Vuarnet Sunglasses, which has remained the property of Neo Capital after the London-based investment fund sold its 47 percent stake in Alain Mikli International to Luxottica at the beginning of this year, is targeting sales of about €20 million five years from now, as compared the €5 million level reached in the financial year ended last August. The annual volume of sunglasses sold is below 500,000 pairs, but Stefano Fabris, general manager of Vuarnet Sunglasses, feels that it could double in the next couple of years.

Officials of Neo Capital told us at the Mido show in Milan in March that they plan to inject new equity into Vuarnet Sunglasses, believing it has a potential to reach a turnover as high as €50 million in the longer term. They see at least half of that to be realized in the U.S. where Vuarnet became very strong as an official supplier of sunglasses to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. They also feel that the line has a lot of potential in China and other markets.

Back in 1990, Vuarnet sunglasses had reached sales of €28 million, and they were challenging the leadership of Ray-Ban in the segment. In 2009, when Mikli acquired a 75 percent stake in Sporoptic Pouilloux, the former licensee of the line, its sales had declined to about €10 million. The former management of Mikli announced at the time that it was going to invest €4 million over the subsequent five years to develop the brand, but little came out of it.

The new investors also took over the perpetual rights to the Vuarnet brand name for eyewear, and they subsequently bought the rest of the shares in Sporoptic. The previous owner, Joseph Hatchiguian, who founded the business in 1957, died at the end of last year, aged 78. He had launched the Vuarnet brand of sunglasses by licensing the name of a former French Olympic ski champion, Jean Vuarnet.

For the time being, Fabris is targeting flat sales for the current year, as the company is going through a major operational reorganization, but he feels that they could double in a couple of years' time. Fabris had been hired last September by Mikli's former chief executive, Antonio Bortuzzo, to run the Vuarnet division. He had been a co-founder of Zerorh+, the Italian brand of sunglasses managed by Allison. He recently sold his minority stake in Zeroindustry, the owner of the Zerorh+ brand name, to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Fabris says he has already implemented about 90 percent of the changes required to sever Vuarnet's links with Mikli, with which his company has a six-month transition agreement expiring in June. Most of the back-office functions have been transferred to Vuarnet Sunglasses' new head office in Paris already, and customer service should be repatriated by the end of May.

 The logistics were moved last month to Vuarnet's laboratory in Meaux, where the special mineral lenses of its sunglasses are manufactured. By adding this and other services on the site, the move has allowed the company to improve the productivity of the local labor force. The resulting savings have allowed Vuarnet to lower its average prices to €165 per pair from the previous level of €180.

Prices now range from €155 to €240, compared with €170-220 previously. New styles of been introduced, including a premium vintage line that uses the original moulds with new materials and processes. Some of the new models triggered a positive echo at Mido.

More new styles will be launched in the near future following the recent appointment of a new product manager, Alessia Vedovato, who comes from Allison. Another Italian official who worked previously for Allison, Francesco Sandrini, has been appointed export director of Vuarnet Sunglasses.

One of Sandrini's tasks will be to negotiate new distribution agreements abroad. The company is covering the Italian market directly, where its improved price-quality ratio has been very much appreciated, as well as Spain. Elsewhere, the best distributors of Vuarnet sunglasses are those in Greece, Turkey, Scandinavia, Brazil and Canada.

Meanwhile, Vuarnet Sunglasses is on the verge of finalizing a contract with a new distributor for the important U.S. market. Mikli's U.S. office had been handling its sales lately and the line is currently sold in about 100 stores in the country, including the Saks Fifth Avenue department store in New York. Many of them are also clients of Mikli for its Alain Mikli and Starck Eyes collections.

The company has kept the Vuarnet store in central Paris, which may soon offer corrective sunglasses. One of the new projects on the table is in fact the development of an RX line of Vuarnet sunglasses. The company's plant in Meaux would supply single-vision mineral lenses and another laboratory would supply progressive lenses, possibly in organic materials, but Fabris was unable to say when this might happen.