in Japan of sterling silver, horn, and wood…selling for well over $800.
Generic “high-end” eyewear is dominated by fashion brands like Gucci and Prada, both of whom license their name to companies like Luxottica and Safilo, who produce and distribute the frames throughout the world. This system of merchandising is popular for a couple of reasons: high-end brands can develop a line of eyewear while spending little on production or facilities; since eyewear is seen as a gateway to a brand (low cost of entry for the consumer), development of eyewear builds awareness, accessibility, and brand loyalty for future non-eyewear purchases; Luxottica and Safilo are good at producing high-quality, attractive frames for an array of different fashion brands in one or two factories, where economies of scale make it profitable.
The end product of this arrangement is a market full of eyewear that is superficially different but largely made of the same materials, around the same cost, and of the same quality.
LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut, Solstice – they all stock these brands and are sometimes directly owned by the producer – for a fully-vertical process from concept to sale. Ilori is a new store chain, owned by Luxottica, that stocks only the high-end and classic brands, Luxottica-made and not. It is one of the few places you can buy David Yurman frames, which are some of the more rarified of the licensed brands.
These brands represent 90% of all eyewear sales (taking a guess). The other 10% comes from eyewear designers. Frames that are constructed by hand, often in Italy, France, or Japan, of mixed materials, unique colors, and with price tags to match. All that only after a designer or group of designers has spent time stressing over every detail. Some of my favorite designers include: J.F. Rey, Anne et Valentin, Barton Perreira, and Kirk Originals (my optical glasses are KO).
This weekend, I was desperate to unload some of the store credit I had at The Optic Shop in Hyde Park. I was initially drawn to a pair of Oliver Peoples wayfarer sunglasses I’d tried on previously…but they were too dark and too feminine for my taste. Next, I was wooed by a pair of Barton Perreira Brasco sunglasses, that looked great but said too much of “I’m hungover” and not enough of “I’m in control,” so I was at a loss. Gil, the tireless matchmaker, picked out a pair of titanium frames from Zero G that I initially didn’t like because they were too light, almost feathery. However, the bright silver frame finish and light green lenses proved a winning combination, so I relented and agreed to purchase them.
At $495, they were almost double my store credit, but I was far too entrenched to walk out at that point. I really like them because they feel great on – the lightness takes some getting used to but is well worth the adjustment. They have no logo, only the Zero G four squares at the temple. They’re hand made of titanium in Japan. And the hinge has no screws, so is unlikely to ever loosen or fail.
I did some research and found all kinds of great information on Zero G – including a video about how the frames are made in Japan. It’s information and knowledge like this that makes buying an expensive pair of eyewear worthwhile – you’re not supporting a mass production industry where the price is more indicative of the advertising – you’re supporting artists, design, and quality craftsmanship.
I’m looking forward to wearing these and seeing how they stand up to daily use, compared to my first and second pairs of high-end sunwear (Mosley Tribes & Ray-Ban).