Few luxury sectors are in a greater stage of flux than the eyewear industry, where luxury giants like Kering and LVMH have both radically redrawn the business model in the past few years. Kering, by creating its own eyewear division – grouping stellar brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta – and LVMH, with its joint venture with Marcolin, an Italian giant in eyewear.
The latest brand to take this type of approach is Balmain, with a far greater focus on long-term brand equity; high quality rather than mass quantities and an aesthetic that hones closely to the house’s DNA.
Historically, the vast majority of fashion runway brands and luxury marques generated revenues in eyewear by signing long-term licensing deals with specialist producers – the vast majority of whom where based in the Veneto region of Italy. Balmain has taken another direction, inking a deal with a brand new Swiss company: Akoni.
Which is why we caught up with Akoni’s CEO, Rosario Toscano, an industry veteran, who in the midst of this sea change is leading Balmain in its novel approach to launching its debut eyewear collection.
Balmain’s designer Olivier Rousteing actually unveiled the eyewear back in January, during its menswear runway show in Paris (since the collection is largely unisex). Rousteing also created a bold tableau during Balmain’s womenswear show on February 28th. Every model was dressed in black, double-breasted, signature Balmain coats – and wearing the new frames.
The mood captures the codes of the historic Parisian house: gutsy, bold lines, signature medallions and gold trim. All in step with Rousteing’s Balmain Army. In late April, Balmain donated a dozen pairs of the Wonderboy style to a charity auction (Bono’s "Red") to raise funds for the global fight against Covid-19.
Since, then the eyewear began rolling out carefully internationally in late May; with a tight distribution and high price point. A strategy many runway brands will follow in the future.
Toscano was born in Sicily, and educated in Ireland, from where he obtained an MBA at the country’s greatest university: Trinity College Dublin, founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth 1. Previously, Toscano was also the Global Managing Director of Dita Eyewear, as well as responsible for creating eyewear for Thom Browne - also based in Dublin, since Ireland is so fiscally advantageous. In conversation with FashionNetwork.com, Toscano, a veritable expert, explains Balmain’s special strategy and the rapidly-changing face of a fashionable element that defines each and all of our faces.