LVMH kicks off eyewear operations with Marcolin at new Thélios production site
At the end of 2016, LVMH announced its intention to make a serious investment in the eyewear segment through a partnership with Italian group Marcolin. As a result, the companies created the joint venture Thélios, 51% of which is owned by LVMH and 49% by Marcolin. Sixteen months later, the project has taken physical form, following the inauguration on Tuesday of an ultra-modern factory in Longarone, in Northern Italy's eyewear district, Belluno, where Marcolin has its HQ.
LVMH Group Managing Director Toni Belloni and Chief Strategy Officer Jean-Baptiste Voisin were on site for the occasion. "Italy is the second home of LVMH. We have 9,500 associates here – a figure which has doubled in the last five years – as well as 23 production sites, compared to five only a short time ago. In the last five years we have invested 600 million euros in the peninsula," stated Toni Belloni during a press conference.
LVMH has no fewer than seven Italian houses in its portfolio – Emilio Pucci, Bulgari, Fendi, Loro Piana, Acqua di Parma, footwear manufacturer Rossimoda and Cova cafés –, and a number of the group's 70 brands also operate factories on the peninsula.
"We have developed substantial infrastructure in the country. Thélios is part of this estate", continued Belloni, who refrained, however, from giving further details about the total sum of the investment. When the project was first announced, Marcolin evoked an initial injection of some 50 million euros which would be made over "four to five years" and be split equally between the partners.
"When we acquired this 23,000-square-meter plot in April 2017, there was nothing here. Today, there's an 8,000-square-meter building, 5,600 square meters of which are set aside for production, with the rest used for offices. We also have an extra 10,000 square meters at our disposition. Currently, Thélios employs 250 people with an average age of under thirty, a headcount which should double before 2018. The facility's full production capacity is 1.5 million pairs of glasses a year, a figure which could rise to 4 million should the site expand", said Thélios CEO Giovanni Zoppas.
Thanks to state-of-the-art tools and machines, the factory, a corten steel and glass structure designed by Designgroup Architetti, will reduce the production time of a pair of glasses by 30%. The companies' objective is to reduce the entire process, from production to delivery, from 20 weeks to 16.
The joint venture's operations began in December with the production of Céline's line of glasses. "They're already on the market! To achieve this, on this occasion, we had to rely on Marcolin's sites, where our craftsmen were trained", explained Giovanni Zoppas. Looking forward, the first Loewe eyewear collection should launch before the second quarter and jewelry brand Fred's line – previously produced by Logo – is set to be released before the end of the year.
"Obviously, we'd like to expand beyond these three brands. But before we do, we need to fine tine our machine, particularly the communication with our brands, who are free to make their choice. We won't force them to come to Thélios to produce their glasses. We prefer to start small, developing our excellence in order to make our factory more attractive", said LMVH's managing director.
The luxury giant's eyewear operations are currently very diversified. A number of collections are manufactured through licenses with a variety of different partners, including Luxottica, which produces Bulgari's glasses, for example, or Safilo, which holds the license for Dior, recently renewed until 2020, as well as for Fendi. As for Louis Vuitton, the brand manages its own eyewear collections internally through suppliers.
With Thélios, which takes its name from Theia, Greek goddess of sight, and Helios, god of the sun, Bernard Arnault's luxury group hopes to implement a new business model, similar to that adopted by rival Kering, which internalized all of its eyewear operations through Kering Eyewear. The objective is to "construct an ecosystem of innovation and excellence built around expert craftmanship, industry and new technology, while also guaranteeing the high-end distribution appropriate for the product". In this spirit, an office has also been set up in Paris to help tighten the bonds between brands.
In Marcolin, which is owned by the French investment fund PAI Partners and holds licenses for brands such as Moncler, Roberto Cavalli, Diesel, Guess, Tod's, Dsquared2 and Swarovski, LVMH looks to have found a strong partner for its new venture.
"There are fewer and fewer operations carried out through licenses. Eyewear is one of them, because it's a very complex business. LVMH didn't want to take any risks in this segment, which is why we've partnered with an expert in the sector. We were also in talks with others, including Safilo. But we very much appreciated Marcolin's work, especially what they did for Tom Ford", explained LVMH Chief Strategy Officer Jean-Baptiste Voisin.
"We intend to stay in this industry for a long time. At what speed we'll progress, honestly, I don't know. But it'll be our own – the speed at which we are able to acquire the necessary knowledge and brands. Eyewear is too complicated a sector and the stakes are too high for us to rush into it and do a bad job", he concluded.
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