By Suzanne Sendel

I was invited by my key supplier to attend Silmo and then fly to Italy to visit our flagship store and tour our factory.

How could I say no?

Missing out on a year of not being able to travel and connect with our leaders was hard enough and then having to cancel an invitation to Mido last year was all too discouraging. I had to decide, even with “Covid Feet”, to go or not to go.

When I heard that our western Canadian agent was attending, I couldn’t resist. I made the decision to visit Paris again, only this time for business and then experience Italy, for the very first time.

The arrival at the Charles de Gaulle airport was flawless. Kudos to Air Transat! The taxi situation, however, was a disaster. In fact, in all my travel experience, I had never met more taxi drivers who seemed to get randomly lost. Unfortunately for me, upon my arrival to my airport-based hotel, only minutes away from my pickup, the meter read 20 euros. A gentleman in front of our car pulled out of a cab with a suitcase and so I inquired what he paid for his ride.

Half the cost of my fee and so I contested. The driver was irate and began to yell. To my rescue, came this helpful gentleman. I later discovered that Clement Roger was the agent for Bellinger, France. I met the rest of his team at the hotel and was grateful for their invitation to tag along on the morning subway trips to the show.

The time change was challenging. The older we get, the less sleep we seem to need and my biological clock, coupled with all the excitement of my arrival, kept me grounded for that first day. I enjoyed the company of guests in the main lobby and bar. Many who were attending our exhibit and others from across Europe, engaged in various businesses.

It was my first experience at Silmo and although I have attended VEE and VEW, Europe was certainly on my bucket list. As I entered one of the six halls, I was in awe. A vast variety of eyewear adorned so many faces, it was fascinating to behold!

The attendance was lively and as I entered my booth, I noticed several empty spaces. I quickly came to realize that the success of this show was not solely based on the attendance, but the relationships that were forged, in having more time to communicate and share one’s mission without all the distraction.

I spent most of my time manning our booth, which featured three of our stellar collections. We were situated at the very back of a row and neighboured with various well-known collections and at first, we were somewhat concerned. As the first day progressed, the traffic picked up and we were warmly greeted by independents and chains, from across the globe. I was fascinated with all the dialects, cultures, and countries that we had access to engage.

I was pleased in having French as a second language, it certainly helped me communicate with many of the attendees.

I walked the show daily and tapped many elbows. I was humbled to be recognized for my posts and social media presence throughout the show and it was exciting connecting with leaders of our industry.

Many agreed that although the show had less traffic, most had a successful show and were happy to be able to reconnect, after such a long hiatus.

In getting my PCR test in Italy, three days prior to my return home, I was relieved to test negative and not worry about quarantining. I was finally homeward bound.

Dorval airport was hopping as five international flights arrived in unison, the lines were thick but quick and I was able to depart expediently and effortlessly.

I did find time to shop. Although my suitcase was overweight on my departure from France to Italy, I masterfully maneuvered my suitcase by using my briefcase to store my makeup case.

Do you know how much a woman’s makeup case weighs?!

Silmo was exciting and invigorating. I survived on baguettes, ham and cheese at the show and dined light by night. The last night of the show, our team ventured out to a Brasserie in the heart of the city and it was great to unwind and sip on savoury French wine.

In visiting Paris twice before, my heart was centered on working hard by day and rest by night.  Our team spent most of our evenings together, always exciting banter and uplifting chatter.

I was smitten by Silmo and all it had to offer. Many companies were working on various collaborations and mergers, in building their platforms.

It was amazing to witness all of the inspiration that this infused. The Luxottica 360 team went all out to cater copious amounts of gourmet food, coupled with great support and presentations of their latest technology and collections. I couldn’t resist introducing myself and connecting with members of their team, who inspired me and loved our FTG.

My decision to attend Silmo was the right one!

I developed great new friendships, contacts, and various distribution opportunities. My mind was racing with all the information that I had gathered. I couldn’t wait to get to my next stop, Turin, Italy.

Exhausted from all the excitement, I was overwhelmed when I was dropped off at the most contemporary, comfortable, boutique hotel, in the Piazza San Carlo. Surrounded by the finest bakeries, historic structures and shops including Dior and Gucci, I couldn’t help but take a moment to inhale it all in.

I awoke the following morning to a whole new world and ventured out for a stroll, before getting picked up to visit our boutique. I couldn’t help but imagine how Julia Roberts must have felt while filming, “Eat, Pray, Love”. I had waited my entire life to visit Italy and I was enraptured by the beauty, architecture, culture and vibrancy of the city.

My host spent time sharing many iconic spots in Turin and I was captivated with all I experienced.

We visited our store, I took time to film and post my travels and then ended my journey in Milan.

Although we never made it into the city to tour, we spent a solid day at the factory of Customeyes, where I was blown away by the magnitude and diversity of what was being created. An old button and comb factory that went bankrupt was purchased and all the equipment reconfigured to make frames. Liquid acetate created from raw materials, frame molds of various shapes and sizes, modern technology to create any pattern or design, innovation that was simply thrilling to the human eye.

Leaving Italy was perhaps the second hardest thing that I had to do in the past two weeks. Two days prior to my departure from home, I had to put my almost 17-year-old pup to sleep.

In leaving home, my mourning traveled with me but my experience abroad was a great help in my healing.

In returning back to Montreal, I was filled with gratitude and purpose.

I look forward to developing my presence overseas and traveling back for Mido, 2022.

With all that we have experienced these past 18 months, it is a sheer joy to be able to plan ahead, with great vision and hope.

Hope to see you there!