Silmo Paris returned for its 51st edition from 28 September to 1 October. And boy, did it return with a bang. This year the fair encompassed 967 exhibitors in 80,000m2 of space, with over 37,000 attendees from across the globe. I was told, by those who had previously experienced the wonder that is Silmo, that it was big.
I’ve been to plenty of conferences and fairs. I thought I was prepared. But Silmo was a sensory overload. An overwhelming array of bright lights, loud music, people milling every which way, all on a mission. It just kept going. And going. It was honestly massive. I must have walked around Silmo dozens and dozens of times, and even on my last lap, I was still seeing something new.
Trying to do Silmo justice in one article is an impossible feat. It is multifaceted and provides a 360° view of the trends in our industry. So, I thought I would write some hints and tips to help you manoeuvre Silmo.
If there are brands you particularly want to see, then book well in advance. Appointments at many of the popular stands book out before the fair even begins and there are door girls and bouncers to stop unsolicited visitors. Suppliers run to a tight schedule, so allow plenty of time to get from stand to stand – the trade halls are huge, and if you miss an appointment, you are unlikely to get another.
If you are unsure where to begin, try the ‘Silmo Match’ App, which was introduced last year. Buyers input data about their practice profile or the frames they are looking to purchase – gender, age, price point, style, etc. Distributors do the same, and upload products from their portfolio, then the app matches them together. It’s ‘Tinder for optics’, it’s free to use and functions all year long.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE TRENDS
The last thing you want is to be reactionary. Trends come and go, but it is important to understand which trends have substance, and which will stand the test of time. A couple of years ago wood was all the rage. It seems to be less popular now. However, round is still very much en vogue. Metals are on trend, as well as mixed metal and acetate and bright and beautiful acetate patterns.
I was dubious when 3D printed frames first came to market – they looked a bit rough and papery – however they’re here, and look to be staying. Monoqool pioneered this 15 years ago and the company is now making their frames exclusively from 3D printed technology, with many companies following suit.
The new Morel Lightec range is being modernised with 3D frames, and although they feel extremely lightweight, they are actually incredibly strong, exceptionally flexible, and as a result, almost indestructible. What I found really cool about 3D printed frames is that there is very little waste. Acetate frames are cut out of a block of acetate which has to be larger than the frame itself – only about 5-10 per cent of the acetate block is used and the rest becomes waste. Conversely, 3D printed frames use only the material required to make the frame, as you can see in the photo I took of designer Denis Balone from Morel, who held up the amount of material he uses to produce a 3D printed frame (page 96).
REMAIN RELEVANT TO YOUR PRACTICE
The optical industry is increasingly competitive. As we know, corporates, with their big advertising budgets and the benefit of economies of scale, are dominating the market. As a consequence, independents need to differentiate – to look for a point of difference – and one way to do this, is to have a unique frame range.
Frame suppliers face the same challenges. More suppliers are entering the market from all facets. Frames are now being made by Moleskin – known for making diaries; Kodak – known for cameras; as well as Bentley – known for luxury cars.
The independent designers I spoke to said they were trying to follow the trends, while at the same time finding ways to differentiate. Some brands were succeeding and some were going too far. It is easy to get excited by the wacky and unique at Silmo, especially because there is such huge variety, however these frames often stay stagnant on our shelves. It is important to stay relevant to our own market, which generally tends to be more conservative than the European and Asian markets. For this reason, Simon Ponnusamy from AM Eyewear said the theme for his current range is adaptability and wearability – stylish designs that one can wear from the office, to the beach and through the evening.
DOWN UNDER DESIGNERS
It was great to see Australian designers represented at Silmo. Simon Ponnusamy was inspired to begin AM Eyewear when he saw a gap for exceptional eyewear in Australia. He sources materials from Italy and Japan to create beautiful eyewear that he would want to wear. Simon said he wanted to make Australian frame design “a thing”. Jono Hennessy says being Australian is attractive to the international market. When asked what Australian design means, Jono equated it with quality and fun, and Simon said we have a “beachy laidback vibe” that others enjoy.
LEAVE YOUR PRECONCEPTIONS AT HOME
Forget any preconceptions about mass production and poor quality associated with some nations. It became evident that countries previously known for mass production are now entering into the design and high end fashion space. I spoke to Eric Lenoir, organiser of Silmo for 26 years, and asked him where he saw the emergent fashion markets coming from. He said he was impressed with designs coming out of China.
Japan has been an established market for years now, and Korea has firmed itself as innovative and trendy with their brands such as Project Project and Muzik.
It was also great to see long standing brands reinvigorate themselves with new vision. Morel, established in 1880 and known as conservative, has modernised its range with the new Koali collection of updated, funky shapes for the 21st century.
UNDERSTAND THE BRANDS
Mr. Lenoir said there is a “gap in the message between opticians and consumers” and the role of the optician here is fundamental to explain the art that goes into the design and manufacture of each piece. I found great value in meeting with the designers and speaking to them about the history of their brand, their inspiration and their techniques for manufacture – many stands displayed raw material and the process of manufacture.
Face a Face designer Pascal Jaulent loved the art from Salvador Dali – and from this drew inspiration from the ‘lips’ which sprouted into his ‘Bocca Range’. I had the fortune to preview his 2019 range – beautiful shapes inspired by light and art deco windows – art deco shapes with light flowing through.
Fleye designer Annette Esko is an optometrist who found a gap in the market for beautiful yet functional frames. Each range draws inspiration from different themes – the current theme being the flowers of Denmark. Fleye has a a winter range and a summer range with colours and shapes reflective of those found in nature. Simply elegant and beautiful. The last range was inspired by the ‘smorgesborg’ of Denmark – open sandwiches with more angular shapes.
The passion of designers like Annette and Pascal was evident. Understanding their brand and the stories behind the frames makes it easier to answer my customers’ questions regarding frame price tags.
This year Europe experienced one of its hottest summers ever, and amongst many manufacturers there was the sense of wanting to be more mindful of our impact on the environment. One such company is Karmoie – a Norwegian company that produces beautiful frames sustainably. The name Karmoie is derived from ‘Karma’ and ‘joy,’ and the company’s concept is to produce beautiful frames and give back. Not only are they eco-friendly, for every pair of spectacles sold, Karmoie donates a pair of spectacles to someone in need. Wearers look good and can feel good on many levels.
NOT JUST FRAMES…!
While Silmo is the premiere optical show for haute fashion, the show is all encompassing, servicing all parts of the eyewear industry, including spectacle lenses, accessories, marketing materials, etc.
New technologies like the ‘Fitting box’ are a cool way to try on frames at any time of the day or night and without even entering a store. This French company allows consumers to virtually try on frames, and view them on from all angles, by installing a screen outside the shop window with a catalogue of frames available. Afterwards you can scan the QR code and it will send you a selfie of your favourite frames.
THE FRENCH DO IT BETTER
Champagne really is champagne when you go to the trade fairs, not sparkling wine masquerading as champagne. The white wines offered are often Chenin Blanc or Sancerre, and it isn’t uncommon for your red wines to come from Burgundy or Bordeaux. The cocktails – you got it, are actually cocktails, with resident mixologists on many stands.
Pastries come in the form of croissants and macaroons, there were teams making crepes to order, some stands had whole legs of jamon that were being shaved to order… one can’t be expected to make sensible decisions on an empty stomach, right? Fortunately, the trade fair is so large you’ll walk off all that deliciousness.
The fair is serious business, and huge business is done, however, there was still time to relax and unwind. There were foosball tables at several stands, dart boards, and the ultimate – the Silmo Gala, this year held at the stunning Musée des Arts Forains – a museum of funfair objets. Two thousand people attended, experiencing carnival rides, games, witnessing the Silmo D’Or presentations and dancing the night away. Quelle spectaculaire!
The winners of the coveted Silmo D’Or awards were as follows:
- Marni (Marchon), with ME 2623, in the Fashion Optical Frames category,
- Salvatore Ferragamo (Marchon) with SF184S Fiore, in the Fashion Sunglasses Frames category,
- Mora Busoli with Venti, in the Designer Optical Frames category,
- Impressio with 609 Vortex, in the Designer Sunglasses Frames category,
- Thierry Lasry with Shorty, in the First Class Prize category,
- Nathalie Blanc with Suzanne, in the Panel’s Special Award category,
- L’Amy with Mc Laren Ultimate Vision, in the Technological Innovation category,
- Urband with Eyelet Active, in the Children’s category,
- BBGR Optique with Bluv Xpert, in the Vision category,
- Zeiss Group with UV Protect, in the Vision category,
- Essilor with Vision R-800 in the Material/ Equipment category.