Sports Styling Could Lead the Way for New Growth in Eyewear

If Telfar Clemens isn’t one of fashion’s key trendsetters of what’s to come, then who is? The designer — who sells through thousands of handbags and lifestyle designs on his website — has since late 2020 been wearing the kind of sports goggles you’d use for marathon running, but for everyday use.

With a shield-like curved crossbar at the top and clear, goggle-sized lenses, the style has crossover appeal — a curious, offbeat newness that could appeal to youth culture and high fashion, but also a certain ease-of-wear, lightness and performance that position them more broadly.

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This kind of eyewear represents a new interplay between what had traditionally been seen as two distinct, separate categories — fashion lifestyle eyewear for optical and sun and athletic performance eyewear.

It’s an evolution of the outdoor wardrobe boom that cropped up during the pandemic and reflects a wider desire to incorporate functionality into our new, more dressed up lives with, “a hybrid, 360-degree use from morning to night,” said Alessandro Beccarini, Marcolin’s style and development director. Safilo’s global product officer Vladimiro Baldin called the trend “athletic transfer.”

The wider fashion industry seems to be aware that, on the whole, shoppers aren’t interested in trading all aspects of their cozy, comfort-driven quarantine lives for more restrictive and conventionally chic looks — including eyewear. And in doing so, they are creating a new category of hybridized eyewear that could drive sales.

Balenciaga RTW Fall 2022 - Credit: Courtesy of Balenciaga
Balenciaga RTW Fall 2022 - Credit: Courtesy of Balenciaga

Courtesy of Balenciaga

Alessandro Mariani, EssilorLuxottica’s vice president of marketing for wholesale North America, said: “People are choosing to express themselves with a look that is more attached to a lifestyle. We saw this idea that the lines between formal and informal [dressing] got blurry and now you don’t dress for a specific occasion, you dress yourself to do things you love. The athleisure look became absolutely dominant. The people attending catwalks and recent shows saw this new celebration of the formal and informal and its influence on eyewear.”

During the most recent Paris Fashion Week, both Balenciaga and Givenchy’s fall 2022 collections included goggle-type sunglasses that borrow their curvature, lightness and bug-eye aesthetic from classic athletic eyewear makers like Oakley.

Justin Cupps, senior vice president at Oakley, said the “athletic transfer” trend now goes both ways. Fashion eyewear is pulling elements from its athletic brethren, like rubberized temples, silhouette and mirrored lenses while performance eyewear is looking to widen its reach and mainstream some of its offering to capitalize on this moment.

Givenchy RTW Fall 2022 - Credit: Giovanni Giannoni/WWD
Givenchy RTW Fall 2022 - Credit: Giovanni Giannoni/WWD

Giovanni Giannoni/WWD

“If you think about sports styling — it has become something you wear everyday. Companies that made true sport designs like Oakley, products made for athletes and specialized for a specific purpose, are now mainstream and used in everyday life. We are adjusting the collection to capture that,” he said.

Baldin concurred, saying: “Brands like Under Armour are embracing lifestyle, it’s an opposite job that will be a trend. It’s working nicely with this hybrid mode of working from home and commuting.” The company has been working to bring elements of the sports style to its license partners like Jimmy Choo, Marc Jacobs and Tommy Hilfiger as well.

According to Beccarini, this is all amid a backdrop of eyewear’s booming sales as a result of Zoom culture, which has changed the industry as a whole. “The customer is more willing to buy a frame because they sit in front of a computer and don’t need to be so dressed up. So we are seeing less contact lenses and more optical frames. On video, having a strong frame helps you create a better identity because you do not have the full body picture.”

Now settled into a hybrid work-from-home lifestyle, these same consumers have started searching for eyewear that can “change and be ready to do sports or a wellness activity and in less than a half an hour be back at your laptop,” he said.

According to a recent market study conducted by Safilo, the growth opportunity for sports eyewear is endless. The company assesses that eyewear could be potentially used in 65 percent of sports activities, and observed an 84 percent “lasting” increase in outdoor individual sports from pre-COVID-19 times.

Conveniently, however, the athletic influence has created a new look that is fresh for current fashion trends. “It’s related to the androgynous, metaverse look. This wraparound and more cat-eye frame, we are developing something like that for Moncler and Max Mara — it’s something we are interpreting in both shape and attitude,” Beccarini said.

But when looking at the trend more broadly, it connects back to the overall fashion industry’s now unbridled mix between comfort and style. Eyewear executives think that it’s an important trend to remain on top of in order to drive sustained relevance.

For Massimiliano Maccanti, vice president for design and product development at Marchon, the trend is simply an extension of what the wider fashion industry is experiencing. He recently spearheaded the design of Victoria Beckham’s latest runway eyewear — pulling inspiration from an archival Nike design produced for athletes at the Olympics. Similar treatments are being reviewed for license partners like Lacoste, DKNY and Ferragamo.

“We are seeing this trend not only in eyewear but in clothing, shoes and accessories. It’s not going away anytime soon, this transformation of performance into the fashion and luxury space. We see that luxury brands need to express themselves in this segment and translate it in a more fashion way. It’s a performance frame combined with glamour, without sacrificing comfort and durability — I think it’s going to stick more and more,” he said.

Launch Gallery: Sports Styling Could Lead the Way for Growth in Eyewear

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