Trained by an elderly Parisian artisan, Frederic Beausoleil has, for the past 20 years, earned his living designing and manufacturing richly coloured, elegantly contoured optical frames. At a time when manufacturing is increasingly contracted to factories outside the country, Frederic continues to maintain complete control of all production from his own factory in Nantes. When he built it, there were 170 other optical factories in France. Now there are just eight.mivision’s Todd Tai spoke to Frederic Beausoleil in Paris about his passion for eyewear and the evolution of his globally respected, famously French brand.
What gives the Beausoleil its je ne sais quoi?
“Mine is not a ‘fashion’ brand – it is specific to frames and has been born out of my passion for sculpture combined with my education as an optometrist.
Was optometry the career path you originally intended to pursue?
And I realised that to design frames it is necessary to learn about the frames of the past..
“No. When I was 16, I told my parents I wanted to go to art school, but they said I had to have a career first – my father was an engineer and my mother an optician. They pushed me into optometry and sent me off to study at a school 1,000km east of my family house in France. It was hard being so far from home and the optical business is extremely technical – but I learned to make a camera, and learned to use lenses and make lenses – it was very interesting.”
Did you ever work as an optometrist?
“I worked with my mother at one of her two stores in Nantes… but then I met a girl from the United States and she wanted to study in Paris. To my mother’s disappointment, I decided to follow her there. And that’s where I designed my first optical frame – for my girlfriend.”
How did you acquire your manufacturing skills?
“Sculpture was my hobby and so I was interested to meet sculptors. A friend gave me the name of a very old man who worked from a tiny studio in Paris. It was 14m2 and he’d been designing and hand making optical frames, on his own, for the best opticians in Paris, for over 30 years – since just after the Second World War. He had prototypes of optical frames – that he’d made – displayed on the wall. I still have all of those little frames – they are treasures.
“Not long after that I went to New York, again with my American girlfriend, to visit the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). I began to realise the science of art, and the influence that designs from the past have on the work of modern artists.
“And I realised that to design frames it is necessary to learn about the frames of the past, which in turn would propel something new – that was what the old man in Paris was doing.
“I also determined that to design and make frames it is necessary to be very curious, courageous… and crazy enough to take a risk and go for it. I decided to do it…
I decided to combine my education with my passion for art, to become a frame designer and to sculpt the frames myself.”
As a young man, with very little experience in optics, design or manufacturing, how did you establish your own business and brand?
“I worked with the old man in his Parisian studio for six months in 1987 and he became a mentor for me. He taught me the skill of hand making frames with the most expensive materials – genuine turtle shell and buffalo. And then, when he retired, he sold me his business. It was good for him to find someone to sell such a small business to – and for me it was perfect. I hand made all my frames from there, working on my own for a year and a half.
“When I decided to exhibit at a trade fair for the first time, the best opticians from around the world came and bought my frames – I only had 14 styles, that’s all, but it was huge success. I was very lucky. So immediately my capacity was increased –
I took on my first and second workers, but still we were too small to meet demand.
“I went out to find suppliers, but as a young designer – I was 25 – who was not well known or rich, suppliers didn’t want to work with me. We were only ordering small quantities in strange styles – there was no interest. So with Pierre, my first employee, I decided to build my own factory. We bought old machinery and rebuilt it in Nantes – and in June 1990, the first Beausoleil frame came out of the factory.
“At that time there were 170 factories in France. Twenty years later there are only eight. I’m one of them and I’m very proud of that. It’s rare for a designer to have his own factory – but from here we control everything from design to prototype, manufacture and delivery… and sometimes we collect the money!”
What makes the Beausoleil style stand out?
“I would describe my style as neo classic, it is not about showing off. Our frames are designed for private luxury, made from gorgeous materials that are rich in colour, and always finished by hand.
“In terms of style, our collections are really dependable – we release very modern designs as well as conservative, softer designs, some very colourful frames and more conservative new frames as well.
“In the last few years I’ve worked a lot on designing collections for men because everybody is designing for the ‘beautiful lady’ – they forget the men. So now, 50 per cent of my collection is for men – young and old – with optical frames that take regular and progressive lenses… But my muse will always be the
beautiful, glamorous and mysterious lady walking in Paris.”
What does the future hold for Frederic Beausoleil?
“I want to be more the artistic director and spend less and less time on drawing everything – because it’s too much. So I am focusing more and more on building a team of designers.”
And, finally… what happened to the American girl?
(He smiles). “I was very romantic at the time. But she graduated from university and married a great guy in Washington. I married a wonderful girl from Corsica – she’s half Greek, 25 per cent Italian, 25 per cent Corsica. She is also a great artistic designer in publishing. And I’m still in love after 22 years.
“I’m lucky to be in love, and I’m lucky to have a job where I can put my passion into it – I feel very lucky.”