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Leonardo Del Vecchio Dies at 87; Transformed Eyeglass Industry

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He merged eyewear with fashion, turning a quotidian necessity into high style. He rose from poverty to become one of the world’s wealthiest men.
Leonardo Del Vecchio, the Italian multibillionaire who rose from Dickensian poverty to build a globe-straddling behemoth that helped transform the stodgy, fragmented eyeglass industry into a fashion-oriented business, died on Monday in Milan. He was 87. His death was announced by the company, now called EssilorLuxottica. No cause was given. A company spokeswoman said he had died at San Raffaele Hospital. Although largely unnoticed outside of the industry, Luxottica, as the company was long known, achieved as much dominance in the low-tech, eyeglasses business as Google and Amazon have in theirs. Producing glasses for luxury brands like Ray-Ban, Armani, Bulgari, Chanel and Brooks Brothers, and selling them through company-owned retail chains like Pearle Vision, Lenscrafters and Sunglass Hut, the company, which Mr. Del Vecchio started in his home in Agordo, Italy, more than 60 years ago, became the world’s largest eyewear maker, with factories in Europe, Asia and the Americas. And he became one of Italy’s wealthiest men. Forbes magazine ranked him and his family 52nd on its list of the world’s wealthiest people this year, estimating their net worth at $27.3 billion. Prime Minister Mario Draghi, in a statement, called Mr. Del Vecchio “a leading figure in Italian entrepreneurship” and “a great Italian.”
“He brought the community of Agordo and the entire country into the center of the world of innovation,” Mr. Draghi said. Born in Milan on May 22, 1935, Mr. Del Vecchio was raised in an orphanage. His father, a street peddler of vegetables, died before Leonardo was born. His mother, with four other children already, was unable to care for him. At 14, he apprenticed as a metal engraver and then moved on to a workshop that produced parts for eyeglass frames. “I started as the shop boy,” he recalled in a company video many years later. “They didn’t call me Leonardo, but simply ‘boy.’”
In 1961, he moved to Agordo, a small town in northeastern Italy, to open his own workshop to make frame parts.

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