Padua, Italy: “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” the humourist Dorothy Parker declared authoritatively at a time (1925) when bearing eyewear was quite a… spectacle. Fast-forward to the 20-teens, and you have a bevy of Bollywood beauties, wearing spectacles with easy grace and self-assurance.
This trend should be music for companies such as Safilo, the Italian eyewear major that is making goo-goo eyes at emerging markets, particularly India, a country that Italy has not exactly seen eye to eye in geo-politics and diplomacy lately.
As with just about any merchandise, from toothbrushes to flip-flops, India’s teeming millions offer a vast, untapped market, and with its low penetration of sun shades and low turnover of frames for prescription eyewear, aspirational India beckons branded eyewear, something that is right up the street of a country that is brand heaven – from Prada and Bottega Veneto in bagware to Ferrari and Lamborghini in auto sector.
Safilo’s own portfolio includes core home brands such as Poloroid (acquired from the US) and Carrera, besides licenced brands such as Dior, Fendi, Gucci, Hugo Boss, and Marc Jacobs. But what is unique about the company as it plays catch up with its exalted rival Luxottica (which owns RayBan and holds licences to produce eyewear for brands such as Chanel, Armani, Prada among others) is the proprietary legacy that it brings through acquisition of not just a company, but its history.
“When we bought Poloroid, we didn’t just buy the company but its entire archives, its legacy,” says Luisa Delgado, a former Proctor and Gamble executive who took the reins of the company in 2013 and is an emerging markets’ enthusiast. The Safilo group has 7 plants, three in Italy and four abroad (Slovenia, Scotland, US and China) and its products are sold through 31 owned subsidiaries and local distributors in all key markets such as Europe, America and Asia.
(The author was in Italy at the invitation of Safilo)