We’ve taken a lot for granted in our lifetimes. We can communicate with friends and family around the world in real-time. We are able to travel almost anywhere in the world within a day. We are able to buy almost anything we want online and have it delivered in days if not hours. Life was good.
As optometrists and opticians, we got used to visiting New York and Las Vegas every year to see the latest styles and learn the newest trends in our industry. We made friends with colleagues from all across our great country and from around the world as well.
In the blink of an eye all that comfort, all that convenience, all that camaraderie was highjacked by a virus so small that it can only be seen with an electronic microscope. The same technology and convenience that made it easy for us to travel the globe and order merchandise from anywhere also served to spread this killer virus and did such an effective job that it shut down the world economy for months. We have barely recovered from the effects of COVID-19, but we are working on it.
We persevered. We did what we needed to do to help combat the spread of the virus and for most of us, we were able to hold on to our jobs and businesses while doing so. We entered this summer with a wonderful optimism that we have beaten the coronavirus.
Just when we thought we had COVID on the ropes, the Delta variant conspired with a bunch of science deniers who took their cues from someone named Billy-Bob or Carl who got a C- in high school science but makes great YouTube videos to question the efficacy of revolutionary vaccines that were developed in record time and has been administered over 6 billion times thus far with virtually no adverse effects. Yes, the vaccine isn’t perfect. Yes, some people have had side effects of receiving it. However, the numbers of those who have been injured are less than 1% of the almost 5 million people who have been killed by this virus.
Most of us were ready for a remarkable Vision Expo West in Las Vegas at The Sands Convention Center and upstairs in the suites at the Venitian Hotel, as well as the return of SILMO to Parc des expositions de Paris-Nord Villepinte. As happens from time to time, both the Las Vegas and Paris shows were held on the exact same weekend this past September. Vision Expo West from the 22nd to the 25th and Silmo from the 24th to the 27th.
Faced with an unhappy choice as to which show to attend, I used up credits from the canceled SILMO last year and headed eastward to Paris. This was the first Vision Expo West I have missed in over a dozen years. I missed seeing friends and colleagues and all that Vision Expo showcases each and every year. However, given a choice between the Eifell Tower on Las Vegas Boulevard and the Eiffel Tower on the Champs de Mars, which would you pick?
While the U.S. got off to a great headstart in vaccinations, the French have long surpassed the USA. Nearly 55% of Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, while almost 75% of the French population have had at least one jab. To enter any public restaurant, bar, or event in France, one much show a “Sanitary Pass” which is an app on a smartphone showing proof of vaccination, proof of recovery from COVID, or a recent negative PCR test. This pass was required to enter Silmo as well. Over the course of our week in Paris, we got very used to flashing our passports and showing our vaccine cards everywhere we went. While being vaccinated mostly prevents hospitalization and death from COVID, it doesn’t keep one from contracting and spreading COVID, so we and most of the people we met were pretty good about masking and social distancing everywhere we went. The exceptions were a few parties, but of course, anytime alcohol is involved, safety tends to be tossed aside quickly.
While many of the people inside the show wore masks as they walked the aisles, they were not required to do so. Like Vision Expo in Orlando earlier this summer and Las Vegas, the same weekend, Silmo 2021 was a smaller event than in years past. Almost all of the Asian supply companies were absent due to the rigorous quarantine rules in effect for people coming and going from those countries. Absent vendors were not limited just to those companies. There were a noticeable number of European frame companies missing as well.
Nevertheless, the show opened with enthusiasm and smiles as some 500 companies large and small exhibited together for the first time in 2 years. Optimism was abundant as vendors were able to show their wares to customers and prospective customers alike. As I spoke with many vendors, they all seemed happy with the show. Just like Vision Expo in Orlando earlier this year, fewer people attended Silmo, but those who did were there with a purpose. They were ready to buy.
Sure, many of the same companies exhibited in Las Vegas at the same time their European counterparts exhibited in Paris. There is, however, a difference in the European trade shows. Eyewear is displayed in different and unique ways in the European shows and though Silmo was still scaled down from previous events, the displays still had a way of wowing you.
In addition, there are many brands showing their wares that are not yet sold in the United States worth looking at. There are also other brands that are sold in the states but as of yet failed to gain much attention. We were particularly impressed Brevno, a Russian brand of wood eyewear that really stands out as well as Albert I’mStein from Poland. Another favorite from this show was the Struktur brand from the north of France, a company with a long history of making eyewear for others.
As is the case at most optical trade shows, several brands gather together off-site for their own mini-show. We visited one of those off-site events and were very impressed with a new brand called Lazare Studio, whose metal and acetate designs are reminiscent of decades past but whose attention to detail seems out of place in a world of fast and cheap. This is definitely a brand worth watching.
We saw great new models from some of our favorite brands. Perhaps you have seen them too. JF Rey, Prodesign, Face a Face, Lafont, theo, Anna Karin-Karlsson, Philippe V, Tarian, Nathalie Blanc, Emanuelle Kahn, Catherine de Medici, and Custom Eyes.
As if the Silmo trade show isn’t enough of a reason to visit Paris, the food and ambiance of this magical city are just too hard to resist. Paris is a city of contrasts. Here is a city where it seems every third person in a café smokes cigarettes. Paris is a city with the most amazing pastries on seemingly every corner. The food is rich and the atmosphere is as well. Yet, here is a city filled with people riding their bicycles everywhere. A city filled with runners. A city where people are walking everywhere. Somehow Paris has found a balance between healthy living and rich living, where one can have it all. Perhaps the people of Paris understand that living well and enjoying life can coexist. Or so it seems to me.
Paris has it all. A rich history. Wonderful restaurants. The finest art museums in the world. I’ve been back just a couple of days and I miss those wonderful pastries. Those delicious dinners in streetside cafes. The awesome and very affordable café lattes. Those amazing pastries.
I can’t wait to go back. Next year Vision Expo West takes place the third weekend in September and Silmo on the fourth weekend. Start making plans now to visit both and enjoy the optical treats that are Las Vegas and Paris.