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Stefano Ottone and Alessandro Forte, the team behind eyewear brand Glassing, tell Debonair how they went from the party circuit to standalone brick-and-mortar stores around the world
Eduan R. Maggo
Glassing. Verb. To adorn (someone) with glasses, especially in fashion circles. Okay, the dictionary writers have yet to cotton on to this definition, but it probably isn’t that far away if design duo Stefano Ottone and Alessandro Forte have their way.
The two Italians behind eyewear brand Glassing have been putting glasses on people for more than a decade, and recently opened their second location in Dubai. “It might not be a real word,” Forte starts, “but people can connect the name with the business,” Ottone finishes.
Yes, they regularly finish each other’s sentences as we chat at a café in front of their store in Citywalk. Part of this can be ascribed to conducting the interview in what isn’t their native tongue, but the bigger sense I get is that it’s a result of how close
The store is a bit of an anomaly. It doesn’t feel out of place in the luxury complex next to big brands such as Bvlgari, but it’s only when it’s pointed out that you realise you don’t really see standalone stores focused on eyewear (optometrists don’t count).
The brand’s existence and presence owes a lot to chance. “It all started as a bit of an excuse,” Forte says. “We were in Ibiza, in our mid-20s, only living for the disco. We took a little store, but had nothing to put in it. But we had a love of glasses, so we started selling vintage ones.”
Ottone continues, “In Ibiza, everyone wants to go to the parties wearing something different and unique. We found it impossible to find something special, so we set about creating our first collection. It was just one shape, but in 30 colours.”
This was 10 years ago, almost to the day, of their shop opening at Citywalk. Ottone says that first design was rather simple, made from materials cheaper than what they use these days. To advertise the brand, they would load their sunglasses into vending machines outside the hippest clubs and around town. Forte says that spawned their business for a season. Upon their return to Italy, they set about defining the brand, and setting up the team.
“Before, we were alone, doing everything from designing to selling and everything in-between. But now we were bigger, so we needed a team.”
Now, “location, location, location” has long been said to be the golden rule in real estate, but it seems that applies to the fashion industry too — as least when it comes to retail outlets.
“Our positioning sets us apart,” Forte explains enthusiastically. “We’re the first eyewear brand to have flagship stores, and that too in luxury locations.
“There aren’t many brands that do only sunglasses,” he says.
Adds Ottone, “If you want shoes you go to Gucci, if you want a bag you go to Louis Vuitton. But if you want a sunglass specialist, you don’t know where to go.”
Glassing wants to be that go-to. The brand wants to play with the big boys, and on their turf.
“Being this specialised is an advantage,” says Forte. “But you need to be in the right location.”
This philosophy also explains their celeb appeal, they say. Everyone from Justin Bieber and Kate Moss to Matthias Schoenaerts, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Rupert Everett have been spotted wearing Glassing.
“We’re lucky in this regard,” laughs Ottone. “Taking retail space in exclusive locations has helped. When you’re in luxury settings like in Portofino or Cannes, Elton John will pass by, or Beyoncé or whoever. They walk by, see the store, come inside and have a look, and pay for it. We haven’t given any away for free.”
Forte continues: “Some 90 per cent of people don’t know the brand. But also 90 per cent of people who buy a pair are repeat customers. They say, ‘I like this brand, I will stay with them.’”
That’s also how Glassing ended up in Dubai. “We have these two stores only because someone saw our store in Portofino,” says Ottone. “We’re lucky his sunglasses broke, and he walked into Glassing to get a new pair. He then visited our store in Milan to have a pair of glasses serviced. He was impressed by the product and the service, and that set the wheels in motion.”
This is also why they’re not too focused on e-commerce at the moment. “Buying a pair of glasses is as much about the experience,” says Forte. “And that’s why you need the right team around you,” continues Ottone.
“Glassing glasses aren’t just about the product; you get the history of the brand, the changes it’s gone through over the years,” he says, before Forte takes over again, “from the more simplistic and less expensive sunglasses of our disco days to where we are now.”
Ottone: “We were young and carefree.” Forte: “Now we’re older, more serious. Manufacturing plays a bigger role now. We couldn’t do the glasses we do now even five years ago. We weren’t in the right space to do that.”
Still, a sense of Italian-ness remains at the core, and a focus on that fashion capital’s sartorial and manufacturing DNA.
“The current trend is for flat lenses and metallic frames,” says Ottone. “It can be challenging to create something unique with elements of the trend, especially with so many brands and big names
“But the key lies in the details,” Forte explains. “You can find something special in even our earlier and more simplistic designs.”
Going forward, expect to see a lot more of Glassing. Until last year, it only had three stores in Italy. Now, there are 12 worldwide. A third Dubai store is set to open later this year at the La Mer development. They say it will be unlike anything anyone’s seen before, “a big building full of only glasses”.
“Our goal is to evoke an emotional response in customers,” says Forte, “one that makes them part of the brand.”
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