No discussion of contemporary eyewear can avoid Luxottica. Luxottica seem to own everything, control everything. The biggest eyewear company in the world, they are simply unavoidable, the big squid, the fat cat. It is impressive, in a way, that world domination was all part of a plan, the impossible dream of one man who started at the bottom and worked his way up.
In 1961, Leonardo Del Vecchio established Luxottica in Agordo in Italy with one factory. The plan was always for Luxottica to become a world leader. This was achieved primarily by vertical integration, acquisitions up and down the eyewear supply chain, the owning of everything, the opposite of specialism, of artisanship, the buying of rather than the making of. Luxottica may have started in the manufacture of frames, but soon expanded into the design, distribution and retail of spectacles.
Ray Ban, Persol and Oakley have been subsumed into Luxottica. On the high street and in the malls, retailers, like Lenscrafters, Sears Optical and Target Optical are Luxottica. Luxottica is certainly the largest retailer of eyewear in the United States and has thousands of outlets elsewhere. Chanel, Burberry, Prada, Armani, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana and DKNY eyewear are made by Luxottica, as are many other fashion brands. In 2017, Luxottica merged with Essilor, the biggest manufacturer of lenses in the world, in the process becoming a company worth €57 billion. The whole idea is to mass-produce spectacles cheaply, more cheaply in Italy now than in China, to create something close to a monopoly, a self-perpetuating, money-making machine that just happens to be based on eyewear. It could easily be land, or pharmaceuticals, or underpants. Whatever it is, it’s not me.
Luxottica is a great business model but not a great example of how to live. I don’t stock any Luxottica products in my shop. I still primarily want to work with my passion, and collaborate with the passion of others to make and provide beautiful objects, beautiful things that you’ll treasure and prize for decades, that you’ll feel fabulous wearing. I still want to be an actor in the romance of a well-engineered, stylish piece of eyewear. This isn’t a business model. It integrates neither vertically nor horizontally, or this way or that. It is not about the unit cost or unit-shifting. It is simply the reason to be.