Men’s Frames: Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

By Paddy Kamen

As we move into 2012, the men’s eyewear market is hot and getting hotter.

What do men want in eyewear? While it’s true that some men still want to blend into the woodwork, a growing segment of this market actually wants to use frames as a signal of distinction, if not panache. Amin Mamdani, buyer and vice president of Josephson Opticians in Toronto, has noticed that men expect more from their eyewear.

“Men collect watches, shoes and hats but they don’t accessorize with the face, so frames are ideal for them. Being men, they still look for functionality, which is a plus because the same form will not necessarily fit different functions. For example, the urban look for weekdays won’t suit weekend cottage activities. And this is especially true for sunwear: rollerblading and sailing require different sun frames and this presents an opportunity to the optical retailer.”

Mamdani sees a slow but sure increase in the number of men who consciously chose their eyewear to make a statement. “I’d say it’s close to 50 per cent now, compared with over five years ago when it was about 30 per cent.”

Michael Bohbot, president of Bo Optik, agrees. “Men today are very different and much more diverse than they were a generation ago. Men represent half the population but often have far less choice in frames than women. This was due to a lack of product and a bias towards men being boring. Now men are catching up to women in terms of spending on fashion, be it in clothing or eyewear. They have always spent on watches and suits, but now they want better choices for eyewear and more distinctiveness and diversity. If you don’t have a great selection, you may be missing out on selling multiple frames to a significant market. 

Nada Vuksic is an optician and proprietor of Bruce Eyewear in Vancouver’s trendy Gastown district. She finds men more willing to purchase multiple frames for different lifestyle needs and in order to prepare for that, she works hard to have a wide variety of frames available. “We have an equal opportunity shop for men and women, which means we have to back that up with a wide range of product for both genders. As a woman, I easily know what I like for my female customers. But at the end of the day I have to exert more effort in making an amazing selection for men. I spend more time and care when selecting for men when I’m at a trade show or with sales reps.”

Several companies have launched men-only collections — including Wescan, Tura, Bo Optik, Alternative Eyewear, Plan B and Optiq. Others are speaking to men with distinctive stylings within collections that also address the needs of women. But how different are the needs of men and women? Mehran Baghaie, designer for Spectacle Eyeworks, created a collection for men and daringly offered them in pink! “They sold out very quickly,” he notes, explaining that “women are wearing very large men’s frames but they want them in beautiful colours they can relate to: wine, red, pink. This blurring of the gender edges gives my retro line wide appeal, although ironically, they were originally designed 100 per cent for men.”

Mamdani’s opinion is that gender differences in frame design are indeed widening. “For women I am definitely seeing more of the cat eye and upsweep as the biggest trend. Women frames will be much more feminine, while men’s frames are becoming squared or very round.”

Vuksic agrees. “I’m seeing more gender-specific styling. While it is true that women can wear men’s clothing and even eyeglass frames, I find them happy to have more feminine options.”

Bo Optik is one company that has responded to the market with a strong showing of brands just for men.

“Since the fall of 2011, we have launched KHI Eyewear, Lunettes L’AMY and Penguin to complement Jhane Barnes and Safari. These five lines give us the broad range required to satisfy both dispensers and consumers,” says Michael Bohbot. “Penguin is our newest launch and has a very retro look that fashion-forward men crave. Lunettes L’AMY has the French European flair and style. KHI Eyewear is for the entry-level professional, Jhane Barnes is our high-end product offering, and Safari has been our go-to product for the large man since 2001. Each of these brands is strictly for men, with the exception of L’AMY.”

Jhane Barnes and Penguin are brands heavily involved in clothing. The other three are optical only. “All are built on excellence in quality and design and with 75 styles over 400 SKUs (stock keeping units) across the spectrum, we are positioned to satisfy this important market that represents a big percentage of frame revenues,” says Bohbot.

Spectacle Eyeworks’ Mehran Baghaie has created a stunning collection of acetates in retro styles for men. In addition to the bold, feminine colours previously mentioned, Baghaie explains that most of this collection is offered in beautifully subtle, natural colours that are very tactile, just begging to be touched.

While still offering a pure wood collection, Baghaie’s new pieces look and feel like wood, “which opens a new avenue for everyone,” he explains. “They have a grainy, natural look, with a rough polish. The green one looks like horn and the brown model looks like wood. I wanted to continue with very clean retro shapes.”

Baghaie has named the pieces after his two sons, Thomas and Shayan, in addition to one with his own first name, Mehran. The family grouping is complemented by Penn, after his favourite actor, Sean Penn. “We’ve made Sean Penn part of the family,” he quips. Banking on retro to stick around for another four to five years, Baghaie’s approach is to take the genre sideways. “Retro is very specific. These new styles are definitely in the genre but have their own distinct character,” he notes.

Mizyake Couture offers men an opportunity to make a fashion statement with expressive designs that aren’t outrageous, says Richard Allen, vice president of sales for distributor Optika Eyewear. “Men are very focused on quality when selecting frames and Mizyake has superior quality in hinges, plating and materials. They’re made of super-lightweight stainless steel for comfort and durability in high-end designs.”

Allen notes that the Mizyake Couture collection appeals to all age groups. “We offer bold acetates for the younger market, along with frames that give excellent lens depth for progressive wearers.”

J.F. Rey has always spoken strongly to the men’s market, especially those men who favour an emphasis on technical and design elements. Two techno collections, Fibres and Airnet, are the latest word from this renowned manufacturer.

The Fibres collection found the design team turning fiberglass and carbon into an elegant weave. “Featherweight, industrial and elegant,” are perfect descriptors for this subtle collection, where industrial design is reinforced by muted colours in tobacco, navy blue and silver. The frames are definitely masculine.  

Airnet is the first J.F. Rey collection to use ultra-thin stainless steel, providing outstanding lightness. Tiny holes on the temples bring integration with the wearer’s skin tone.

J.F. Rey models JF 2410, JF 1217, and JF 1213 are Canadian bestsellers, available at J.F. Rey Eyewear Canada.

Paul Storace, president of Alternative Eyewear and Plan B has two collections for men: one a conservative, football-themed collection, Gridiron, and the other an edgy, metrosexual collection, Headlines™. “Headlines represents the very wearable side of edgy, for men from their mid-20s up to middle age and up.  The older guy who knows he is still young will choose this brand, which is a mix of really cool plastics along with pure titanium. This collection speaks to a sweet spot in the marketplace because it is definitely not slumming for the man who buys high-end, while the quality is there for the young man who wants to look like a million bucks,” notes Storace. “Plus we have eye sizes deep enough for progressives.”

The Gridiron collection suits the older gentleman who needs a larger fit (with 58-60 eye sizes) in a high-quality frame priced in the low-mid range. “Everyone needs a 58 eye size titanium semi-rimless on the boards,” notes Storace. “This collection offers many solutions to fitting problems and for those who are allergic to nickel. When comfort, fit and price take precedence over fashion, Gridiron is there and does extremely well.”

You may remember Parasite as the company that, a few years back, launched strange-looking futuristic frames with temples that cling to the side of the head. Parasite continues to lead in a ‘techno-organic spirit’, with cyber-punk frames known as Sidero. While still uber-cool, Sidero will appeal to a wider audience, with new models featuring a glossy polyamide front and metal temples. These elegant and edgy frames for men come in sophisticated colour blends and will soon be available with bored lens mountings.

Eyecare professionals will be pleased to know that hard-to-fit men are wellserved by the Michael Ryen collection from Cenoco. With a wide range of sizes, the collection offers plenty of choice in both trend-setting and traditional styles. Each frame is made of quality materials, including titanium and Mazzucchelli acetate fromItaly. Spring hinges ensure comfort. MR-176 boasts a square Mazzucchelli acetate front with the trendy geek look now so popular with men, while MR-171 sports a laser-cut, semi-rimless front. A small section of the temple is bent over the hinge and inset with openwork chrome metal, which serves to lighten the look on the face.

Prisme Optical Group offers some of the most stylish brands – Orgreen, Cogan, Façonnable – with strong styles for men. They also represent Bellinger, the Danish tour de force, led by the husband and wife design team, Claus and Malene Bellinger Diederichsen. Within the Bellinger collections is Blac, said to be the first frames made totally of carbon fibre. This collection is specifically for men. The design element is very strong, uber-masculine and fascinatingly sophisticated. A must-see.

Designed in Switzerland by optical professionals, the Götti collection offers strong masculine models within a mixed-gender collection. “The design of Götti glasses always has a harmonic and coherent look,” says design director Thomas Frischknecht. “We dispense with fancy details while maintaining distinctive accents on each frame, which makes it an unmistakable Götti. All models are extremely wearable,” he adds.

The two-man Götti operation that began in Switzerlandin 1993 has grown into a company of 48 employees with an American presence in Winter Park, FL. Product is available at high-end optical shops in 37 countries. Götti SWITZERLAND won a 2012 iF product design award (a Danish award established in 1953) for its Fons sunglass style.

Henry Jullien launched Equinoxe at Mido 2011, marking the arrival of the first model in the collection known as Les Urbaines. This acetate and metal frame for younger men is designed and manufactured completely in the Jura region ofFrance, where Henry Jullien has been making fine eyewear for over 90 years. A second collection, Les Signatures speaks to the impressive history of the brand. Here, gold-filled frames in classic styles are made with the finest materials.

Joe Nadler, president of Optik Frames, offers the bold and contemporary Respec Collection to men with a self-assured fashion sense. “These are men who care about their appearance and understand that eyewear is a statement of one’s personality and style,” notes Nadler. “I see men’s eyewear evolving as men become more aware of fashion trends and consciously turn to eyewear as an accessory that will enhance their image. This the perfect time to present the Respec collection, with styles that will appeal to men from 25 and up.”

The Eyefunc collection from Optique Levy features 40 different models for men. PresidentGeorges Levy describes his collection as, “fierce, edgy and hot.” These are manly shapes with trendy urban temples and funky styling, as the name suggests. EF276 is a current bestseller, as is EF307P. “The colours have really helped to make this collection a big success,” says Levy.

Also look for elegant men’s frames in the Borsalino collection, which is just now being introduced toNorth Americaby Levy. “There are 20 men’s styles in this luxurious line, handmade inItalywith 100 per cent Italian material,” says Levy. “Each frame has its own serial number.”

Optik Innovision brings some striking designs forward for the fashion-conscious man. Allegro Plus 4139 has a retro vibe, mixing new with older elements to great effect in acetate and metal. Allegro Plus 7063, with angular cut-outs on the temple, gives an edgy masculine look in four colour combinations. And half-eye frames such as Allegro 5318 convey a confident charm in a rectangular shape with subtle temple designs.

While also carrying the German-designed TITANflex for the upscale male shopper, Tura has a 20-year history with one of the first memory metal products: TuraFlex. James Ahola, sales manager forCanada, says, “The lightweight titanium alloy with its unique flexible properties struck a chord with the typical male buyer. And while the memory metal offers great advantages it also has some inherent design limitations, the main one being that it does not allow for great detail work or embellishments as desired in typical feminine frames. Because of this TuraFlex quickly evolved into a strictly men’s line for the average male who could not care less for embellishments or funky colours.”

Two best-selling TuraFlex models are M861 and M868. These are both generous frames with a comfortable vertical measurement. The M868 is a lightweight  semi-rimless with simple design cues of rolled metal. The M861 is a heavier frame with wider temples and a pinstripe design cue. “These sell well because they are lightweight, have some style without being over the top, and are affordable,” notes Ahola.

Le Groupe Optique Plus fromHolland brings the De Stijl collection across the pond with great aplomb. These are architectural pieces inspired by the aviation industry and made without screws or welded hinges. Stainless steel is the material of choice for all metal components and comfort is taken for granted. Extremely durable colours are an outcome of the manufacturing technology and four colours are offered on each of 11 models for men.

Look no further than Scandinavian Eyewear for men’s frames with a rich tradition of craftsmanship blended with materials and technology that are very on-trend. Skaga is the brand and Skaga Originals, designed by Sighsten Herrgård, are attracting a lot of attention. Models for early 2012 are inspired by glowing skies and crystal formations. “We have been making men’s styles in the Skaga collection since 1948 and release 48 new styles every year,” says Nils Fredriksson, sales manager forNorth America.

Wescan Optical is releasing Evatik Sunwear this February as an encore to their highly successful Evatik ophthalmic collection for the stylish urban male. Eighteen models in stainless steel and acetate feature diverse eye shapes from rectangular to aviator and beyond. “Masculine elegance” is a term used to describe this collection, which is inspired by both fashion and performance. “Men’s eyewear can traditionally be divided into two distinct categories: fashion and technical,” explains Beverly Suliteanu, creative director and vice president of product development. “By marrying cutting-edge technology with fashion-forward styling, Evatik Sunwear defies convention and offers today’s urban male the ultimate accessory to express and enhance his personal style.”

Swiss fashion design house Strellson comes to Canadian men via Mark Altow and optician Karen Tarshis. Strellson Eyewear Canada brings this Euro-style optical and sunglass collection forward, presenting warm masculine colours in the finest metals and high-end acetates. Real wood components are found in the patented ‘switch it inside’ segment. “The products have a cool, modern, retro “60”s vibe yet stay grounded in Strellson’s overall Euro look and feel,” says Altow. “The eyewear is a natural extension of the Strellson brand and we’re very excited to bring it to Canadian retailers.” 

Are today’s men getting what they want in eyeglass frames? Are more of them confident enough to let their frames do the talking? Let’s see how they see themselves in the new frame offerings for 2012.