Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I want freedom for the full expression of my personality”. The same desire may well have been top of mind for French optom-come-frame designer Anne Valentin when she first began working on her own collection. We spoke to Anne about her design philosophy and the origins of her boutique business, which today commands global respect among the most discerning buyers.
Anne Et Valentine began designing her own eyewear out of shear desperation – she felt there were no frames around that allowed mature, confident women to express their personality and individuality. That was back in the 1990s and she’d been running her own optometry (optician) practice in Toulouse – the fourth largest city of France – for some 16 years.
These days there are plenty of eyewear options for the individual woman however; Anne et Valentin’s collections stand apart from the rest in terms of colour, line and shape.
Q. When did you launch your first collection?
Anne et Valentin’s collections still stand apart from the rest in terms of colour, line and shape…
A. The first ever Anne et Valentin collection, which was launched in 1997, consisted of just 10 models. Now I head a team of creative people and together we’ve developed a collection of 80 models – each of them distinctively dramatic yet elegantly simple for the intelligent and mature woman.
Q. What creates that dramatic distinction?
A. Our company was born out of the experience of a group of independent opticians who moved into frame design and the distribution of its products.
We believe that if a frame suits everybody, in the end it suits nobody. So when we design a frame we really design it with a very specific person in mind – mostly that’s a woman – only a few of our collections are for men.
We start the design process by trying to identify the personality profile we have in mind with shapes, techniques, and colours.
Each designer has his or her own brief and focuses on one element of the design concept but the decision making is shared.
Q. Where does your inspiration come from?
A. Everywhere – the colours come from nature. We just combine them – and when you combine good colours, it works.
The Anne et Valentin style is a continual evolution. We always apply ourselves to developing lines, which are pure and we try to express the line’s elegance by creating special colours for it.
People on the street recognise the essence of our brand – it’s in the colour code, the energy of the shape, the lines.
Q. Who is your typical customer?
A. Our customers are typically
educated women or men – not that that means they work in any particular profession – but rather that they are able to detect and appreciate the design. Our customers are very natural, they are confident about expressing themselves. That’s why we have the tagline: “delighted to be yourself”.
When you buy the big brands you aren’t being yourself. You are following the group. When you wear Anne et Valentine, you need to have enough personality to decide to be yourself. And it’s only when you’re about 35 that you’ve constructed your own personality and you’re ready to project yourself – that you want to find elements to reveal your personality. The frame is one element – like the shirt, the shoes, the handbag…
Q. As your collection has expanded, how have you maintained the quality?
A. Our frames are designed by our in-house design team. As we trained as opticians, we know the constraints of frames – so we are able to reduce, as much as possible, any problems in the design process.
We don’t manufacture in China, we only produce in France and Japan and we’re proud of that – they’re key countries where we have quality. We use Italian acetate and buy our spare parts from Germany. Our acetate frames are made in two of the best factories in France. Our titanium frames are manufactured in Japan because this is where the best titanium products come from.
Of course we have many people monitoring the quality.
Q. What makes you different from other eyewear designers?
A. We have a long-term vision, which is built on making small progress with very selective distributors. We don’t want to sell our eyewear into every shop – we don’t want to bring in big money, we want to grow slowly in partnership with our distributors.
The relationships we have with our customers – the eyewear professionals – is very important to us and we believe the relationship they have with their customers is equally important. We want to keep the best optometrists who have the energy to focus on their customers. This makes us very different from other brands.
Q. What is ahead for Anne et Valentin?
A. The focus of our design for the next season will continue to be narrow and deep. We will never take a broad approach to address more people – because then you need to go to simple designs. So we will continue to develop great frames for a narrow distribution that allow loyal relationships with the optical retailer and their customer.
Anne et Valentin is distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Eyemakers Pty Ltd minority eyewear 02 9960 7766.