Features: Conversation With...

May
2009

Eyeing The World Without Borders

Silhouette’s Arnold Schmied focuses on redefining the future of eyewear

Founded in 1964 by Arnold and Anneliese Schmied in Linz, Austria, Silhouette Optical, a subsidiary of Silhouette International, has long been in the forefront of fashion eyewear. But it was the introduction of Minimal Art in 1992, a rimless titanium frame without hinges, followed by the debut of Titan Minimal art, a screwless, hingeless frame weighing only 1.8 grams debuting in 1999, that changed the course of the company... and the course of rimless eyewear.

Like many major events, the impact of Titan Minimal Art was unplanned and unanticipated. “It was all very simple,” says Arnold Schmied, Silhouette executive director and a son of the founders. “We had done rimless eyewear before, a collection in 1983, and decided we wanted to do another rimless design. The response we received came as a total surprise to us. Never before in our company history had we had so much positive feedback from our reps, our customers and the end consumers as the result of one eyewear design.”

In fact, Titan Minimal Art has been so successful, it has often been imitated, but never as well. “One of the biggest blunders we made in the last 20 years was not renewing our patent,” Schmied says. “When we first did rimless, we were using stainless steel and we had everything patented, but stainless was not flexible enough so we stopped manufacturing it and let the patent run out. We didn’t know at that point there would be a material like beta titanium and we didn’t get patents on the design. But even though we have had countless imitators, we have remained a leader because we have maintained a meticulous attention to detail.”

Because of the enormous interest in rimless technology, Silhouette took a deeper look at this phenomenon. “We even have compiled a book about customer responses,” Schmied notes. “And these reactions led ultimately to a drastic and [dramatic] decision in 2008 to only design rimless eyewear, broadening the perspective of our rimless offerings to encompass all lifestyles—leaving nothing to be desired in the world of rimless.

“We haven’t even scratched the surface yet in our new undertaking, which we are terming ‘seeing without boundaries.’ Because we can now have lenses in front of our eyes without frame work and without screws, we can see the world and others can see us in a much more harmonious, open way. The design also allows wearers to see their faces in an entirely new, unobstructed manner,” Schmied explains.

But perhaps the key advantage of the rimless format is that it allows for customization. With rimless designs, individuals can be active in selecting and defining the type of eyewear they want to wear. “Personalization is important in the added value of any consumer product,” Schmied notes. “Now we can customize eyewear rather than just pick an existing style. People kill for this type of product in other industries.”

Schmied feels the timing is especially benevolent for rimless. “We have arrived at a period in history when a certain amount of humbleness and sensitivity is expected rather than the flashiness that would have been more acceptable in the past,” he explains. “Our focus on rimless and the current economic conditions have helped us do nicely in the U.S. and European markets in the recent past. In today’s climate, that’s a beautiful thing to be able to say.”

What Schmied also feels has helped is rimless is no longer cyclical. Because of the breakthrough in technology, designs are now feasible that weren’t 15 or 20 years ago. “I always tell the story of seeing someone in the airport taking out a screwdriver and trying to tighten screws on his frame. Screws are so yesterday,” he says. “I know people talk about trends, but we do not see rimless as a trend. We see it as a key development in eyewear that can change the way we see.” 

Although Titan Minimal Art has been a phenomenal success, the company realized it needed to suit a wide variety of  personalities and lifestyles so Silhouette has developed its Lifestyle Worlds concept tailored to the individual, grouping all its styles from its various collections into one of three categories—Essential, Extravagant and Luxury. This grouping is centered on the aesthetics of rimless design and will be carried forward through all Silhouette brand products and marketing support, according to the company.

Additionally, Silhouette has implemented an international partnership program, which started at the beginning of this year. The program offers ECPs a range of benefits that are reflected in its style center, displays, collection trays, comprehensive range of product support equipment and training. Silhouette has also begun giving a series of presentations, which are artistic, visual stagings of the many facets of Silhouette and another way to preview the new partner program. Presentations have been held in Austria, Belgium, London, Milan and Munich, and a similar one is planned for Las Vegas during Vision Expo in the fall. “The response and positive reaction to the presentations have been heart warming,” Schmied notes. “People seemed to be intrigued by this rimless category.”

And they have been intrigued for a long time. In 20/20’s 30th anniversary issue, March 15, 2004, the Silhouette Minimal Art hingeless collection was referred to as an icon. When asked how he felt about having an iconic frame, Schmied laughed.  “I don’t know if we are an icon. Icon is a big word. We have laid the groundwork. We know what we can do and we are proud to be truly looking ahead and concentrating on our wearers. When we see our customers’ eyes light up because they can distinguish themselves from others, then we know we have hit on something,” he says. “But rimless has a long way to go. It might account for about 15 percent of all frames sold—although in some parts of the world, it’s up to 40 to 60 percent. That, to me, is indicative of the future potential for rimless. What we hope is that in 10 years we will have steered the whole rimless category in the right direction—to the advantage of consumers and retailers.

“My father had a very simple philosophy when he founded the company. Make the best frame possible. That is still our goal today.”

 

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