By Deborah Kotob, ABOM

Word of Leonardo Del Vecchio’s passing on June 27, 2022, sent ripples through our trade. Leonardo left his indelible mark on the optical industry, and his influence will continue long into the future. We know him as the visionary who built the optical empire Luxottica from scratch. Leonardo’s extraordinary and legendary business acumen stewarded the growth of Luxottica into the largest frame manufacturer and retailer and Rx lens retailer in the world. The merging of Luxottica with Essilor combined the strength of the largest frame manufacturer and retailer and Rx eyeglass provider worldwide with the world leader in corrective lenses. This was a dream come true for Del Vecchio. During the merger announcement, he is quoted as saying, “…my dream to create a major global player in the eyewear industry, fully integrated and excellent in all its parts, comes finally true,”

A person with a big vision and a true renaissance man, Del Vecchio could do it all, from concept to production to distribution and retail. His early years in design and as a metal crafter combined with astute observation, vast knowledge of all aspects of the industry, and a talent for making landmark business deals led him to shepherd Luxottica to greater and greater and greater heights.

Leonardo’s story is a classic Rags-to-Riches tale that begins in Milan, Italy, during World War II, where at age seven, his widowed mother pleaded with the orphanage to take in her son and his siblings. He would spend seven years in the orphanage until age 14 when he left to support his family. He worked as a novice for a car and eyeglass parts tool and die maker (where he lost part of his left index finger). From age nineteen, he spent his evenings studying industrial engineering and design at Brera Fine Arts Academy. Clearly his fascination with eyeglasses became a driving passion until he finally made his way to Agordo, a small village in the Veneto region of Italy tucked in a valley at the base of the Dolomites. The town of Agordo was offering incentives (land and economic aid) to attract young entrepreneurs to build their businesses in the region. The region was then and is still today known for having many of the finest Italian eyeglass manufacturers. It is here where he set up shop and began employing his metalworking and mold making skills in making eyeglass frame parts for the many eyewear manufacturers in the region. He founded Luxottica in 1961 at age 25 and ten short years later after investing in machinery, technology, and design, Luxottica launched its first line of eyewear.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

My first job in optical was working for Luxottica as a Giorgio Armani frame rep in San Diego, CA. I saw firsthand how the 1988 licensing deal for Giorgio Armani Eyewear changed the landscape of the optical industry forever. It was the beginning of many brand acquisitions to follow, and our industry went from selling frames because we like them, to selling fashion and designer brands because of customer demand. Leonardo understood long before the rest of us how big a role fashion designer brands would play in accessories like purses, luggage, clothing, shoes, and eyeglasses and sunglasses. He also understood the power of celebrity product placements, and it was no coincidence that stars in movies wore Armani frames, as did newscasters and even politicians. It wasn’t long before the red carpet had every celebrity wearing a designer gown or tuxedo and eyewear, Armani cemented the trend, and others followed. Today you are hard-pressed to find an optical practice or store that doesn’t have the iconic Luxottica brands like Armani, Ray-Ban, Oakley, or any of a plethora of acquired Luxottica brands. We have all learned the art of the brand from Leonardo, and this lesson will reverberate for years to come.  

From meager beginnings in war-torn Milan, Leonardo had a big vision that would influence the optical industry right up to the end of his 87 years of life. I owe him a debt of gratitude for building a company where I  would launch my optical career and where I would meet my husband of 27 years. I will always have a deep and abiding respect for Leonardo- The Visionary. On behalf of all of us at 20/20 Magazine, Pro to Pro, I want to extend our heartfelt sympathies to the Del Vecchio family.