AGORDO, Italia - The gigantic glasses in front of the Luxottica Company in northern Italy mean more than you might think. They are not just a symbol of what Luxottica makes – but the symbol of one of the greatest rags to riches stories of our time.
Luxottica is the largest eyewear company in the world. It designs and produces more than 65 million pairs of glasses every year for just about every company and brand you can think of. It’s estimated that at least half a billion people a day wear glasses made by Luxottica, and that all adds up to sales worth billions of dollars each year.
In addition to making sunglasses and prescription frames for many designers including Chanel, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Dolce and Gabbana, Donna Karen and Stella McCartney they also own Lenscrafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical and more. The company’s best-known house brands are Ray-Ban, Persol and Oakley.
The man who started it all is Leonardo Del Vecchio. What they say about him is that he was born in Milan, and he was born poor. When he was seven years old, Italy was in the throes of World War II and Milan was being brought to its knees by Allied bombings. He had no family except his mother, and with the city under siege was unable to care for him. She made the difficult decision to put him in an orphanage to be raised by the nuns, where he would be safe.
When he was fourteen, Del Vecchio began working as an apprentice to a tool and die maker in Milan. His job was to assist in the production of auto parts and parts for eyeglass frames.
While the auto parts didn’t interest him, what he did think about were the eyeglass frames. But unlike most people, he didn’t think of them as a necessity for improving vision, but rather as a reflection, or as an extension of a person’s personality.
His idea proved to be powerful and popular, but in order to realize his dream he needed to be not in Milan, but closer to eyewear manufacturers. He did some research and found that most of the Italian eyewear businesses were located in a town called Agordo, in the northern province of Belluno. In 1961 he moved there.
Along with a couple of partners, he formed a company and named it Luxottica. At first the company just produced parts for other eyeglass manufacturers, but in 1967 they began producing eyeglass frames and selling them under the Luxottica name. That proved to be such a success that four years later Luxottica stopped producing parts for other companies and began concentrating on their own line of eyewear.
The Luxottica brand did very well in the marketplace and Del Vecchio and his partners realized they were on to something big. At that point they were selling through a distribution company, but in 1974, when an opportunity to buy Scarrone, an eyeglass distribution company of their own presented itself, they signed on the dotted line. Scarrone proved to be a good investment and by 1981 they were ready to set up their first international subsidiary in Germany. And then, in 1988, they got lucky. Luxottica struck a deal to produce sunglasses and eyeglass frames for Giorgio Armani.
The Armani deal propelled them onto the New York stock exchange. With the money they raised they began to buy other brands starting with the Italian eyewear company, Vogue. Then they bought Persol and LensCrafters. In 1999 they acquired Ray-Ban and two years after that they took control of Sunglass Hut.
They were on a roll. They expanded their retail business by acquiring OPSM, a company based in Sydney, Australia, and then they bought Pearle Vision and Cole National, one right after the other. They bought Oakley for $2.1 billion and several months they later they acquired the king of sunglasses, Erroca.
In March 2014, Google started searching for an eyeglass manufacturer to partner with on a new project. They finally settled on Luxottica, admitting that in their world-wide search Luxottica was the only company they had found that had the knowhow and equipment to produce their high tech Google Glasses. Unfortunately Google Glass was not the success that Google had hoped for. But who’s to say, now that they know who to go to for the technological aspects of the project, they won’t try it again in a few years.
In many ways it is fitting that an Italian company controls 80% of the major eyewear brands in a global eyewear business worth $28 billion. After all, eyeglasses and sunglasses are as Italian as pizza and pasta. It began in 1296 with an eye weary monk in Pisa. It was his job to sit and painstakingly copying Latin texts by hand, day after day, year after year. That labor intense work no doubt prompted him to seek a solution for his sore eyes, which he did by creating the first eyeglasses. Desperation, not to mention eye fatigue, can be a great motivator.
|Fit for an Emperor|
And what could have been more fashionable for a fashion conscious Roman emperor like Nero than the two polished gemstones that he used to protect his eyes from the sun while watching gladiators fight to the death at Rome’s coliseum? Makes one wonder if they were royal purple amethysts or pale and elegant aquamarines to match his eyes.
Listed below are brands owned by Luxottica, including sunglasses with elegant aquamarine and royal purple lens, and an entire range of other colors as well.
Eye Safety Systems (ESS)
K&L (formerly Killer Loop)
Sunglass Hut International
EyeMed Vision Care
Optical Shop of Aspen
Laubman & Pank
Luxottica also makes eyewear under license for the following designer labels:
A/X – Armani Exchange
Dolce & Gabbana
Polo Ralph Lauren
Paul Smith Spectacles
Ralph Lauren Eyewear
Tiffany & Co.
Copyright© 2016 Phyllis Macchioni