The concept of wellness has far surpassed its humble beginnings as a ‘trend’. In modern day, we prioritise our wellbeing above all else; striving for experiences, brands and entertainment which make us feel our best. And it is this fundamental shift in our prioritisation of the self which has seen brands and retailers taking radical steps to curate strategies with wellness at the forefront.
Very much maintaining a balancing act between wellness, beauty and fashion is the eyewear industry. However, despite this close link between health and eyewear, the industry has been far removed from any sense of euphoria. Instead, the experience of purchasing eyewear has long been associated with fraught medical consultations and an abundance of overwhelming product. Thriving on necessity rather than genuine enjoyment, the sector had fallen behind the latest expectations of consumer experience.
However, in very recent years, we have witnessed an evolution in how eyewear brands have curated strategies, as well as relationships with their consumers. New-to-market retailers are the answer to this change, as they transform the way in which we not only purchase eyewear, but desire it. From promoting spectacles as a method of self expression through to delivering a heightened physical and digital experience, these brands have begun to disrupt the sector as we know it.
Our latest insight delves into the three brands sparking this innovative trend for fashion-conscious, personalised and experiential eyewear. Read more…
THE SELF EXPRESSIVE
It would be impossible to discuss eyewear without reference to their relevance as a fashionable accessory. Whilst sunglasses may appear to dominate the realm of stylish eyewear, the rise in individuals requiring corrective glasses has seen brands sit up and take notice of a gap in the market - the need for prescriptive eyewear with fashion-forward designs.
Appreciative of the fact that style – across all manner of fashion and beauty - is a form of self-expression is Dutch retailer Ace & Tate; a brand determined to ‘make you break up with your optician’. With a continuously growing range of frames, from the revival of a vintage classic to the transparent millennial design, the brand moves toward a fashion-conscious product delivery. Yet, they do not refute medical requirements, they merely introduce a free-of-charge eye test as part of the overall experience. As simple as entering a changing room in a store. This relaxed approach to the examination is a refusal to associate the test with a sense of dread. Instead, the blurred lines between eyewear and a fashion statement create a platform for confidence, individuality and self-expression.
Also, entirely confident with their audience of digital natives, Ace & Tate maintain a highly considered online identity. A collective of on-point photography and minimalist descriptions ensures an easy, self-sufficient browse; whilst the trial-at-home and virtual experimentations are the pinnacle of laidback eyewear shopping for the digitally savvy. And it’s not just the eyewear which takes precedence online, it’s their cultivation of relationships through campaigns and journal articles which go beyond the commercial; delving into the human desire to be a part of something bigger than our possessions.
Lastly, the stores. Those who venture into any Ace&Tate store are rewarded with further experimentations of self-expression and fortified relationships, plus the opportunity to receive an elite optical service. Whilst each location may be entirely different – as the brand utilise the concept of localisation to curate their retail design – the experience is rooted in the consumer and the consumer alone.
An unmistakeable brand identity, Ace&Tate disrupt the mainstream eyewear industry with an expertly crafted consumer experience.
Traditional eyewear retailers may not lack in proficiency or wealth of product, but the negative associations with purchasing glasses has is rooted in an often cheerless experience. From hushed waiting rooms through to the final selection of 2-4-1 specs, there is little difference to the undesirable experience of visiting the doctor. Refusing to yield to this traditional approach are Gentle Monster, a brand whom strive to not only focus on the experiential, but the experimental.
Originating as a sunglass retailer, the brand have more recently added glasses to their portfolio; featuring slightly less quirky – but equally as beautiful – designs. Across both facets of their offering, the products are embedded in a Gentle Monster ‘story’. From the influence of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut through to the fictional 13th moon narrative, the brand continuously highlight their preference for playfulness and storytelling in their product delivery; the depths of which see them far surpass traditional retailers.
The frames themselves also radically differ from the norm, with designs intended to be entirely unisex. This genderless approach allows complete exposure for each pair of specs, without any limitations set by the brand. It also ensures fluidity throughout their physical locations, with men and women able to shop within the same space.
However, whilst their quirky eyewear and genderless frames may be the pinnacle of their brand, it is their preference for creative and innovative retail design which sees them disrupt the market so cleverly. Each of their stores is entirely different to the others in its network – you may find yourself in a laundromat replica, or perhaps engrossed in a Kung Fu theme – yet they all feel part of the Gentle Monster universe. More closely resembling a contemporary art gallery than a store, the eyewear is not set within a linear display, but almost hidden amongst the sculptures and installations. It's a game of hide and seek, the winners finding themselves engrossed in the quirkiness of Gentle Monster frames.
As the brand appreciate that glasses may not be purchased as regularly as other fashion items, they maintain the intrigue of their consumers with a constantly evolving physical identity; creating a platform for their own creativity as well as user generated content sharing.
A progressive vision, not only for eyewear but the way it should be purchased in a physical environment, sees Gentle Monster thrive amongst its competitors.
Over the years, our relationship with glasses has changed dramatically. The term ‘four-eyes’ has officially become obsolete and we find the millennial generation actually craving glasses as part of their identity. A key factor in this shift is the emergence of independent frame-makers who have begun to alter perceptions of eyewear from necessary to desirable.
Cubitts, a brand named after three Victorian engineers who revolutionised the building industry, are determined to recreate this revolution within the eyewear industry. Whilst their stylish frames are often the initial attraction for consumers, the brand challenge the industry with something much deeper than aesthetics. Instead, they negotiate change by introducing a deeper relationship with optics, a bond which is strengthened by storytelling.
Deeply engrained into each aspect of the Cubitts identity is London heritage, not only that of the Victorian engineers but the architecture of the capital itself - particularly Kings Cross, where Cubitts began. The butterfly-shaped pins which hold the glasses together are based on the iron rivets within Granary Square, laid by one of the famous Cubitt brothers. It is this weaving of British history into the frames which highlights the brands preference for seeking a deeper meaning than visuals, but a rebirth of an industry which has a story to tell.
However, their remit as storytellers is not limited to the frames themselves and extends into all aspects of their physical identity too. Across their portfolio of London stores, it is clear to see that they have taken the individual location as creative inspiration. The buzz of non-stop nightlife in Soho inspires the neon material palette within their Soho store, the hydroponic system with cascading plants in the Coal Drops Yard store is a nod to the areas association with water and their latest Seven Dials store takes inspiration from the spaces previous tenants, a funeral parlour. Far from depressing, the space is enriched with Spanish mahogany, the wood traditionally used to make coffins, and complimented with a green colour palette, signalling the theme of rebirth.
And as the buzz of pop-ups and events continues to skyrocket, Cubitts took the bold step to create “Retrospective: London, Spectacles and Half a Millennia” - an exhibition celebrating Britain’s long history of optics, as well as the evolution in eyewear design. In bringing the history of eyewear to the forefront of consumer minds, the brand not only reveal how deep our relationship with eyewear runs, but why the sector should be celebrated as something more than a medical necessity.
With each new frame, and innovative physical design, Cubitts continuously work to rebuild an industry which has previously been neglected.
A New Perspective
Whilst not the only brands to be shaking up the industry, these three modern retailers have identified the blurred lines between fashionable and medicinal, curating strategies which celebrate this. Across digital and physical realms, they have encouraged a move away from a dispassionate service and look to introduce excitement and intrigue when purchasing a pair of glasses.
From a heightened sense of self-expression through to the deeper connections with brand stories, the experience with a modern eyewear industry can be unique, stylish and desirable. And with the market continuously growing, brands should be sitting up and taking notice of those retailers whom thrive on an enhanced consumer experience.