I recently attended the grand opening of new tennis courts in my neighborhood, which got me thinking: “I need to update my sports sunglasses!”
I’m a glasses girl. Even though contacts have always been popular and supposedly “boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses,” I’ve always considered glasses just another type of accessory, albeit necessary ones. In my purse I have prescription sunglasses, prescription glasses, and reading glasses. If I’m going on a road trip or visiting a beach, I also throw in reading sunglasses! Thankfully glasses are now somewhat cool. Even reading glasses. They are trendy and stylish. But, I’m still envious of those of you who can walk into any Nordstrom, Walgreens, or 7-11 and walk out with cute sunglasses. Me, I have to make an appointment with my eye doctor and shell out big bucks. Not fair!
Still, what would Sarah Palin, Tina Fey, Tom Cruise and even Jackie O be without their trademark eyewear? Sadly though, all eyewear, not just designer duds, is expensive. Like $400 a pair expensive. But why?
I’ve also never understood why eye exams and glasses aren’t automatically covered by all health care plans being that those of us who need them really don’t have a choice. It’s not like we are choosing to have bad eyesight, so why should we suffer at the cash register too?
Lesley Stahl’s recent “60 Minutes” piece on Luxottica, the world’s largest eyewear company, shed new light on the eye and sunglass industry and it was, excuse the pun, very eye opening! In short, one company pretty much controls a huge chunk of the business of making glasses. In fact, it is estimated that ½ a billion people around the globe are wearing the company’s frames right now.
Luxottica Group is based in Milan, Italy and was started in 1961 by Italian Leonardo Del Vecchio. Del Vecchio was a hard-working man who was sent to an orphanage at a young age. Today he is said to be the 8th wealthiest man in Europe but he literally started from the bottom and is truly a self-made millionaire. You could say he is the quintessential American dream, only he’s not American. He was smart though, and the one-time simple cobbler realized eyeglasses are necessary items, but they could also be fashion items.
In 1988 Luxottica attained the first of its many licensing deals when it signed on with designer Georgio Armani. Today, the company manufactures frames for the likes of Chanel, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, DKNY, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany, Anne Klein, Maui Jim, Tory Burch and a host of other labels. Yep, those Chanel sunglasses you’re sporting are not from France, but from Italy. Your plaid Burberry shades? They are about as English as I am. Perhaps most alarming to me is the fact that the company’s “house brands,” brands they downright own, include Ray-Ban, Oakley, and Revo. In fact, Ray Ban, eyewear originally designed for the U.S. Army, is now the company’s top seller. MacArthur must be rolling in his grave.
A very unique aspect about Luxottica is that its name is not found on its products and its products consist only of frames, not lenses. But, the interesting part doesn’t stop there. You see Luxottica doesn’t only make the frames and hold licensing contracts with top designers, the company also owns LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, Target Optical and many other optic outlets. They make them and they sell them, with very little competition. They are a manufacturing and wholesale distributor, and a retail distributor. It gets better though, Luxottica also owns EyeMed Vision Care, the number one visions benefits company in the U.S.
So maybe with eyewear, what you see is not what you get. You might be getting a quality made product and will more than likely shell out big bucks, but you probably see things differently now.