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High-End Frames Defy Definition

By Paddy Kamen

What exactly constitutes high end in today’s eyewear market: Brand? Price? Design? It depends on who you ask.

High-end optical stores can be exclusive or inclusive. Doug Gaudet is the exclusive type, with a profound commitment to frames from independent designers. He doesn’t carry big name designers and neither does he sell a ‘bread and butter’ collection. “Ordinary is not a word in the Gaudet Optical vocabulary,” the Halifax-based optician boldly states. And ‘high end’ is a term Gaudet is reluctant to define.

One thing he knows for sure — being willing to challenge customers is essential for the optician who carries high-end frames. “When customers buy outside of their comfort zone they are invariably complemented a great deal. That’s good for them and for my business too, because word of mouth sells frames,” notes Gaudet.

Sara Moshurchak of Granville Eyeland in Vancouver, finds the same, although her approach is more inclusive. “Our customers are not paying for someone’s name but for frames that help them to stand out and be remembered. For us high end means innovation in the way the frame has been created, and a frame that has more human involvement in its manufacture. While not everything in our store is expensive it is all subject to my quality control, and I think people like buying from a shop that has $2,000 frames even if they can’t afford to spend that much.”

Another high-end Vancouver-based retailer, Abasa, presents a mix frames with approximately 60 per cent in the high-end range. And while they carry independent cutting-edge designers, Abasa also sells higher-end big name designer frames such as Gucci and Dior.

Abasa is owned and operated by three opticians who are also sisters: Anar Mawji, Azra Kamrudin and Shirin Kamrudin. Their clientele reflects a diverse neighbourhood that includes Vancouver’s gay village. “This part of Vancouver has the highest population density of any city in North America,” notes Anaz. “There are lots of renters and we have to appeal to every pocketbook and taste. We are, however, one of a handful of stores in Vancouver that is a destination store for eclectic and unique styles, ranging in price from $200 to $2,000.”

Luxury or High End?

Another interesting take on the definition of high end comes from David Michel, the exclusive agent for Canadian sales of Parasite and Noego Eyewear.

“I want to differentiate luxury from high end. To me, luxury denotes precious materials like gold, silver and gemstones; high end means craftsmanship, often in the form of hand-made or hand-finished frames. One will always see good quality fabrication in high-end eyewear, which is reflected in the price. You can have a similar rectangular plastic frame from many companies but the difference between high and low end is the fabrication.

Jason Kirk, designer and owner of Kirk Originals, points out, “high end is a very subjective term. Some people are seduced by the ‘high-end’ trappings of a brand name, which is how so many poor products achieve sales where the brand value is higher than the product value. But genuine high end has quality of design, quality of production and quality of environment.”

No matter how you define it, high-end eyewear spells high returns for both the customer and the retailer. Let’s turn our attention to some wonderful high end products.

i2i Eyewear is the Canadian distributor of the Markus T collection from Germany. This is a very striking collection with absolutely novel screw-less temple joins that are well integrated into the design. There are, in fact, no screws at all on these frames.
Four models comprise the Markus T collection: Me, D1/D2, T1 and T2. The ME is made of a patented material known as MTI. The temples and nose pieces have a minimalist look. Available in 11 colours, eyecare professionals will appreciate the fact that they can custom design by mixing and matching various combinations of frame and temples. Frames are available in standard or Asian bridge styles.
“We are extremely proud to carry Markus T, which won the prestigious Red Dot design award three years in a row,” says i2i president, Minaz Mawji.

For Wescan just putting a designer’s name on a product and raising the price does not constitute high end. “The product must incorporate the unique elements that identify the DNA of the designer,” notes vice president Beverley Suliteanu. “Chloe sunglasses, for example, incorporate unique touches such as real leather, and design elements intrinsic to the brand, with a colour palette that incorporates the retro chic Chloe mood.”

The new 2010 Chloe sunwear spring models CL-2192 and CL-2193 incorporate the acetate theme totally inspired by the Chloe universe with the metal pieces inspired by Chloe’s best selling bag, Paraty. The metal piece is present outside and inside the temples for a smart effect.

As for the new ophthalmic collection, beautiful metallic colours are used on model CL-1157, which targets the sophisticated and trendy woman.

Luxottica presents pop icon Madonna in partnership with Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana in the recently launched MDG brand.

“The oversized and wraparound designs are sexy and very feminine, like our clothes. Madonna’s creative contribution and unique point of view were key, even in designing the MDG logo,” remark Dolce and Gabbana.

Madonna will be the face of the MDG ad campaign, which features her as the mysterious and sensual star of a noir film caught on camera in the company of an intriguing man. The voyeuristic images metaphorically evoke the essence of stars like Madonna: admired, pursued and desired, but never fully revealed.

The name Lafont has been synonymous with high-end frames for over 80 years, starting with their family-run optical shop in Paris. Today, the Lafont Paris collection continues this proud collection with great aplomb. The styling and sophistication of this collection is second to none.

Lafont’s North American president Ray Khalil describes Lafont Paris as their luxury collection. “Lafont Paris frames are beautifully styled in accord with the latest trends in apparel and accessories. Our designers have adorned them with lace, jewels, stones, pearls and stained glass effects.”

Check out the Dynastie model, an acetate frame with a stainless steel temple corner replete with stunning three-dimensional engraving, the Deauville with a laser-engraved African motif, and the Cabourg, with an innovative piecing design on the temple which mimics the chunky look in bracelets. Each piece is totally different and unique.

Voila Vision brings France’s Smalto eyewear to Canada. This men’s collection was begun by Francesco Smalto, the only tailor who heads a haute couture fashion house. Smalto has worked in his workshop for over 40 years. This limited edition line of the high-end Smalto eyewear collection is entirely made in France, and characterized by top-quality materials and meticulous attention to detail. Design, quality, durability and performance are markedly superior. Smalto believes in scarcity, exclusivity and smaller runs, so sophisticated and discerning customers know they are receiving something very special.


Canadian design house Spectacle Eyeworks follows in the spirit of West Coast Native design with five premium wood designs in Canadian maple. While the frames use a rimless wire mount behind the wooden front piece, with lenses mounted from the bottom, the chief attraction of this collection are the beautifully carved temples, reminiscent of the remarkable First Nations totem poles found in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

Both highly attractive and eminently functional, these gorgeous frames bring together native art from more than one culture, infused with Baghaie’s own personal aesthetic. The result is a fusion of the raw and organic with the sculpted and polished. Each design is available in three natural wood shades, including chocolate and true maple.

Lanctôt’s ÖGA brand offers a gorgeous fusion of high-end materials for a classy look. With stainless steel fronts, temples in models 6681, 6682, and 6683 are made of a composite wood known as Stamina, combined with aluminum or translucent plexiglass. The Stamina product won’t warp or fade and only requires linseed oil for maintenance. Wood temple colours are variations of red, black and brown.

“This is the perfect look for the man who wants to stand out in a classy, subtle way,” says president Stéphan Leroy. “And although it is a men’s line I have seen women wear it quite successfully. ÖGA has really exploded in popularity to become our top-selling collection over the past few years.”

COS is the ever-proud distributor of Silhouette, the only eyewear manufacturer in the world that focuses exclusively on rimless frames. Silhouette glasses are 80 per cent handmade, entirely in Europe.

Rimless eyewear gives the consumer endless possibilities in personalization. And Silhouette offers a new rimless aesthetic program; an individual eyewear approach based on personal features such as hair colour, skin tone, shape of face, shape of eyes and personality.

The exclusive high-tech titanium alloys used in each Silhouette frame result in delicate, highly elastic and durable temples, which are hypoallergenic. There are no screws or hinges. Of the 24 alloys Silhouette has tested, only three proved suitable for the high demands of their eyewear design.

Trigon One is bringing Cheap Monday Clairvoyant, the edgy Scandinavian fashion brand known for its affordability concept to Canada. These uniquely marketed frames are sharing retail space in Europe with some of the best independent brands. They are considered very cool for young people on a budget.

Also from Trigon is a special model from the Henry Jullien collection, the Cassiopée, which represents the first time Henry Jullien offers jewelled eyewear in the regular collection. The Cassiopée is a subtly restrained model with brilliant cut stones along the pierced temple. This frame will appeal to women who crave something special. Note that Henry Jullien is one of the last brands made entirely in the Jura region of France.

Something truly lovely for women has come from Charmant, distributed by Perfect Optical. Line Art is a collection inspired by musical notation. Surprisingly light, yet secure fitting and highly flexible, these frames translate music into beautiful design. The Quintet - XL2004 features temples with five delicate strings with subtle knots. The Trio – XL2007 temples have three strings and leave a softer impression with oval rimless lenses. Line Art is a fusion of technology and art, design and inspiration.

Also from Charmant, is Charmant Z for men. Here we find beautiful, yet highly masculine carbon matrix-composite materials that are super light and incredibly handsome, with all the strength needed for confident men ages 35 -50.

The EXALTO Atom from Audace Lunettes won the Silmo d’Or award for luxury eyewear in 2009. And no wonder, for this rimless frame is a superb example of innovative design and outstanding craftsmanship. Made by hand in the Jura region of France, EXALTO frames are created with state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques including laser etching and matrixed titanium. The production process is unique, with materials layered multiple times to create a frame of strength and elegance. The Atom is available in 15 themes, bringing together luxury materials like wood, carbon fiber and silver wire. This is indeed a classy frame for men and women who seek avant-garde design and impeccable quality.

Innovative design comes from Zig Eyewear’s president and designer, Cendrine Obadia. Her Jean Reno collection (named for the famous French film star who attracts celebrity fans from around the world) features the stylish and attractive model Reno 1002 with an interesting wave pattern built into the eye frame that is echoed in a wave pattern on the temple. The frame is layered with two colours of metal attached with screws, giving the piece a dimensionality and two-tone colour aspect that intrigues. Elegant, masculine and tending toward 3D, this frame is available in three colour combos, and works with progressive lenses.

Scandinavian Eyewear’s Skaga collection is founded on a 60-year history of solid craftsmanship and long-standing relationships with the best European suppliers. From German spring-hinges to Italian Mazzucchelli acetate, each material and component is selected with care. Combine this attention to detail with outstanding design and you have Skaga’s simple, elegant design solutions.

“The value that most differentiates our brand is our rootedness in the Scandinavian design tradition,” says Nils Fredriksson, sales manager for North America. “For us, Scandinavian design stands for thoughtful functionality as much as appearance.”
Grant, Italia-USA is a family-run business with designer collections of eyewear and sunglasses produced by three Italian manufacturers. The core collection, Grant, Italia, features metal and plastic frames. Sover, a company that specializes in the use of leather with refined finishes and elegant detailing manufactures the models that hail from four distinguished Italian design houses: Alviero Martini, Mariella Burani, Baldinini and Kiton. These are not-to-be-missed beautiful frames, with all collections sold exclusively through high-end eyewear boutiques.

The new Sculpture collection from Kirk Originals is sure to turn heads, for Jason Kirk has created frames with materials, textures, patterns and colours that change in different lighting conditions, creating a 3-D effect. The attention to detail extends to the interior of the frames that have been decorated with a hue that compliments both the front and exterior tints. The collection comes in six new styles, which are available in six fascinating colour combinations. There are also three Harlequin-style fronted frames. In a mostly subdued market, Kirk Originals champions something bold that truly stands out.

Claus Bellinger’s fascination with racing car chassis made from carbon- composite has led to an innovative eyewear brand — Blac. Distributed in Canada by Prisme Optical Group, the recently launched Blac Titanium collection, features sleek beta-titanium fronts, with carbon fiber and fiberglass temples strengthened with titanium. The goal with this line was to design a unique frame that combines the streamlined minimalistic titanium look with the super-cool fiber surface on the temples. Blac Titanium’s 10 new models are named after turns on some of the most famous courses in Europe; the words: “Parabolica” and “Hockenheim” will speak volumes to car racing aficionados.

Every Blac Titanium frame is unique and handmade according to a top-secret process. No lacquer is attached providing each frame with a unique raw surface of the woven carbon fiber and fiberglass fabric.

Sàfilo designer frames, bearing the prestigious names of Marc Jacobs, Gucci and Armani, represent a synergy between the creative minds at Sàfilo and the designer shops. Technical drawings are created at Sàfilo headquarters in Padua, Italy, after which skilled artisans handcraft intricate prototypes. Signature looks, worthy of each designer’s brand, evolve after an intensive process that takes from 40 to 100 steps. Eyewear from these top names can be offered at a range of prices due to the wide availability of quality materials. From premium gemstones, metal accents and other hardware to materials that are inherently less expensive, customers can still enjoy exceptional form and function, and the prestige of designer frames.

The first brand extension from GUESS gives us GUESS by Marciano Eyewear women’s collection from Viva International Group. This 60’s-inspired collection ranges from sophisticated, classic styles such as modified rectangles, to more fashion-forward, sexy silhouettes such as cat-eyes and over-sized frames. Key colours in the debut collection include burgundy, tortoise, and demi amber. Frame materials include handmade acetate and metal, with Swarovski crystal embellishments and casted logos.

The GUESS by Marciano eyewear collection offers affordable luxury to today’s trend-setting woman, with exclusive sophisticated designs infused with the GUESS by Marciano brand DNA.

Fame Optique brings the latest collection in the Oko Eyewear brand portfolio to Canada. Moko Besicles are entirely made in France from stainless steel. Lightness is a key descriptor for these innovative designs that combine modernity and vintage sensibilities with a lively edge. The frames can be customized with adjustable and interchangeable ear socks, available in a wide palette of colours, materials and shapes. Eyecare professionals will appreciate the quick insertion of lenses and the fact that all kinds of prescriptions can be easily accommodated.

Lulu Guinness is one of those rare fashion designers who doesn’t take fashion too seriously. First known for her fabulous handbags, she was approached by Tura LP because they knew her designs would speak to women who enjoy high quality eyewear with enough detail to stand out, while not being obtrusive. Guinness works closely with the frame designers, approving the drawings, and selecting colours and adornments. A recent example of this successful approach is model L688, a feminine modified rectangular front with softened corners. Balancing the front is an exquisite laser/acid etched diamond pattern on the end piece and temples. The detail work on the temples exemplifies the meticulousness delivered by the brand.

FENDI, distributed by Marchon Eyewear, presents the Selleria sunwear collection (named after the leather goods manufacturer). Model FS5096L demonstrates bold and contrasting stitching and an engraved oval Selleria logo plaque on interior temples. A leather brow bar adds prominence to a classic aviator, in colours of silver, dark gun, brown, and gold. On the FS5101L, handset leather shaped onto modified round frames adds contrast. Separating temples from frames, a thin metal piece reveals a laser etched Fendi logo when folded. Evident on all Selleria styles, an engraved oval Selleria logo plaque speaks to Fendi’s long tradition of using exceptional leathers.

Parasite Eyewear offers some of the most original designs in today’s high-end market. Made available in Canada by exclusive agent David Michel, this brand continues to dominate the cutting edge fashion scene. “It’s an original looking line with very high-end manufacturing,” says Michel. “It takes the work of four French factories to complete these frames, which are finished by hand.”

Frames are available in ‘mono’ — single temple styles, or ‘stereo’ — a split temple where the lower part rests on the temple bone and the top arm rests on the cranium. “They are very light on the nose and incredibly comfortable,” says Michel.

Check out the Parasite sun collection, particularly the DROSERA model, a stereo fashion mask, with a striking marriage of a flower motif on a space-age looking frame.