Ic! Berlin has hired Pablo La Rosa for the newly created position of global brand director. La Rosa has been tasked with bringing the brand into the digital world and helping to re-define the company's identity. A 20-year marketing expert from outside the eyewear industry, La Rosa has been working with brands in consumer electronics and music technology, most recently for Lautsprecher Teufel and Native Instruments in Berlin.

La Rosa aims to transition ic! Berlin from a B2B company to a more consumer-facing brand. Ic! Berlin plans to invest in digital know-how. The company wants to create a digital brand experience and connect it with physical stores. 

Ralph Anderl, the flamboyant former sole owner of ic! Berlin, sold control of his company in October to a German investment firm, Premium Equity Partners (PEP), for an undisclosed sum, as we reported at the time (Eyewear Intelligence Vol. 18 – N° 14+15).

The investment firm has taken 65 percent of the shares and the rights to the company's patent for the screwless design. Anderl has retained 30 percent of the company, while Jörg Reinhold, the newly appointed chief executive, holds 5 percent. Reinhold has been with the company since 2006. Wolfgang Rebstock, former CEO of Eschenbach Optik, is the chairman of the newly-created advisory board.

Anderl said at the time of the sale that the eyewear business was becoming more difficult. Although eyewear sales in Germany have remained constant at around 12 million units a year, the distribution structure is changing rapidly. When Anderl arrived on the scene in 1996 with a background in marketing and the help of two other shareholders, Philipp Haffmans and Harald Gottschling, who focused on design and production, the market was dominated by owner-managed shops offering on-site advice like in a pharmacy.

This was the market that Anderl wanted to shake up. Cultivating an eccentric image, he stood out at the company's first presentation at the Optika trade fair in Cologne in 1997 where he strode around distributing ic! Berlin samples from the pockets of his overcoat. The staid optician industry was understandably captivated. For a while, Anders worked also with a couple actors who also acted as shareholders for a while. After a big fight in 2003, Haffmans and Gottschling split and formed five years later another eyewear company in Berlin, Mykita, leaving Anderl as the sole managing director of ic! Berlin.

Today, ic! Berlin is feeling the pinch of increasing competition. Every fifth German now buys glasses from chain stores like Fielmann, while online retailers like Mister Spex are also eating into the business. The buyout by PEP brings much needed influx of funding to ic! Berlin that should enable the company to build out a more comprehensive online strategy.

The turnover of ic! Berlin is reported to have been over €16 million in recent years.  The annual financial statements for 2015 show a gross profit of €7.3 million and a net income of €325,000. The Berlin-based company has about 180 employees worldwide, including those working at subsidiaries in New York and Tokyo. Anderl will remain with the company for three years in an advisory capacity.

In other news, ic! Berlin is cooperating with Philipp Foret and Christian Leidmann from the eponymous luxury optician for the latest design of its handcrafted, limited-edition Onono line. Leidmann operates three stores in some of Munich's most exclusive shopping streets, offering exclusive brands such as Barton Pereira, Céline and Mykita, as well as Onono, which are made from buffalo horn and titanium.

ic! Berlin has a long history of working with artists, filmmakers and photographers in the creation of its eyewear. Late last year, the company released a collection of minimalist eyewear inspired by the “Suprematism” art movement, which was founded in Russia in 1913. The brand worked with a Berlin-based artist, Susann Bosslau, to create a collection based on her neoprene art pieces. The summer collection was designed together with Jérémy Miklitarian, a one-time intern of ic! Berlin who, since winning the 2012 Silmo d'Or prize, has been seen as a rising star in eyewear design.