The Eyewear Renaissance: Global Trends In Luxury Glasses And Sunglasses
Thomas Fuller has been right since the 17th century. Seeing is believing. With the global screen time average of seven hours (and rapidly rising), we live in a demanding hyper-visual culture. Eye-care is the latest frontier in luxury services and goods. When Iggy Pop and Kelly Rowland both have a hit song about shades, you know something has been mainstream for decades. Glasses and sunglasses can be at once ubiquitous and extremely memorable. Try picturing Mahatma Gandhi or Malcolm X without their signature frames. Vivienne Westwood once quipped that she couldn’t even think without her glasses. Right now, the Aviators are back “in” thanks to Top Gun: Maverick and President Biden’s stylistic seal of approval.
With the success of Everything Everywhere All At Once, its stars Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ke Huy Quan have brought fashion-forward eyewear to the year’s biggest red carpets. In the US alone, Vision Council of America estimates more than 60% of adult population wear glasses generating nearly $30 billion in 2022. For sustainability-conscious consumers it can be challenging to navigate the latest trends while independent manufacturers often struggle to reach audiences amid the advertising roar. Who are the current must-have designers and upcoming tastemakers? What factors are shaping the global market? For industry insights, I turned to Glassworks founder Ariel Resnik, an Australian-born, Tel Aviv-based optometry entrepreneur curating world’s finest artisan and high-tech eyewear makers. For style advice, I spoke with Olia Kedik of OliaModa, a Sacramento based fashion accessories stylist and instagram influencer.
Luxury Beyond Branding
The very notion of luxury in this segment differs from the fashion status quo. World’s biggest brands tend to outsource accessories and cosmetics to third-party manufacturers.
“Eyewear connoisseurs really care about handmade, slow design and sustainable materials,” comments Resnik. Luxury eyewear is the original anti-fast-fashion stronghold resisting gimmick marketing and mass production. For example, Hong Kong’s best-kept-secret brand Rigards creates truly unique frames using grained wood, horn, sterling silver and oxidizing metals all of which change their aesthetic characteristics over time engaging with the chemicals in the wearer’s skin. They were the 2021 winner of the Silmo d’Or trophy, known as the Oscars for the eyewear industry. Since 1917, KameManNen has been investing hundreds of manual labor hours into each of its iconic frames. This brand is Japan’s most influential contributor to optometry history. Its engineering legacy includes the introduction of titanium to eyewear which revolutionized the industry and inspired a generation of designers around the world.
No Algorithm For a Real Experience
While fashion metaverse revenues accelerate at an impressive 36% annual growth rate, vision retailer Warby Parker is adapting its online-only strategy to include more brick and mortar stores. When it comes to technology, the eyewear industry has always been an early adapter. However, the experience of trying on a new pair of glasses and perfecting its fit remains intimately human. “Drive-thru efficiency does not appeal to luxury optometry consumers who want to be at the heart of the experience,” notes Resnik. Case in point is the success of two brands born in Berlin a decade ago: Kuboraum and Mykita. Different in style, they share a millennial community-building approach to ushering in a better world one perspective-change frame at a time.
“Monumental, bodyscapes, liquid identities, power of masks, infinite languages.” An excerpt from the Kuboraum concept statement is as fascinating as their climate-neutral craftsmanship. Mykita exemplifies the bright side of the interdependent creator economy focusing on hi-tech quality and fostering “a culture of curiosity and play” in its artists and clients. A real connection is the ultimate luxury.
Technically, as a medical device, eyewear has always been unisex. Throughout the years, its design history expanded our understanding of the masculine/feminine spectrum. From Andy Warhol to RuPaul, eyewear has been seen as a tool for gender nonconforming self-expression. Elton John once estimated to have owned about a quarter of a million pairs! “Glasses no longer are categorized by gender, really. Eyewear designers think more in terms of materials and innovations,” says Olia Kedik of OliaModa, a Sacramento based fashion and accessories stylist.
For example, Yuichi Toyama is renowned for the geometric artistry of his designs that emotively enhance any face. The cult Japanese designer relies on five guiding principles: Look, Think, Draw, Make, Break. Meanwhile, LOOL comes from Barcelona, the city synonymous with freethinking, vibrant sexuality and visionary architecture of Antoni Gaudi. This brand translates urban lines and Mediterranean colors into statement pieces of engineering genius. And Masahiro Maruyama creates frames so distinctly whimsical yet flawlessly practical they capture our complex zeitgeist perfectly. No wonder the brand is this year’s Silmo d’Or laureate.
Eyewear Against Climate Change
Extreme weather is becoming the New Normal and there are growing concerns over heightened UV radiation. “Refractive needs are a new priority for many outside the traditionally exceptionally sunny places like Israel, California, or Brazil. You need ample protection everywhere,” notes Resnik. Conversely, even the Arctic Circle is seeing a spike in demand for quality sunglasses. The Nordic optical market is projected to grow at a healthy 4% over the next five years. Italian brand DABRACH has been ahead of the curve on this trend. Their atelier is nestled in the Alpine region of Piedmont and draws on its famed hiking heritage. TAVAT is another example of climate-conscious design. This family business is rooted in the mountaineering culture of the Dolomites. High altitude knowhow and fashion-savvy aesthetics allow for ultra-safe and impeccable eyewear.
New Diverse Points of View
Italians “invented” the modern glasses. Japanese craftsmanship is so legendary, they “invented” repairing common objects with gold! No wonder Italy vs. Japan “rivalry” has powered the luxury industry for decades. However, adventurous consumers are shifting their focus and redrawing the must-have map.
Digital access to designers anywhere and celebrity influence everywhere stimulate the demand. For example, many South Korean brands are benefiting from the massive interest in K-pop and K-dramas. Tbilisi maintains its fashion capital status in part thanks to George Keburia and those tiny cat-eye sunglasses beloved by all the Kardashians, Knowles, Hadids, etc. Handmade just outside Sao Paulo, bold colorful frames from Brazilian label LAPIMA have captured the hearts and faces of South American trendsetters. In Lagos, the first Nigerian eyewear maker DapMod continues to push the envelope for African design. The global eyecare market is projected to nearly double in value from $170 billion last year to $324 billion by 2030 re-energized by proliferation of new brands with an exciting multicultural approach. Truth is, seeing this feels good!