Police – a house brand of the De Rigo Group – and one of the world’s top producers and distributors of premium eyewear, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. The company marked the event with a glittering party, and Look Beyond, an initiative featuring a pair of special-edition sunglasses and a book of artistic photographs by one of Italy’s top photographers, created in aid of Doctors Without Borders.

The Moodie Report sat down with De Rigo CEO Michele Aracri and Art Director Bruno Palmegiani to discuss the brand’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility, its strategy for the global travel retail channel; and its vision of the future for the eyewear industry.

Looking beyond: De Rigo CEO Michele Aracri and Art Director Bruno Palmegiani

Looking beyond is something Police does very well. Founded in 1983, the Italian house has made the transition from sunglasses supplier to fashion/lifestyle brand. In 1997 it launched a fragrance; watches followed in 2003; 2005 saw the introduction of jewellery; and in 2011, small leather goods were unveiled. To coincide with the brand’s 30th anniversary, an apparel line is next.

And then there is the book. Look Beyond is the work of Michele Pecchioli and Italian photographer Giovanni Gastel. Through a collection of portraits of personalities from the worlds of show business, music, sports and art, Gastel aims to illustrate what it means to look beyond, to overcome the boundaries that prevent true understanding of our surroundings and our inner selves. Looking Beyond is the ability to look with new eyes, to feel part of something bigger. The portraits are accompanied by observations from the personalities featured on the notion of “looking beyond”.

A striking image from Look Beyond

Complementing the book is a celebratory edition of Police sunglasses. The classic pilot shape, a staple of the 1980s, has been enhanced with gold plating, leather inserts and the iconic winged Police logo. Aracri explains: “Look Beyond is a very important milestone for Police, a brand that has been able to look beyond and evolve in line with the trends, lifestyles and customs of its target audience. With this project, Police highlights its versatility, and reveals its sensitivity to certain international issues, while preserving its daring, strong personality.”

Part of the proceeds from sales of the book and the special-edition sunglasses will be donated by Police to Doctors Without Borders to provide a complete cycle of treatment based on ready-to-use therapeutic foods for more than 600 malnourished children.

“For years we have been committed to continuously stimulating the media to ensure they continue to inform the public on the most serious humanitarian crises,” notes Kostas Moschochoritis, General Director of Doctors Without Borders, Italy. “The project Look Beyond, launched on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the Police brand, is perfectly in line with this commitment, as it brings our work with people under threat to the attention of the general public, and enables them to support us in our daily fight against indifference.”

Police supports the “Forgotten Crises” campaign of Doctors Without Borders, and in particular the organisation’s medical-humanitarian activities in the Sahel region of Africa, which is currently facing a serious nutritional crisis. The brand plans to organise initiatives aimed at raising awareness of Doctors Without Borders, and its missions, to its customers.

De Rigo House Brands Marketing Manager Barbara De Rigo explains: “Police has chosen to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary with a project designed to keep the focus on something that is normally out of sight, placing a symbolic spotlight on the humanitarian crises that are too often ignored. The first step towards tackling a problem is to recognise it, looking beyond the issue to highlight that which is hidden.”

“For De Rigo, one of the key business objectives is to engage in charitable activities,” Aracri told The Moodie Report. “This is not the first year that we have done something for charity – we do it every year – but we don’t usually communicate it”¦At this point in time, we think it is very important to take a look, not only at the business, but at those areas of society that need help.”

“Daring and strong”: outerwear from the forthcoming apparel line

Travel retail takes off

In terms of business, the travel retail sector is an increasingly important focus for Police. The channel currently accounts for around 3% of the company’s total sales – a figure which is growing. Sunglasses have been the fastest growing category in travel retail for the past three years, according to judges at the Sunglasses Awards at the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes last year; but it is not without its challenges.

“Travel retail works well if the brand awareness is high,” acknowledges Aracri. “The traveller, the Chinese tourist, buys in London the product that is well known in China. It’s important to invest in strategic markets to achieve results.”

He adds: “The time to purchase [when travelling] is very brief. The tourist has little time, so the brand awareness must be very high”¦It’s a very important strategic market, so we need to give it the attention it deserves.”
Aracri goes on to explain that, within travel retail, different airport locations require a different focus. “It’s important to understand”¦ the different markets and the different regions. At Moscow airports, for instance, Chopard is the most popular brand. In London, Police is the best-seller. But in Paris, Givenchy leads; it’s incredible. At a global level, Police is our top selling brand.”

Aracri explains that the Police brand’s ambition for travel retail is to expand beyond eyewear, and introduce the complete Police lifestyle concept. So how is De Rigo working with travel retailers to raise the brand’s profile in the channel?

The key exhibitions in Cannes, Singapore and Orlando have proved useful in terms of raising awareness. But that profile needs to be bolstered by support for retailers, and ensuring that the brands are presented effectively in-store. In marketing terms, greater investment in airports will provide further support to the channel; Aracri highlights successful advertising campaigns at Milan airports as a driver of sales.

“Moscow too has been a really fantastic experience,” Aracri reveals. “Now we are finding great success in Korea, because of the number of tourists from China… We have had another great experience in Dubai, because it is such a hub for tourists from Europe”¦Moreover, maybe Dubai is the most important duty free in the world now.”

Celebrating 30 years: the classic Police aviators brought into the 21st century

To what extent has the global economic crisis affected the sunglasses market? “In this period, we are doing very well,” Aracri replies. “Why? Well, we invested a lot in key strategic markets. We are working very well in emerging areas: in Asia Pacific, China and Korea are strong. South America is producing good results. We have had bases in these regions for years now; we opened design offices, marketing offices”¦ We are trying to identify special products to appeal to local consumers. So although we have an international strategy, we adapt it at the local level.”

He continues: “Development in emerging economies means that we don’t feel the crisis; but even in Europe, we are maintaining our revenues thanks to France, and Spain where the new Carolina Herrera brand is performing very well. In times of crisis, if you have the right product for customers, they will accept it and recognise the quality and the novelty.”

Nonetheless, Aracri has noticed a shift in consumption habits in certain mature markets which have borne the brunt of the economic crisis. “We have to think about this in two ways; who produces, and who sells,” he explains. “Today, the bigger problem is for retailers – particularly for large retailers whose operations are concentrated in one region.

“What happens if there is a crisis in that region? For us, we can focus our attention on another area. But retailers have less choice, so when a crisis hits, it is retailers who struggle. So, this crisis has resulted in retailers taking a more aggressive sales approach: promotions are more frequent, prices are reduced. Everybody is trying to bring customers inside.”

De Rigo’s Chief Designer Bruno Palmegiani has also noted the change in consumer behaviour in times of financial hardship. “In certain countries, where the situation is not so good, people are more conservative in their choices,” he asserts.

“Consumers choose more traditional styles, more classic styles that will last. But in countries that are thriving, consumers look for styles that are more outrageous. You can recognise, just by looking at someone, at the way they dress, from which situation they have come.”

Palmegiani continues: “There is a social message behind your appearance. The way you look is a tool to identify yourself. Maybe you don’t have money, but if you buy that accessory, those sunglasses – it is a status symbol, a way to be a part of the group you aspire to”¦ It’s a way to reach your dream. This is the way you want to be.”

Powerful images from the Police Look Beyond project

In other words, sunglasses serve as self-expression? “In any relationship with another person, we need to show them who we are,” he notes.

“We communicate, not only with words, but with our face; our hairstyle; our clothes. Sunglasses help us to alter the message. The face is the most important part of the body. You look at my eyes, but if I cover them, you cannot read me; I can hide myself. If I want to open up my face, I choose soft lenses in big frames. If I want to be a closed book, I choose dark lenses, in small frames.”

Palmegiani also revealed some interesting global trends and localisation in terms of eyewear design. “Basically, the trends are more or less the same around the world,” he confirms, “but certain countries like to be involved with the development of the collection – South Korea, for example, likes customisation for the local market. The UAE, too. But around the world, trends are more or less the same – consumers in Australia buy the same colour of sunglasses that are popular in Miami.”

Police is well known for the celebrity faces it has used to promote the brand. In the past, the likes of Bruce Willis, George Clooney and David Beckham have all lent their visages to help raise the brand’s profile – but now there has been a shift in strategy which favours non-famous models.

“It’s very difficult to find the right person: the person who suits the sunglasses, but who also fits the mood and the DNA of the brand, who is consistent with the brand’s image,” explains Palmegiani.

“The brand ambassador who best fitted Police was David Beckham. But we cannot keep David Beckham forever – and how do we follow that campaign? So it’s more important to have the right face to showcase the product, rather than the right name. From the very beginning, Police found success without celebrity faces, because we used the right faces for the sunglasses.”

Does Palmegiani have a favourite style? “The aviator!” he replies. “With blue mirror lenses in the summer, and dark silver mirror in the winter. It’s classic, but it has a twist. With the blue mirror lenses, that stronger colour, they become aggressive. With silver lenses – they are softer. But I change my style all the time.”

Stylish from the start: Police chooses models who fit the DNA of the brand