Guys and Their Eyes

By Deirdre Carroll: Senior Editor

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Men’s style has come a long way since the rise of the metrosexual several years back. Metrosexuality kicked off a masculine revolution that has become a part of evolving popular culture, but its inherent sense of vanity has since given way to a much simpler appreciation for masculine style.

VM is revisiting the contemporary young men’s market and has spoken to experts on the segment, as well as eyewear suppliers, to explore this new generation of young men and what they are looking for in their eyewear.

What we learned is that men, especially young men, have become much more in tune with, and interested in, current fashion trends, often as a response to their increasing adoption of digital media, and that brand names are important to them, generally more so than women. Additionally, we found that almost universally each eyewear supplier pointed to an increase in percentage of men’s collections and/or male specific styles in their overall brand portfolios over the last five to 10 years.

Elise Diamantini, managing and market editor of MR Magazine, the leading trade magazine for the menswear industry, confirmed that “men’s fashion is having a moment mainly due to the younger customer’s newfound interest in clothes and style.”

According to Diamantini, the new male consumer is younger; in his late teens, 20s and early 30s. It’s the “teenage guy eating ramen noodles in order to save money to buy the latest limited edition collaboration” who is “always plugged in and up on the latest projects and styles” and the “20 and 30 something year-old guy [who] might have a little more disposable income” and is “dressing up because his ‘Casual Friday’ father never did.”

Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director for BIGinsight, a consumer intelligence firm that provides analysis of behavior in the areas of products and services, retail, financial services, automotive and media, has the stats on the 18-34 year-old age bracket to back up Diamantini’s assertions.

“While the majority of young men look for value/comfort or a more traditional look when shopping for clothing, a healthy third, 32.0 percent, say the newest trends and styles are important to them,” said Goodfellow. “This number is only slightly lower than young women at 34.6 percent and much higher than adults in general (18+) at 18.0 percent.”

Goodfellow also said that “young men are also more brand-oriented than their female counterparts. Three out of five (59.5 percent) young men say familiar fashion labels are important to them, compared to about half (51.2 percent) of females” in the same age bracket (18-34).

As of BIGinsight’s October 2012 monthly survey, it also seems young men’s income is more likely to support their appreciation of brands. The survey found that the average yearly income of young men (18-34) is about $48,700, higher than that of women in the same age group at $46,600.

But despite their increased interest in shopping, their shopping habits haven’t really changed. “Men want to be in and out of a store as quickly as possible,” said Diamantini. “If they’re into clothes, they’ve researched the product they’re looking for online and know what they want, how much it costs, etc., before they even walk into a store.”

In fact, both experts point to the increased adoption of digital formats in helping to fuel this shift in men’s perception and appreciation of personal style.

“The internet and social media are two main reasons,” stated MR’s Diamantini. “Most men are comfortable shopping online and from their mobile devices. They’re able to buy what they want from the privacy of their own home or office. And the proliferation of men’s style blogs and street style blogs have definitely peaked guys’ interest in clothes and learning how to dress.”

“I think the rise of e-commerce and social media have made the young male shopper more accessible and perhaps have made him a more willing consumer,” agreed Goodfellow. “There’s an ease in shopping online and with social media. They can connect with retailers, and even their own friends, to get in touch with what’s new, exciting and trendy.

“For instance, if [a man] admires one friend’s style, he can do a quick check to see which retailers that friend may be following. It’s a more covert way of keeping up with new styles, easier than asking male friends where they got their jeans, something that women are more prone to do.”

Diamantini added that “social media continues to be an effective way of reaching the male consumer. Collaborations between brands and retailers have also been successful. They create buzz around the store and/or brand and create a sense of urgency to buy before it’s gone, especially collaborations that are promoted online through social media and blogs.”

BIGinsight has found that compared to the general population, young men’s apparel purchases are more likely to be swayed by newer forms of media, including social media (17.5 percent), blogs (11.7 percent), satellite radio (12.0 percent) and video on mobile devices (14.5 percent.)

According to VisionWatch, the large scale continuous study conducted by The Vision Council, for the 12 months ending September 2012, nearly two thirds of men ages 18-34 (61.2 percent) admitted to needing some form of vision correction.

The combination of all this information makes a compelling argument for understanding how to appeal to this increasingly important demographic in terms of style offerings and merchandising communications and several eyewear suppliers have invested in doing just that.

Supply and Demand

“Men follow trends more than ever and this year more dollars were spent on grooming and styling by college age men than women. Therefore, men’s eyewear has become a part of the faster fashion story of retail, appealing to a more engaged audience,” said David Duralde, chief creative officer at Kenmark Optical. “There is more individuality in eyewear than ever before, since it is now cool for guys to wear glasses. We see new styles as an opportunity for men to look up-to-date and on trend.”

Dick Russo, executive vice president of Safilo USA, added, “The young consumer no longer looks at eyewear as a utility item but instead, sees eyewear as an expression of themselves and how they want the world to see them. They are looking for something that distinguishes them from the masses and offers something that is distinctive and has its own point of view.”

“Traditionally, the category has been dominated by women but now the fashion industry is seeing a surge in male eyewear,” stated Milena Cavicchioli, vice president of marketing for Luxottica USA, who also oversees the company’s product department. “In the past five to 10 years, men have become more like women in how they shop. They have begun to shop for themselves and take interest in the way they look and dress.

“As with the men’s market, I think the younger consumer is looking for something that is going to make them stand out. Whatever the age, men nowadays care more about their appearance including what they put on their face. As the men’s market has expanded over the years, we have grown as well,” she explained.

Size Matters

Like Luxottica, many of these suppliers have increased the size of their eyewear offerings to the male consumer.

“Men’s styles have increased significantly in the last five to 10 years due to the popularity of retro styles,” confirmed Joe Tallier, vice president of global sales for Ogi Eyewear. “Eyeglasses used to be more unisex. Today, women’s frames look more feminine, and men’s frames more masculine and there is more of a distinct separation in sales approaches. Young men are responding to our collections specifically targeted toward them, such as the Japanese Vintage Collection and The Executive Collection from Seraphin.”

“We recognize the growing need for men’s eyewear collections to be both functional and fashionable,” explained Laura Khligh, a designer for the McGee Group. “The Orvis eyewear collection offers traditional styling inspired by an outdoor lifestyle. Argyleculture Eyewear by Russell Simmons targets a younger customer, fusing classic Ivy League with modern fashion trends for the urban graduate.”

At ClearVision Optical, brand manager Pam Elfrich said that their “men’s business has been increasing as men are becoming more fashion conscious and that according to [company] research, the average male consumer owns two pairs of eyeglasses, while the average female consumer owns only one pair;” while REM Eyewear’s portfolio actually “skew[s] toward men due to John Varvatos and Tumi,” according to creative director, Nicolas Roseillier.

At Europa International, the percentage of their men’s offerings has increased from approximately 30 percent to 40 percent over the last 10 years. “The increase in fashion that men now look for has increased the need to devote more space to men’s eyewear,” added Jerry Wolowicz, president of Europa.

And Kenmark has seen “growth of 5 percent in the men’s category in relation to the women’s category in our brand portfolio over the last 10 years,” according to Duralde.

While at Charmant USA, director of marketing and product, Dee Berghuys, estimates their current brand portfolio at 50/50 men versus women, which is up a full 10 percent for men in the last 10 years. “The fact that we are offering more collections for this target customer shows that it is an important market segment,” she said.

Brands and Trends

“Men are more aware of designer brands, especially in the eyewear arena,” declared Khligh of McGee. “With celebrities and athletes wearing eyewear, designer-branded eyewear is very trendy. Men are looking for the retro and celebrity influence in eyewear. They are also aware of what looks good on them.”

“Guys look for brands that relate to them. The guy who is 18-25 is just starting to present himself to the world, and we are just getting a glimpse of who he is, which means his fashion is unique and his own signature,” said Kenmark’s Duralde. “Deeper shapes, thinner acetate profiles and color are distinguishing characteristics of a young guy’s look.”

“Designer eyewear signifies value, style and quality and men feel more confident selecting eyewear from a brand that they are familiar with and trust,” said Cavicchioli of Luxottica. “Young men are stepping out in terms of color, patterns and shapes. They are ready to explore and are no longer just about the classic black and tortoise shell frames. We have also seen that they are becoming more conscious of materials, which has been another major focus for us in developing the eyewear collections.”

“Our young male consumer is looking for eyewear from those brands that match his clothing style,” according to Elfrich at ClearVision. “Our collections for the male consumer have become focused on more colorful designs with emphasis on fashion forward eye shapes and patterns, interesting and trendy materials and embellishments. We
used to limit our palette but now incorporate blues, greens and merlot into our men’s lines, as well as subtly mixed hues that are a bit more complex. Our Izod, Marc Ecko Cut & Sew and Op collections closely follow color palettes and design inspiration from the apparel offered by those brands. Many male consumers today want acetate frames, while just five years ago the industry was dominated by metal and semi-rimless metal frames.”

“We’ve seen a lot of young men gravitating toward heavier acetates and some classic shapes,” confirmed Scott Shapiro, chief operations officer of Europa. “More generally though, we find that young men are more willing to be more fashionable with their eyewear, instead of trying to hide it. American men’s styles are bolder and more diverse then they’ve been in my lifetime. More men are looking for frames that make a statement or at least fit their personalities, where in the past they were often looking for something nobody would notice.”

“The styling for men within Scott Harris and the new Scott Harris Underground has definitely gotten more fashion forward than it was five to 10 years ago,” added Europa’s Wolowicz. “Exciting acetate materials along with distinctive embellishments have replaced the basic gold, brown and gunmetal non-descript men’s styles.”

‘Social’ Cues

Many pointed to the rise of social media as a major factor in young men’s renewed appreciation for fashion and style.

“I think the young male consumer is more connected today than at any time in the past via the internet which has a very real influence on their psyche, their fashion sensibility and their need to express themselves,” explained Safilo’s Russo. “No longer isolated by geography, they have a window on the entire world and react accordingly.”

“Social media has immensely changed marketing to the young men’s market in the last five to 10 years. With more than two million Twitter followers, Russell Simmons reaches a large number of young people. Therefore, the re-launch of Argyleculture was heavily promoted through social media and involved a full re-launch of the brand’s website and social media pages,” said McGee’s Khligh. “The more ‘social-friendly’ a men’s brand is, the more interest they will generate with the young men’s market.”

Roseillier added, “With the rise of social media, we see the customer guiding the marketing and merchandising. Converse is a great example of this. The consumers interact regularly with the brand, offering online content and photos, in some cases even designing their own materials. In true underground and rebellious style, the consumers have made Converse their own.”

“Social media brings a consumer voice to the brand itself and the merchandising materials must be reflective of the inclusive brand story,” said Duralde. “Jhane Barnes is a more individualistic boutique sensibility, while Original Penguin is a trend forward, retro-inspired collection. Timex is an every man’s story, emphasizing quality and durability, while TMX is a more youthful, sport focused aesthetic. Young guys don’t like hyper-commercial messages and the more subdued and authentic the brand and product story is, the better the relationship with the consumer.”

Talk the Talk

“Social media has impacted their fashion sense and men are moving quicker to be on trend than ever before,” agreed Charmant’s Berghuys, however, she cautions “the designs have [to] remain true to the brands roots and philosophy. Brands such as Puma and Trussardi are recognizable names to this target market so they are already aware of the brands positioning and status.”

“We always begin with the brand story,” said Roseillier. “For Varvatos it’s all about rock ‘n’ roll style paired with an artisan design sense. Converse is unconventionally cool and completely unique. These stories guide our accounts in targeting each brand’s demographic and understanding the consumers.”

According to Luxottica’s Cavicchioli, “It is crucial that the brands’ message and values are reflected in not only the product, but the merchandising and marketing as well. If a campaign doesn’t seem authentic or true to the brand, consumers are unable to connect with the product and are turned off. A great deal of time and money goes into research to make sure our marketing and merchandising align with the brands identity. Dedicated trade marketing materials are created each season that specifically relate to the brands, campaigns and collections to help define the benefits and features behind the product.”

ClearVision’s Elfrich added, “We now speak to our accounts about how our optical brands tie back to the aesthetics of the brand. Each brand of eyewear we carry targets the specific demographics of that licensed brand. Eyewear, clothing and accessories now have a more cohesive look and tie closely to the brands’ DNA. The young men’s market is responding to branded advertising and the image of the brands they love to wear. They look to the brands that define their clothing style to do the same for their eyewear.”

Kenmark’s Duralde concluded, “We spend more time talking about the end consumer and creating point of purchase material that directly relates to the end consumer. The brand presentation to the buyer reflects our total commitment to the lifestyle of the brand consumer. It’s a more 360 approach, with emphasis on not only B2B business, but incorporating a B2C selling strategy in the mix. We always emphasize the end consumer as being an important selling factor to the buyer.”