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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Hip handbag designer Moni Moni launches eyewear line at Vision Expo

Moni Moni

Moni Moni "Bohemia" Eyewear and "Splendor" handbags

Hip Los Angeles-based Moni Moni handbag designer Cinzia Moniaci brought her new companion sunglasses line to last week's International Vision Expo & Conference/New York, the fruit of her growing up in the eyewear industry in Italy.

"They really reflect the look and feel of the handbags," says Italian-born Moniaci, who named her Moni Moni brand after her school nickname. "It's a modern bohemian lifestyle brand, and a natural progression: The metals are a little more muted with a matte finish to mimic the finish on the hardware on my handbags. There's an 'M' with a heart on every bridge—so they're recognizable from afar. The tips of the arms are also shaped like a heart, and there's a real emphasis on fit, with an enlarged nose pad area. They show a love and passion for the cateye shape reinterperted over a modern round shape that's characteristic of the line."

And also like her handbags, her sunglasses "combine things I love from the past with modern technology," Moniaci says. She characterizes the look as "boho rock—a Stevie Nicks kind of thing," and regarding the sunglasses, she adds that they're also inspired both from jewelry and other sunglasses that she's collected over the years from travels.

But she was also influenced by her father.

"I got my passion for sunglasses a long time ago from my father, when I was my daughter's age [11]," says Moniaci. "He was the right arm of Leonardo Del Veccchio—the owner of [world's largest eyewear company] Luxottica, and took me on trips to the Dolomites [mountains in northeastern Italy] where they had their conventions. I was eager to learn, and remember meeting the big-name manufacturers, and as the years went by I noticed where the eyewear industry was going."

Her father opened an optical store chain in Italy and sold high-end eyewear.

"All my friends when I was a teenager were buying Ray-Ban Wayfarers and driving motorcycles. Later the industry completely changed: Contact lenses became disposable and were sold at pharmacies, and a counterfeit eyewear industry grew to where fake [brand name] sunglasses were sold on the street. People had access to high fashion at low cost, and at that point my father decided to go into a different industry—the car industry."

Moniaci went on to earn a Ph.D, in communication while freelancing as a fashion and music journalist. She followed a job opportunity to the U.S., where she envisioned a niche for "high quality, high-end design with a rock 'n' roll flair and great materials—and the right pricepoint, marketing and retail sensibility." After gaining a scholarship at Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles, she launched Moni Moni and its handbag line in 2004.

"It took off quite quickly," she says. "As soon as I implemented my marketing techniques and exposed the product to influencers and celebrities, people like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Halle Berry, Jessica Alba, Viola Davis, and Hillary Swank started carrying them, and they were seen in magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Allure and Harpers Bazaar and sold in sores like Nordstrom and Fred Segal."

"It was completely self-financed," Moniaci continues. "As the U.S. market started falling, I decided to go toward the Asian market and a series of bloggers and distributors and penetrate the online market--and focus on the Splendor handbag. But at some point I realized I was always traveling and absent, and the company was growing but I wanted to take care of my little daughter."

Rather than take on investors, Moniaci accepted a licensing offer to design her Moni Moni Eyewear collection. Its clientele, she says, is "hip, and enjoys music and the social scene—especially events like Coachella where music meets fashion. Our look is distinctively bohemian chic, so we appeal to a wide variety of bloggers who are now the new celebrities and influencers."

And Moni Moni's eyewear cases, she adds, derive from her handbags and reflect "the DNA of the company: They look like little French bags and have straps and a compartment for cellphones as well."

Everything is made in Italy and high-end, Moniaci notes, but retail-priced at $300-$350. And if all this isn't enough, Moniaci is also a successful singer-songwriter, whose pop-alternative band the Perfect Nines, also featuring her husband, performs regularly in the L.A. area and Italy. She recently released a solo EP, Moon Wild, and is opening for The Weeknd next month in Phoenix.



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