The next time you peruse the rotating sunglass display at a department store, don't be surprised to find several new names peppering the space traditionally reserved for brands such as Anne Klein, Donna Karan or Liz Claiborne.
Relatively new companies (and designers) such as Alexander Wang, Tory Burch, Jason Wu and the Row have all launched eyewear this year, adding accessories that are a direct extension of their ready-to-wear lines and creating more opportunities to merchandise their collections.
The shift toward tapping more niche designers gained traction in mid-2007, when stores had to rethink how they merchandised product as the country fell into a recession.
"Sunglasses became a part of retailers' power to differentiate their product from competitors," says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst for NPD group, a market research firm. "New names made a difference, and manufacturers wanted to pick designers who were serious about creating sunglasses, not just a brand that wanted to dabble."
Simon Jablon, creative director of Linda Farrow, the U.K.-based company that manufactures eyewear for Eley Kishimoto, Matthew Williamson, Dries van Noten and Jeremy Scott, began tapping young talent back in 2003 after having some success relaunching Farrow's vintage frames from the 1970s and catering to a market that appreciated a one-of-a-kind or limited-edition accessory. Most recently, Jablon has forged collaborations with the Row and Alexander Wang (who took home the Swarovski accessories designer of year during this year's Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards.)
Working with newer names has also changed the idea of what eyewear means to a ready-to-wear brand, becoming a direct extension of a line in terms of quality, pricing and design.
"It used to be that the sunglasses had no relevance to a designer's ready-to-wear collection. It was completely segregated on its own," says Jablon, who sits at runway shows and combs international trade shows looking for talent. "My goal has been to take sunglasses in a new direction," he adds.
Kristen McCabe, associate vice president of sun and luxury goods for manufacturer Luxxotica Group, adds that newer designers aren't just more in demand in the sunglasses market -- producing their sunglass lines has also become easier.
Several young designers are getting a boost from organizations such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which along with Vogue Eye-wear, will be launching a capsule collection of three sunglass frames created by New York-based designers Devi Kroell, Matt Murphy and Kara Ross later this month.
Each pair will sell in limited quantity for $129.95 at Sunglass Hut stores.