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Despite some perceptions to the contrary, overall, the global luxury sector had experienced some challenges in the past year or two, where growth was hard-fought. Some of the world’s leading luxury firms reported slight ups and downs, as customers around the world coped with inflationary pressures and higher interest rates, creating some headwinds around the category from high-end home purchases, to travel and tourism, to auto purchases and the fashion retail sectors.

But even though there had been some topline hurdles in 2022 and 2023, recent observers of the luxury sector forecast a return to more stabilized levels of growth in 2024, as customers become more discerning about where, how, and why they spend.

Most people talk about luxury brand storytelling and collaborations taking on even more importance as consumers start to prioritize special experiences or service environments and new ideas about culture and status are helping to redefine luxury, many observers agree.

In eyewear, that means that the category requires a commitment to communications, premium product quality and materials, merchandising and expert explanations, with an expertise in overall optics taking on added importance. These are the factors that appeal to today’s mature Boomers, Millennials and Gen X customers in distinct ways.

The long-term fundamentals for growth in the luxury market appear robust. A December study issued by Bain & Company and Altagamma stated that the global luxury market reached €1.5 trillion in 2023. Spending on experiences, particularly, recovered to historic highs, fueled by a resurgence in social interactions and travel.

When it comes to eyewear, a highly visible accessory and sometimes an “entry point” for consumers into some brands, luxury can have wide or specific appeal, and there are many interpretations of the concept in the eyewear space.

“The luxury market continues to show its resilience in the face of adversity,” pointed out Fabrizio Uguzzoni, president of professional solutions, EssilorLuxottica North America. “Through the pandemic, weakening consumer confidence and sociopolitical stresses, true luxury brands held the line. Rather than take a beat to catch our breath, EssilorLuxottica remained bullish by investing heavily in design, innovation and materials, betting that core luxury consumers would maintain a strong appetite for beautiful and aspirational products and experiences. We just have to stay true to them.

“That’s exactly what we’re seeing in eyewear—a desire for elevated design and next-level functionality, something spectacular they haven’t seen before. This presents a growth opportunity for the industry and ECPs who can satisfy consumer and patient demand with iconic products that have built-in storytelling and experiences,” Uguzzoni said,

Sherianne James, chief marketing officer, EssilorLuxottica North America, professional solutions, added, “In the eyewear category specifically, our luxury brands represent an entry point for consumers—especially Gen Z—who can’t yet afford the Prada bag, but become a lifelong brand loyalist after their first pair of Prada frames. Often, the moment of entry takes place within the optical experience. The consumer is looking to purchase a product that will sit on their face for up to 18 hours a day, a product that will be the first thing people see when they look at you. If ever there was a luxury item to invest in, this should be it.”

Alessandro Zanardo, CEO of Thélios, the eyewear subsidiary of LVMH, told VM, “We have accomplished a great deal in the last several years and feel that 2023 was a year of major transformation for our company. We made our first acquisitions of independent brands, which in itself reflected LVMH’s support of our growth as a company.

“We opened several major subsidiaries around the world and have further invested in our own production and manufacturing capabilities. We believe we now have all of the assets from the design to the industrial to the commercial and marketing aspects of our business to become a consistent, integrated eyewear platform.” (see VM’s exclusive interview with Thélios’ Zanardo on page 42)

Noted Thomas Burkhardt, president of Marchon Eyewear, “Eyewear continues to be seen as a must-have accessory—equally for sunglasses as for optical frames. And the luxury segment plays an increasingly important role. Like in apparel and other accessory categories, we are seeing an increasing bifurcation of buying behaviors, with consumers happily mixing high and low in their eyewear wardrobes.”

Akoni Group CEO Rosario Toscano told VM, “In general, I believe that there are not as many differences as there were in the past between a younger luxury consumer compared to a mature one. They tend to seek similar product. Maybe the difference is related to how they approach those brands.

“The younger generation may find brands like Akoni more on the online website as they do in general, whereas more mature people may find the Akoni brands in-store, and so for them the store experience is a place where they may have been going for many years, one they trust to give them something exciting, new, and very special.”

Kering Eyewear, a division of the Kering Group, achieved a financial milestone in 2023, the company reported, reaching €1.5 billion in revenues for the fiscal year ending in December. The Group marks its 10th anniversary in 2024, noted Roberto Vedovotto, president and CEO, who founded the Kering division, growing eyewear from brands within Kering’s own houses such as Gucci and Saint Laurent, as well as expansion through such major acquisitions as Lindberg and Maui Jim.

As business looks ahead toward 2024, some observers point out that attitudes among some customers in the luxury segment have changed. Tarrence Lackran, whose Eyecons Agency specializes in brand experiences, partnerships and campaigns with brands in the eyewear space, noted, “The primary challenge confronting the luxury eyewear sector is its ability to align with the evolving values of the luxury consumer. As these values shift, it’s crucial for the luxury eyewear segment to avoid freezing the definition of luxury in a specific era.

“While exclusivity and brand heritage were once paramount, the influx of Gen Z into the luxury eyewear market has broadened the criteria.” Lackran pointed out, “Now, brands need to embrace inclusivity, sustainability, technology, and collaboration to resonate with both current and future consumers. Ignoring these values could result in a disconnect with the evolving preferences of the target audience.

“Take, for instance, Yagan Stone Eyewear, one of my clients, which weaves an inspiring story of developing a luxury eyewear brand that pays homage to the blind and visually impaired community. Connecting with consumers through meaningful narratives is key to establishing a brand as a compelling choice in the luxury segment.”

As luxury expert and New York Fashion Week creator Fern Mallis recently said in an EssilorLuxottica Luxury Insider masterclass, “It’s easy for luxury consumers to make a purchase, but it is a lot harder to get a share of their attention and time.”