Pushing the envelope in eyewear
Founded in 2019, the Akoni Group has now launched its own eyewear collection, following the debut of its Balmain Eyewear by Akoni collection last year. OT asked CEO, Rosario Toscano, what is ahead for the young company
04 June 2021
Can you give OT some background on the Akoni Group?
The Akoni Group is a progressive Swiss luxury company whose principal goal is to create beautiful, timeless, high quality products utilising materials and methodologies that respect humankind and the environment.
In addition to sharing a similar world view, Salma and I complement one another in ways that make us a perfect team. I’m a business-creative person who has spent most of my professional life in the eyewear industry, whereas Salma is creative-business, whose family has been a leader in the fashion and personal care industries for generations.
We chose the name Akoni, from the Latin word — meaning inestimable, priceless, worthy of admiration — because it represents the standard we set for our product, our brand, and ourselves.
What makes Akoni’s eyewear unique?
Our eponymous Akoni collection was created for people who appreciate timeless design, exceptional materials, and uncompromising craftsmanship – real differences that you can see and feel. We avoided the stereotypical categorisation by gender and age, and instead organised the collection into five unique categories based on inspiration, design, and materials. We use planet-friendly materials and processes whenever possible, not because it’s good for marketing but because it’s good for society and our planet. As there’s really no separating a company from its products, I’m proud to say that our customer service is every bit as important to us as our eyewear.
What can you tell us about the partnership with Balmain?
Already familiar with key members of our team, Balmain knew that we possessed the ability to authentically translate and imbue fashion brand DNA into a genuine high-end collection comparable to the best on offer from the finest eyewear-only brands.
I believe that the result speaks for itself and that Balmain is the highest quality fashion eyewear brand ever brought to market. Working with Balmain’s tireless creative director, Olivier Rousteing, a truly brilliant designer whose fashion collections provide our team with endless inspiration, is a joy and we look forward to a long and productive relationship.
The Balmain collection was featured in the house’s fashion show, held in the Air France hangar at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. Imagine, models runway-walking on the wing of a commercial jet
What is the latest collection you have released, and why does it stand out from the crowd?
We launched the Balmain and Akoni spring/summer 2021 collections to enthusiastic receptions from the fashion and eyewear communities. The Balmain collection was featured in the house’s amazing fashion show, held in the Air France hangar at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. Imagine, models runway-walking on the wing of a commercial jet. Excuse the pun, but it was a spectacle the likes of which I’ve never seen.
The Akoni Group in three facts
- Akoni Group’s diverse, international team is headquartered in Lugano, Switzerland — a country revered for its pristine beauty, technical precision, and logistical efficiency
- The Akoni collections are designed in Southern California by design duo Jeff Solorio and John Juniper, the founders and former designers of DITA
- All of our eyewear is Made in Japan by expert craftspeople utilising the finest materials and a combination of time-honoured and cutting-edge production techniques.
This season’s Akoni collection saw the addition of a fifth category called Optima, which challenges preconceived design philosophies and tests the technical limits of contemporary eyewear production. One of my favourite Optima styles is ‘Skymapper,’ which takes the idea of classic glacier glasses – with their iconic glare and wind blocking leather side shields – turns it on its head and launches it into the future. The resulting design is an aesthetic and technical tour de force, featuring an innovative stacked bridge front and temples in brushed titanium, with multi-dimensional front plastic inserts and colour-matched rear plastic side shields.
Can you tell us about Akoni’s approach to production?
Philosophically, our design code is rooted in traditional Japanese aesthetic principles emphasising simplicity, proportion and scale. When it comes to production, we utilise the techniques and technologies best suited to achieve the desired result. Sometimes, traditional ways are best – other times, modern technology yields the better result. We find that harmonising traditional with modern produces a finished product with the most beauty, purpose and soul.
Crafting eyewear the way we do is costly and time consuming, but we’re passionate about our product and can’t imagine doing it any other way. Fortunately for us, our customers find genuine value in what we do and why we do it.
What does Akoni’s motto – ‘Welcome to the Evolution’ – mean?
Eyewear has been around almost a thousand years and despite frequent claims by one or another company that their products are revolutionary, in the end they all have the same basic form and components. Some add cameras, speakers and other headline-grabbing elements, but to date these products are little more than novelties. Akoni’s goal isn’t to reinvent eyewear, but rather, to help eyewear evolve in ways that people find desirable and satisfying in their daily lives. Whether it’s designs, materials, finishes, or functionality, we’ll continue pushing the envelope in order to bring our customers the very best.
Akoni’s goal isn’t to reinvent eyewear, but rather, to help eyewear evolve in ways that people find desirable and satisfying in their daily lives
Are there any new products or collections in development that customers should be aware of?
We’re determined to take eyewear places it has never been before. We’re already using the finest materials, processes and technologies, so the challenge is to find new ways to drive innovation and add value. For us, a natural progression will be developing new materials, finishes, technology, and functionality. With respect to new collections, our rapid ascent has put us in the position of being able to choose with whom we work. There are lots of exciting things going on at our Swiss headquarters, but unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to discuss any of them quite yet. OK, maybe one — rumour has it that Balmain frames gilded in precious metal might be more than just hearsay…
What are Akoni Group’s main ambitions for the next 12 months?
The past year has been such a wild ride that I’ve hardly had a chance to catch my breath. We’re going to continue working with Balmain’s OIivier Rousteing to push the envelope and consolidate Balmain eyewear’s success and market position.
With respect to Akoni, we’ll carry forward the energy from our successful launch to expand and nurture the collection, while building a brand that will become the archetype for our industry. Last, but certainly not least, are the top secret projects that I look forward to sharing when the time is right – I promise, they’re worth the wait.
The impact of the pandemic
How has COVID-19 affected Akoni? How did the company react and adapt to the challenges?COVID-19 has presented the world with enormous challenges, both personal and professional, and our hearts go out to everyone who has lost a friend or loved one to this terrible pandemic.
I’m an eternal optimist, so with respect to COVID-19’s business impact, I would say that the flipside of challenge is opportunity. Although Akoni Group launched in one of the most challenging business climates in recent memory, the fact that we’re a small, experienced, dedicated team allowed us to quickly pivot and adapt to the new and constantly changing landscape.
We kept our eyes on the horizon and actively embraced the new reality through camaraderie, creative problem solving, and teamwork. Diversity also played an important role – team members from a variety of age groups, cultures and geographic regions shared life experiences and in doing so, helped one another grow as individuals and as a unit. I couldn’t be prouder of our incredible team and all that we’ve achieved.
What do you think that the next few months could look like for the sector?The eyewear industry is like a dinosaur — slow-moving and resistant to change. Then lighting strikes and a series of cataclysmic events unfold that forever transform the landscape and usher in a new era. Which is exactly what happened with the Essilor/Luxottica merger, the LVMH/Marcolin Thelios joint venture, and Kering’s decision to stop licensing its brands and bring its eyewear business in-house. Frankly, I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with respect to fundamental change in the fashion industry.
I expect that COVID-19 will accelerate the rate at which brands regain control over diverse product categories, with eyewear being at or near the top of the list. Akoni Group is well-positioned to capitalise on this shifting paradigm.