Walk into Selfridges’ new eyewear department and you’ll see a noticeable change in the eyewear market. Amongst the acres of grey terrazzo and perfectly lit vanity mirrors, you’ll discover 2,200 eyewear styles from 50 brands, some costing nearly £8000.
This is eyewear placed in equal importance to the other accessories in Selfridges’ refreshed accessory department - the largest in the world at 60,000 sq ft and costing in excess of £300m. Sitting alongside the luxury handbags and designer boutiques, it illustrates the new focus from luxury goods companies on their eyewear product. It is no longer the rather side-lined licensing cash-cow it once was and as such, is no longer taken for granted.
Left - Selfridges' new eyewear department on the ground floor
Much like the perfume business, niche players have entered the eyewear market, offering difference and quality. The designer brands are sitting up and taking notice and while Selfridges’ new eyewear department is run by the Luxottica, owner of Ray-Ban and many other designer licenses, it hasn’t completely monopolised it with its own brands.
New brands to Selfridges include Fak by Fak and Project Produkt, while others, such as Grey Ant, Retrosuperfuture and Thiery Lasry, have created exclusive styles for the space.
The eyewear market is actually experiencing the reverse of what is happening in other categories. Luxury brands are putting more focus and input into their product and increasing the quality and workmanship in order to compete. At the same time, thanks to brands like Gucci, eyewear has become an integral part of a look or outfit and it’s the bolder, the better ethos, right now, that is making eyewear sales rocket.
“The industry's certainly going through a time of flux. At one end you've got the old guard consolidating - Luxottica and Essilor being the obvious, gargantuan example. Then at the other, you've got a whole bunch of new own-branded entrants. And then in the middle, you've got the high street multiples (who still collectively control over 70% of the market in the UK).” says Tom Broughton, Founder of Cubitts.
It wasn’t long ago the branded eyewear market was a duopoly dominated by the Italian giants of Safilo and Luxottica. In 2014, the luxury conglomerate, Kering, eyeing the potential of cutting out of the middle man in their eyewear business, terminated the licenses with Safilo for brands including Gucci, Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent.
Right - Gucci has really lead the way in pushing mainstream experimental styles
“To maximise the development of its brand portfolio, Kering decided to internalise the value chain for its eyewear activities, from product creation and development to supply chain management, sales and marketing.” says its press release.
“Through this project, Kering is putting in place an innovative way of managing its eyewear operations, which will lead to significant value-creation opportunities and enable the group to fully capture the sheer growth potential of its houses in this category, in a global market which is sizeable and in which the high-end segment is enjoying substantial growth.” it says.
Today, ‘Kering Eyewear’ designs, develops and distributes eyewear for Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, McQ, Boucheron, Pomellato, Brioni, Christopher Kane and Puma.
Kering understand the profits and growth to be seen in eyewear and by taking it in-house, it cuts out a cost plus adds control. The results have seen more distinctive styles imbued with the individual brands’ DNAs. It is lead by Roberto Vedovotto who was previously CEO of the Safilo Group.
“For the last couple of decades, 'designer' eyewear has really meant branded eyewear. And so those who controlled access to those brands - big players like Luxottica and Safilo - controlled much of the market. But I think there's a general change in consumer appetite for more independent brands, particularly those mono-brands who just try do thing one thing exceptionally well. Our old friend the internet has meant that it's also possible for small start up brands to sell directly to end consumers, rather than be encumbered by the traditional wholesale model.” says Broughton.
Alistair Benson, Managing Director Eyesite Opticians, says “The big fashion houses are, now, more concerned with producing distinctive eyewear with better quality that adds to the success of their other product lines. We saw Céline remodel their already best selling ‘Shadow’ piece, introducing new and improved hinges and additional colours. An example of an already proven and successful formula being upgraded just to ensure it stays at the front of the pack.
“As competition grows, fashion houses inevitably need to ensure they are producing more innovative products to stand out. Another reason for this is the rise of niche/cult brands and start-ups; take the jazz inspired Black Eyewear for example. All-in-all, it makes for a much more stimulating market that benefits today’s highly engaged consumer, who now have more choice than ever before. From our own perspective, as a retailer, we have had to adapt to this change, responding quickly to shifts in certain trends and the overnight rise of new cult brands to ensure our own customers have everything they need and more.”
Left - One of the most famous eyewear wearers - Elton John inspiring the Gucci catwalk
Gordon Ritchie, MD of Kirk Originals, says “Recent years has seen the emergence of smaller niche eyewear labels appearing that offer handmade, up to bespoke quality, eyewear collections and a number of people like ourselves are making in England.
“It is driven by smaller niche players and I think this is a reaction against the handful of huge corporations that now dominate the global eyewear business and between them actually produce pretty much everything with a "big" brand name on it.” he says.
Niche brands are offering more artisan and limited product, but the big boys have recognised this and are moving into this area. The margins on eyewear are large and there’s everything to play for. Luxottica, reported a 2 percent rise in 2017’s sales to 9.16 billion euros and Safilo had full-year sales totalling 1.05 billion euros.
Designer fashion brands have made eyewear an integral part of their fashion collections. These flamboyant styles have resonated with consumers especially with its entry price points. But, smaller, niche players are offering individuality which attracts many consumers to well designed and made eyewear.
“I think this is a result of people growing in confidence in expressing themselves, probably helped along by them being exposed to so many images on a daily basis on Instagram. Instagram can be inspiring but also allows you to feel you’re not the only one pushing the boundaries a little bit by being bold in your choices in colours and styles.” says Ritchie.
“I think people will increasing see a pair of spectacles or sunglasses as a defining piece of their wardrobe, rather than merely a medical accoutrement to help them see.” says Broughton.
People are buying many more pairs to suit different outfits and moods. Add in the recent fashion of coloured lenses and it broadens the scope of choice. “We believe that people will continue to look for more individuality in their eyewear, too. Much like other countries in Europe, we expect increasing numbers of customers to buy 3–5 sets of frames each year in order to mix it up and achieve a different look whenever they want.” says Mary-Frances Kelly, Marketing Manager at Optical Express.
“Fashion in general has become more experimental, and people are realising that they can achieve a different look with a certain style or colour of frame. And it’s not just the under-30’s who are fashion conscious – across the generations, we’re more style-aware about everything, including glasses, than ever before.” says Kelly.
This is something really positive. It reflects a thriving market. The big brands have recognised the threat and, wanting to hold onto the many hundreds of million of dollars involved, are focussing on directional styles and quality. This leads to better product and choice for everybody. They have, thankfully, realised that simply putting different names on the same glasses just isn’t enough anymore. Add the maximalist mood in fashion and everybody wanting to be an Elton John or Iris Apfel, then you have a very bold, experimental and receptive market. Let’s hope this type of thinking enters other sectors of the luxury business.
The man who defined the tailored look of the 1970s, Tommy Nutter, is a little bit like Beau Brummell in so far as he always seems like an enigma, as a person, yet his name runs throughout the history of menswear and is continually name checked. Anything bold with large lapels is always a reminder of Nutter’s style. The classic Tom Ford suit is basically a rip-off of Tommy Nutter.
This biography doesn’t just look at one Nutter’s life, but two. Tommy’s brother, David, a photographer and also gay, is the main source of first-hand information and the book follows both lives, intertwining throughout. The comical jobs they both do and the situations they seem to find themselves in makes for a really fun biography.
While Tommy is the centre, it’s great to hear about both their lives at the whims of the rich and famous of that era. From Bianca Jagger to John Lennon to Elton John, they were all wearing Tommy’s clothes while being photographed by David.
Left - Tommy Nutter modelling his own design
Tommy feels like a true creative which means he lacked the business skills and ruthlessness often needed in the fashion business to get anywhere. You get a sense that while a pioneer of the suit, Tommy was also constrained by it. He was constrained to bespoke suiting, particularly, which, due to the quality and labour intensiveness, would only ever be on a small scale and his dreams of creating a bigger ‘brand’ was restricted by centring around this one garment.
Whenever he tried anything else, outside of this area, he didn’t seem to grasp it or be able to make it work. The strong shoulder, huge lapels and contrasting fabrics became not only his signature, but his style straight jacket.
This book is great, you’ll speed through it. The best bits feature Elton John. I knew Tommy had created Elton’s 1980’s straw-boater, 'I’m Still Standing' era clothes, but I hadn’t realised he was there from the start. David became one of his inner circle and follows him around the world with manic energy. Everybody is in here: Beatles, Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, Diana Ross.
Unfortunately, having died from that big disease with a little name, Tommy’s voice isn’t here and it would have been nice to hear from Cilla Black as she seemed to have a lot of love for him. But, the main voices are: Edward Sexton, his main cutter and Peter Brown, his boyfriend and the Beatles' manager, even when conflicting, but, that’s, ultimately, history and people’s differing viewpoints.
I remember sitting next to Jeremy Hackett at a dinner once, he started his company selling vintage clothes, and I asked him if he ever came across any Tommy Nutter, as you never see it anywhere. He said he once had some from Andrew Lloyd Webber, but it wasn’t particularly interesting. It feels like all the best pieces were commissioned by the rock stars and celebrities of that era and are probably still languishing in their storage warehouses somewhere.
There was an exhibition at The Fashion & Textile Museum in Bermondsey, a few year’s ago, which brought together some of Tommy’s best clothes. Cilla Black’s were there and I remember how small Ringo Star’s and Mick Jagger’s mannequins were.
This feels comprehensive and very well researched by Lance Richardson. The majority of the book takes place in some of the most exciting times and places of the 20th century: London in the 1960s and New York in the 1970s and this energy is what makes the book flow.
I’d love to hear what Elton John remembers. His shopping addiction seems to keep Tommy in pinstripe trousers for a while and his partying and 1970s wardrobe are all off the chart.
David Nutter is still alive and living in New York, and while Tommy died in 1992, this end segment of the book is very emotional, the glamour and era makes this a must-read for anybody interested in not only men’s clothes, but photography, music and the fashion business.
House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row by Lance Richardson - Chatto & Windus - £25
While we like our homegrown style icons in Britain, it would be hard not to appreciate and acknowledge the legacy Elvis Presley has ingrained on our male style psyche. Albeit in a karaoke, stage-costume type of way, like all great musicians he could carry off even the most OTT of outfits due to his talent and stage presence.
Left - Book cover. That famous quiff
Zoey Goto’s new book on Elvis, Elvis Style: From Zoot Suits to Jumpsuits celebrates the style-world of Elvis Presley - ‘the man who singlehandedly changed the way that America, and much of the world beyond, dressed’.
Elvis Style includes over 175 photos, many of which show rarely seen before Elvis-worn garments, interiors and cars from the King’s extensive private collection.
Zoey says “I first became interested in Presley around 15 years ago, when I was flicking though a magazine and came across a photo of Elvis - who was, and still is, the most visually stunning person I had ever seen. From that point onwards I was hooked. I speedily booked a ticket to Memphis to visit Elvis' hometown and shortly after wrote an academic paper on Graceland's interiors, which later gave rise to the idea of my Elvis Style: From Zoot Suits to Jumpsuits book.
Right - Elvis melting in his black leather jumpsuit
“I was really surprised to see how little had been written about Elvis from a fashion & design perspective, as he has had such a huge cultural influence. I think there are very few icons who have had, and continue to have, such a direct influence on our aesthetic world. When I'm walking down the street in London, I am always clocking Elvis' influence on the way men style themselves - from quiffs and rockabilly revival, to the way we use cultural appropriation in our dress,” she says.
Left - Elvis' gold suit, once owned by Elton John
Right - Elvis influence? The western neck tie Gucci pre-fall 2016
TheChicGeek says, “‘Elvis would rather shop than eat’. Who knew! Elvis encapsulates the pinnacle of American culture, the 1950s, and then later the showy, kitsch and glamour of old Vegas. This book covers not just his clothes, but hair, food, cars, houses and even planes. Elvis is basically America of the 20th century manifested into a strikingly beautiful man. The time when bigger was best in American culture and over indulgence was encouraged, which, ultimately, lead to his tragic and early downfall. People of a certain age remember Elvis, for us younger ones this book gives an entertaining and informative refresh into what made him so special. With a simple flick of the collar one can instantly recognise the influence he had on menswear.”
Right - Elvis' tiger suit (1970s)
Below - Elvis influence? Gucci spring 2016
www.elvisstylebook.com / #ElvisStyleBook
Go bold, that’s TheChicGeek’s 2015 message for eyewear. Make a style statement in thickly rimmed retro style spectacles, this season. Perfect for the current vintage inspired looks, as seen on the catwalks for SS16, and the huge trend for facial hair and fuller hairstyles.
Left - Gucci Menswear SS16
TheChicGeek has complied a scrapbook of his 5 favourite spectacles, available right now from SmartBuyGlasses, and a few special spectacle wearing style icons to give you some inspiration.
Left - Smart Buy Spectacles - Zack
Left - Gucci Menswear SS16
TheChicGeek says, "Think about your favourite TV stars of the 1970s in their oversized frames. The best shapes to go for are the aviator/pilot or thick square or rectangular frames".
Below - Yves Saint Laurent doing his best 1970s safari look, Gucci Menswear SS16
Left - Yves Saint Laurent Spectacles
TheChicGeek says, "Fashion has entered a very fantastical moment full of dress up, patterns and prints. The types of spectacles help finish these eclectic looks".
Left - Elton John
Below - Cazal Spectacles
Left - Gucci Menswear SS16
Left - Yves Saint Laurent
Below - Gucci Spectacles
TheChicGeek says, "Be bold. Oversized frames ooze confidence. They are also fun. Think Elton, Yves and the new look from Gucci".
Far Left - An older Yves
Left - Gucci Menswear SS15
Below - Tom Ford Spectacles
Left - Young Yves
TheChicGeek says, "Spectacle frames reflect your personality. Standout and look confident".
Below - More 70s Yves & Elton
This article is brought to you in association with SmartBuyGlasses