Safilo will deliver its first Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani collections to retailers for the Spring 2003 season by May, soon after presenting its new models at MIDO in Milan. The two lines, which target older and younger consumers, respectively, have been developed so far under license by Luxottica, whose contract expires at the end of May.

Safilo's Feb. 4 deal with Armani runs for 8 years, until February of 2011. It's the second major contract that shifts from the eyewear industry's #1 player to the #2. In fitting the Yves Saint Laurent brand into his own stable, alongside Christian Dior and Gucci, Safilo's chairman, Vittorio Tabacchi, has already proven that he can satisfy the interests of rival top-end luxury brands without ruffling anybody's feathers. According to company officials, he's confident that he can match in due time the annual turnover of e221 million that the two Armani lines reached lately with Luxottica, in spite of the restrictions that Giorgio Armani had set on its distribution. The Milan designer was even prepared to forgo part of his share of the takings in exchange for guaranteed prestige and selectivity.

Armani, who has been intent lately on building up a more sophisticated image through magnificent concept stores, broke up with Luxottica on the issue of selective distribution. Armani's official press release shows that he has obtained better terms on this issue from Safilo. It stresses that his brand will be distributed ?through precisely targeted sales outlets,? and that his two eyewear lines will be developed with ?appropriate and distinct strategies.? Safilo promises ?to increase investments in a way that effectively and appropriately supports our customers.?

The break-up with Luxottica is now expected to lead Giorgio Armani to resign from the company's board of directors, after a 3-year stint, when the board gets re-elected next June, removing an obvious conflict of interests. Leonardo Del Vecchio, chairman of Luxottica, has apparently offered to take over Armani's 5 percent share in his company, but the wealthy designer probably wants to keep it for a while longer, until the price goes up again. Luxottica's share price is currently more than one-third down from the issue price.