Bruno Palmegiani: Aspiring to More

By JoAnne Sommers

DesignerPalmegianiEven as a teenager, Bruno Palmegiani sensed what a pair of glasses could do for a person’s image. As an aspiring rock musician, he always wore sunglasses while playing the guitar to help project the persona of a cool, hip rock star. Today, as the designer behind the Ermenegildo Zegna eyewear collection, Palmegiani creates the glasses and sunwear for the luxury brand, worn by such style icons as George Clooney, Denzel Washington and Laurence Fishburne.

Palmegiani, 62, comes from a long line of creative people: he inherited his passion for music from his grandfather, who played six instruments. His mother was also an artist: “She had a soprano voice and performed at the theatre but she couldn’t study because she had to care for me, my sister and brother.”

Like many young men, Palmegiani’s passion for rock and roll eventually burned out. By then he was an 18-year-old student in Turin. Fascinated by fashion and creativity and needing money to pay for his studies, he began working with his uncle, a designer of men’s made-to-measure clothing.

“That was the beginning of an exquisite love affair with haute couture,” he says. “My uncle worked for important fashion houses and I helped him research fabrics and colours. Soon I was organizing shows for veteran designers, including Versace and Armani.”

While Palmegiani’s sense of style evolved through his experiences in music and the fashion business, he learned about eyewear by studying to be an optometrist. After graduation he owned and operated an optical store in his native Rome for seven years.

It was a chance meeting with someone who worked for Essilor that led him into eyewear sales. “I started as a sales representative and that’s where I discovered my love for frames and lenses. In eight years at Essilor, I learned all the processes involved in manufacturing and the special qualities of the different lenses available.”

Palmegiani’s Essilor experience provided him with invaluable insight into the world of glasses. But, he says, “I was a man who was never satisfied with what I got and always aspired to more.”

That aspiration led him to De Rigo Vision in 1980. It was a crucial time in the evolution of sunglasses, which were morphing from simple eye protection to fashion accessories, and Palmegiani was looking for a company on the cusp of that change. He joined De Rigo as a sales rep but his big break came when the company’s sunglass designer unexpectedly left the company.

“As a frames salesman, I needed good sunglasses to sell so I decided to design them myself. At that time the Italian sunglass market was dominated by a craze for a particular frame or brand that would sell heavily for a couple of years before being superseded by the next hot product. I realized that a big gap in the market was opening so I took a vintage pair of New York Police Department sunglasses, changed many of the design elements, and a new brand – POLICE – was born.”

POLICE, featuring the classic mirrored blue lenses, was an immediate – and enormous – international success. “In the sunglass industry, blue is inextricably linked to POLICE,” says Palmegiani. “The brand turned that colour into a ‘must have’ in the late 1980s-early 1990s. For about 10 years, the blue mirrored lenses were met with incredible success and acknowledged all over the world as a symbol of freedom and life ‘on the road’, a new and revolutionary look.”

Since then, Palmegiani has worked for the Vuitton group, designing eyewear collections for Givenchy, Celine and Loewe. And since 2005, he has designed the Ermenegildo Zegna eyewear collections, interpreting the core values of the Italian design heritage – craftsmanship, style and quality – and transferring them to eyewear.

Zegna was created to produce the world’s best fabrics and is best known for its men’s clothing line. Their tailored suits focus on creating a perfect fit and the same high standards are applied to every eyeglass frame.

Says Palmegiani: “The most beautiful and the most difficult part of my job is to interpret the language of the people: what they like and would wear. Ermenegildo Zegna gives me the chance to achieve elegance in style, by the continued research of raw materials and new techniques.”

Ronor Occhialli recently obtained the Canadian distribution rights from De Rigo Vision for the collections and Ontario Sales Manager Pat Salamat says the response has been outstanding.

“Of all the brands I’ve launched, including Calvin Klein, Fendi and Coach, this has been the most exciting. We started showing product in April and there has been a phenomenal response based on pre-booking orders across Canada.”

Part of Zegna’s appeal is its image, which Salamat describes as, “superb quality and fit, sophistication and prestige for the man who pursues excellence.”

The brand is uniquely positioned as male luxury, classical, stylish, and elegant. It’s classic style sits ideally between the designer and bridge segments.

“It’s one of a very few brands in the marketplace with that positioning, which means competition is limited,” says Salamat. “Our demographic is men 30-55 — high-end consumers who pay attention to detail and are brand- and product-sensitive.”

Salamat believes that the prestige and outstanding quality of Zegna eyewear will elevate the image of any dispensary that carries it. “Those eyecare professionals will be offering something unique, available only at selective optical locations,” he says. “And that, in turn, will attract an exclusive clientele for whom Zegna is a byword for superior quality, exclusivity, attention to detail and prestige.”