Vertical Integration and Why You Can’t Call Everyone “Dude”

Earlier today I was reading the Wall Street Journal online.  That’s not atypical, as I generally give it a look when it’s raining and I’m bored enough to want to know what sort of informational roofies Rupert Murdoch is slipping into my parents’ generation’s drinks.  No matter how brutal the sodomy, they never feel the rectal tearing because they’ve been fed a drug dissolved into the appletini of respectability and grown-upness that is “The Journal.”  Between editorials, op-eds, and news items arranged to function as editorials about how Obama is destroying the banks I found a curious item about sunglasses.

Apparently designer sunglasses are bullshit.  My faith in the fashion accessories industry is shaken to its core.

One company – Luxottica, which sounds porny as hell – makes Oakley, Ray-Ban, Bulgari, and Dolce & Gabbana shades.  Those are just a few of the brands that serve as vessels for Luxottica’s product.  Not only do they make all those damn sunglasses, but they own LensCrafters, Sunglass Hut, and Pearle Vision.  This is vertical integration at its finest, and it’s happening right on the bridge of our nose.  From the article:

This is extreme vertical integration. The eye doctor telling you that you need a new pair of glasses, the sales people helping you choose them and the people who design and make the glasses all work for the same company. Make of it what you will.

If that’s not a cornered market I don’t know what is.  Usually one would expect a company like this to consolidate – all the stores should have one name, all the shades have one or two brands, that sort of thing.  These guys are smarter than that.  They’ve created this myriad of brands and three different retail outlets appearing to be in competition with each other when in reality they’re all kicking their profits into the same pot.  It’s Starbucks owning Seattle’s Best only on an even bigger scale and employing many more brand managers.

I’m rather enjoying this revelation because I’ve always sat out the expensive sunglasses game.  I remember as a kid my brother spent some “lots of money in the 90s” sum on a pair of Oakleys that would be laughably ugly nowadays and I never had a similar impulse.  I think part of me knows that every cheap pair of sunglasses I’ve ever owned has been either lost or destroyed, so I don’t trust myself with anything nicer than the $15 aviators from the spinning rack at Wal-Mart.  If I stop and think about it I don’t even get to enjoy that angle of it – those shades probably come from the same damn company.

I’m easily distracted, so it didn’t take long for me to notice that The Journal went with a picture of Johnny Depp from his upcoming Hunter S. Thompson adaptation The Rum Diary for the story.  If the trailer is any indication he wears sunglasses for the entire movie, because eyes aren’t important to acting.

The Rum Diary is one of Dr. Thompson’s earlier works, sending his alter-ego to Puerto Rico to do way less drugs than in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  The protagonist is much younger in The Rum Diary than Thompson’s persona in Fear and Loathing, whose film adaptation also starred Johnny Depp…fifteen years ago.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a movie I watch once a year or so – I even have it on HD-DVD.  Yea, I’m that guy.  Depp seems to age up a little bit in it, but not much.  In The Rum Diary he actually looks younger, which got me wondering – how the fuck old is Johnny Depp?  In decades past I’d have to write a letter to his fan club and wait six months for a postcard to come back written by some intern that just has a giant “27” written on the back, but thanks to the internet a few seconds later I found out the answer is 48.  Johnny Depp is 48 years old.  In June of 2013 he’ll turn 50.  People have adult children when they’re 50.  The man is old enough that calling him “dude” would be inappropriate.  You can’t call people that old “dude” unless they’re Peter Fonda.

So that’s what I learned this rainy weekend – sunglasses are a fully vertically-integrated monopoly and Johnny Depp is old enough to use the phrase “listen here.”  I sure am glad I didn’t do something useful with that time.

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