Leonardo Del Vecchio, Italian entrepreneur and founder of eyewear giant Luxottica, passed away last Monday in Milan. He was 87 years old.
Leonardo Del Vecchio was known worldwide for founding one of the world’s largest eyewear groups.
Del Vecchio was one of five children born to an impoverished family in Milan in 1935, and his mother became a widow soon after his birth. When he was 7, Del Vecchio was sent to live in the famous “Martinitt” orphanage by his mother, who could no longer afford to support his upbringing.
The Martinitt orphanage is known for hosting entrepreneurs such as publisher Angelo Rizzoli and inventor Edoardo Bianchi, who founded the famous bicycle manufacturing company, Bianchi.
At 15, Del Vecchio started working at a car and eyewear parts factory, whose owners convinced him to enroll at the Brera Academy to study design.
In 1958, he moved to Agordo, in the province of Belluno, where he opened an eyewear workshop thanks to the local government’s free concession of a shed. He later renamed the company “Luxottica”.
The company was off to a challenging start and came very close to going bankrupt. However, Del Vecchio’s determination prevailed, and slowly Luxottica began to grow and expand abroad.
In 1988, it struck a lucrative licensing agreement with designer Giorgio Armani. Over the next decade, the company acquired several major eyewear brands like Vogue Eyewear in 1990, Persol in 1995, and American brand Ray-Ban in 1999. In 2018, Luxottica merged with French visual health giant Essilor to form EssilorLuxottica, the world’s largest sunglasses and prescription eyewear company.
The story of Leonardo Del Vecchio, who was capable of creating an empire starting from nothing, reminds us of many Italian entrepreneurs who, with exceptional foresight and vision, invented the future.