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The WD Interview – Anne Valentin, Eyewear Designer (part II)

January 22nd, 2009 · 2 Comments · Design & Fashion, The WD Interview

If the boom of the brand it not your idea of making a fashion statement, then France remains one of the countries where you can still find intelligent design that doesn’t scream in people’s faces. Here, unlike other countries, youth is not a free pass to qualify as a style icon: Catherine Deneuve, Loulou de la Falaise, Carole Bouquet or Charlotte Casiraghi sit happily next to each other as quality examples of French style.

While most designers regularly present us with a choice of clothes and ‘looks’ they deem fashionable, they also seem to spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to persuade us to abandon these choices six months later. For some this amounts to an insult on our intelligence. Meanwhile, France is the only place in the world where a conversation about trends in clothing can be turned into an existentialist paper on fashion.

One of the companies that continues to view and produce fashion in this way is eyewear designer Anne et Valentin. “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,” says Anne Valentin, one of the founders. In business for more than a decade, the Toulouse based company now consists of design team Anne Valentin, Valery Lorenzo and Yannick Burdin. Each designer has its own brief and focuses on one element of the design concept. “Although I head up our design team, decisions in research, choices and decisions are shared,” explains Anne Valentin who is the creative force behind the trio. She adds: “Anne et Valentin is a continual evolution. The company always applies itself at developing lines which are pure and we try to express the line’s elegance by creating special colours for it.”

These colours are – almost inevitably – inspired by the nearby Mediterranean Sea. Soft pinks, sea greens, blues and reds all feature in their frames, be it in the sunglass collection or their metal, titanium and cellulose acetate frames. But location isn’t the only deciding design factor. “Designer inspiration is manifold, creation is nourished by very many diverse things. When we design our glasses we don’t concentrate on fashion. Clothes are but one element in the cultural mix and we take that into account,” explains Anne further. “Culturally it is more important to think about the people who are going to wear our glasses.”

Anne is very clear about the commercial impact of this approach: “The brand Anne et Valentin is therefore more successful with a those end customers which are more mature as consumers.”This more intellectual approach means that the company keeps linking into trends that have broader cultural meaning. Take for example the 100th anniversary of Charles Eames’ birthday. For some, a 20th century designer of a now legendary variety of chairs that have become design classics might seem an unusual choice for a frame inspiration. Anne Valentin and her team have translated these design values into their frames with ease: “Our homage to Charles Eames goes back to the colour range and the spirit of geometry of this 1950s designer. Retro-chic is brought out by the use of tortoiseshell glasses on which a crest is inlaid on the sides of the frame.”

This approach is clearly a departure Anne et Valentin’s design of the previous years: “This is a quality that gives the lines a third dimension,” says Anne Valentin. It is no coincidence that Valentin is looking towards the world of furniture design as the last great place of quality design: “I find design in general quite poor, far removed from the richness of the 1950s and 1960s for example. That’s why we have rediscovered Eames and Prouvé, and that can be seen in the great number of re-editions.”

Both Jean Prouvé and Charles Eames were groundbreaking in their use of materials; Eames successfully paved the way for mass produced furniture while his chairs have become interior design status symbols. The perhaps lesser known Prouvé was an architect and designer whose work philosophy was characterised by knowledge of the materials at hand and a commitment to collaboration between artists and craftsmen – elements that can be clearly seen in the frame designs of Anne et Valentin.

With standalone shops in Toulouse and Paris, the company has agents across Europe, USA and Canada and Hong Kong, Australia and Japan where one of the most famous faces to sport Anne Valentin eyewear is the Japanese couturier Yohji Yamamoto. In France, the showcase for Anne et Valentin’s glasses in their Paris shop. Here the customer can find an extension of the design philosophy of the team. It is located in the Marais district of Paris, the famous Jewish quarter and one of the first parts of Paris to be ‘protected sites’ to preserve the unique architecture of this part of town.

The shop’s layout and interior represents another aspect of the company’s philosophy – a fusion of different global influences and as Anne Valentin sums it up: three styles for harmony. The shop floor was designed in a ‘modern human’ style with a mixture of cool metal and dark wood. The frames are displayed in glass cases and customers can try on the frames at a bar. The upper floor is not so much a shop as a living room, in particular that of – what Anne Valentin calls- the ‘globetrotting Parisian’.

Poetry readings are held is this space on certain evenings. The basement holds another interior of modern design but the vaulted ceilings of the original building link back to the area’s history. The overall aim is to make the customer feel at home and help forge a relationship that will encourage potential clients to take time in choosing their frames.

But finally what does Anne Valentin make of the current approach of frame design? “I find that at the moment that more is made of the technical side of frame design and the form continues to be neglected. It is rare that I find frames well designed.” An assurance that Anne et Valentin’s creative spectacle is set to continue.


(The article first appeared under the title “An Intelligent Spectacle” in 20/20 Europe)

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Marc Chambers // Jan 24, 2013 at 12:44 am

    I recently purchased one of your frames from the Factory Eleven series. I absolutely love them in every way and very much appreciate the craftsmanship of these frames. Thank you so much for your beautiful designs.
    Marc Chambers
    Felton, CA

  • 2 Online Designer Eyewear in UK // Sep 3, 2013 at 9:59 am

    The above information is informative for me and i think its is also helpful for those people who want to learn more about designer eyewear.

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