Italy's second richest man, eyewear magnate Leonardo Del Vecchio, has died aged 87 after building an optical empire that saw him buy up major brands like Ray-Ban, Persol and Oakley.

Del Vecchio was one of Italy's most successful businessmen, building from scratch an international company that helped turn eyeglasses into a coveted -- and pricey -- fashion accessory.

His fortune was worth an estimated $27.3 billion, according to Forbes' 2022 World's Billionaires List.

His company EssilorLuxottica confirmed on Monday that he had "passed away" at the age of 87.

Del Vecchio had been in intensive care at Milan's San Raffaele hospital in recent weeks, according to Italian news agency AGI.

Born in Milan on May 22, 1935, to a poor family, he spent part of his youth in an orphanage and began working as a teenager.

He founded his own company, Luxottica, in 1961, supplying the optical industry with components.

A decade later, Del Vecchio made the strategic decision to control all parts of the production process.

Luxottica began making its own eyeglasses, distributing them throughout Italy before expanding in Europe through joint ventures.

He spotted the advantage of partnering with fashion design brands, including Giorgio Armani, branched out into retail and snatched up trendy eyewear brands like Ray-Ban, Persol and Oakley.

He signed a first licence agreement with Giorgio Armani in the 1980s, as eyewear morphed into a fashion accessory, a trend that continues today.

Luxottica also bought such retailers as LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut, allowing the company to tap the consumer market directly without intermediaries.

In 2018, Luxottica merged with France's Essilor to become EssilorLuxottica, with Del Vecchio serving as chairman. In 2021, the publicly traded company posted 19.8 billion euros ($20.9 billion) in revenue.

"Leonardo Del Vecchio was a great Italian," said Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The European Union commissioner for economic affairs, Italian Paolo Gentiloni called Del Vecchio's success "an example for today and tomorrow".