In the fast-paced world of luxury eyewear, Balmain is setting itself apart by taking a unique approach to launching its debut eyewear collection. Unlike most fashion runway brands and luxury marques, Balmain has decided not to sign long-term licensing deals. Instead, the brand has partnered with Swiss company Akoni to bring its vision to life. We had the opportunity to speak with Rosario Toscano, the CEO of Akoni, to learn more about their strategy and the evolving landscape of the eyewear industry.
Toscano, a seasoned professional with 20 years of experience in the eyewear industry, reveals that Balmain has always caught his attention due to its strong brand identity and relevance in the fashion world. Last year, he co-founded Akoni and brought on board two designers from Dita Eyewear. Together, they presented their ideas to Olivier Rousteing, the designer behind Balmain. This marked the beginning of their collaboration.
The design brief for Balmain’s eyewear collection was to create an assortment of unisex glasses that showcase Balmain’s distinctive style. The collection, which features bold lines, signature medallions, and gold trim, made its debut during Balmain’s menswear runway show in January. Surprisingly, 85 out of the 90 looks on the runway were paired with glasses from the collection. This clearly demonstrates the brand’s commitment to the eyewear range. Additionally, the frames were also showcased during the womenswear show. Balmain’s eyewear reflects the brand’s DNA without overwhelming the design with excessive logos, allowing fans to appreciate the unique elements.
When it comes to the distribution of the eyewear collection, Toscano believes in a selective approach. The Balmain eyewear will only be available in a maximum of 2,000 stores worldwide. The brand is targeting high-end boutiques and online retailers such as YNAP. Toscano compares this distribution strategy to the concept of Red Ocean vs. Blue Ocean. Instead of engaging in price wars and mass distribution, Balmain aims to carve out a niche in the market, focusing on brand equity and delivering a high-quality product.
To ensure the highest level of craftsmanship, the Balmain eyewear collection is manufactured exclusively in Japan. Japan is recognized for its expertise in metalworking, and key cities like Sabae and Fukui are home to the best machinery and skilled artisans. In addition to metal frames, the collection also features frames made from Japanese acetate, a material derived from cotton instead of petroleum. While manufacturing in Japan may be more time-consuming and expensive compared to other regions, the end product is guaranteed to be of the utmost quality.
Some may find Balmain’s decision to partner with Akoni instead of more established eyewear manufacturers, such as Luxottica or Safilo, unconventional. However, it is part of a growing trend among luxury brands to move away from traditional licensing agreements. Toscano explains that many brands are reassessing their licensing partnerships and seeking new opportunities. Furthermore, larger manufacturers like Luxottica typically only show interest in brands that have a valuation of over one billion dollars.
As for Akoni, Toscano shares that he co-owns the company with a partner who represents a private equity fund. They chose to base their operations in Lugano, Switzerland, due to its strategic location near key markets like France and Italy. Although Switzerland has higher operating costs compared to countries like Ireland, which offers lower tax rates, Toscano values the stability and reputation of Switzerland.
In conclusion, Balmain’s collaboration with Akoni signifies a new approach in the eyewear industry. By emphasizing brand equity, selective distribution, and unparalleled craftsmanship, Balmain is redefining the standards for launching an eyewear collection in a rapidly changing market.