Vuarnet opening in New York; and launching apparel and skiwear
The art of reviving an esteemed but almost moribund brand – a skill in which the French have few equals – is one very much in evidence at Vuarnet. The famed French sunglasses label will celebrate the country’s national holiday this Bastille Day, with the opening of its second flagship boutique, situated in Nolita, New York. The store will also include its new apparel collection, made in partnership with hipster label Noah. Plus, Vuarnet will produce a new skiwear collection, which it hopes to bring to Pitti in Florence next January, and the house has revived its reading glasses collection.
Located at 35 Spring Street in the heart of Little Italy, the city’s newest shopping mecca, the 100 square-meter store marks a significant step for Vuarnet, a storied brand that just four years ago was barely selling 40,000 pairs - all produced in an atmospheric but somewhat archaic factory near Meaux, better known as the birthplace of brie.
“We are just around the corner from Supreme. In a very happening neighborhood, in my view, the most international quartier in New York,” argued Lionel Giraud, who became CEO three years ago this month.
The new store includes Giraud’s latest project, a small fashion collection with Noah. Created by Brendon Babenzien, the former creative director of Supreme, the selection includes sea blue or white hoodies, sweatshirts and T-Shirts, most with the Vuarnet logo.
“We discovered that people were collecting our vintage t-shirts and paying quite a lot for them online. We even discovered Kanye wearing a Vuarnet t-shirt!” enthused Giraud, proudly showing a snap on his iPhone of the musician in a vintage tee with the label’s instantly recognizable big, bold red 'V'. The brand is named after Jean Vuarnet, the French skier (and the first man to use metal skis and race in the tuck position) who won the downhill gold in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, and launched the following year.
Ever since, American has had a love affair with Vuarnet: Miles Davis wore Vuarnet in his epic jazz concerts; Luke Wilson sported a pair in the Royal Tenenbaums, while Jeff Bridges gave them their place in cinema history, dressing in Vuarnet and a terrycloth bathrobe in the legendary supermarket scene in The Big Lebowski. Everyone from Daniel Craig to Jake Gyllenhaal to Kurt Russel have donned them on the silver screen. Justin Trudeau, 24 years before he became Prime Minister of Canada, was snapped wearing them in a Polaroid. Longtime fans include Romy Schneider, Mick Jagger and the Alains - Delon and Bashung.
Though Giraud also got heads turning with his kicky ad campaign starring Vincent Cassel, shot on the balcony of his Copacabana beach penthouse or rambling around Rio – exactly the sort of earthy cool image that Vuarnet needed for its rebirth.
The brand now seems poised for strong growth – it does not even retail yet in Asia – and is rapidly building distribution in North America; from optical shops to US department store chains, and bigger websites.
The Paris store across the street from Hermès' massive flagship boutique was originally a classic eyewear retailer, which Vuarnet acquired and revamped three years ago.
“Before, Vuarnet represented 15% of the sales among a lot of brands, and the store lost money. Now it’s solely Vuarnet and is profitable. It gave my investors the confidence to expand further,” beams Giraud.
Under his management, Vuarnet has significantly updated its designs, maintaining a sleek sporty style, but injecting a more contemporary and techy feel. Vuarnet is unique in eyewear in that all its lenses are made of natural mineral glass, unlike the vast majority of sunglasses and reading glasses, which despite their name are actually made of plastic. One very positive side-effect – shades by Vuarnet hardly ever scratch.
Last year, the brand sold 100,000 pairs of shades (all made in France), two and a half times its volume when the London-based but French-managed group Neo Investment Partners acquired full control of Vuarnet in 2015, when the brand’s turnover had dipped to barely 10 million euros.
On Thursday, Giraud flies to NYC to celebrate his downtown store, with DJ and blogger Vas$htie waxing the stacks in the boutique. Though the CEO plans to make the last plane out on Saturday back to France.
“It’s simple, I really want to be in Paris to watch France in the World Cup final!”
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