Interview with Laurence Lafont
Parisian-born Laurence Lafont began designing eyewear in the ’70s out of necessity, she says. After marrying into the optical business – her husband, Philippe Lafont, is the grandson of the founder of the Lafont boutiques in Paris – she began noting the lack of interesting eyewear.
“I said to my husband it’s a pity there isn’t any eyewear for our generation. There were a few designer collections, but the styling was old-fashioned and really boring. We and our friends bought antique frames at flea markets because they were a lot more interesting than what was available in optical shops,” Lafont says. To add interest to the eyewear, she and her husband hand painted some Ray-Ban frames sold in the Lafont shop. “At that point everyone was wearing the Wayfarer in black. We started offering it in a lot of different colors with tinted lenses. That was our first adventure with eyewear design.”
Then her husband suggested she design a few frames for the Lafont boutique, which at that time only retailed products by other manufacturers. The first collection sold so well opticians throughout France began to call the boutique to purchase frames. This led to the couple’s decision in 1979 to go into eyewear design in earnest.
Although the majority of the collection was designed for adults, almost from the beginning Lafont also designed frames for children, also out of necessity. “We had young children of our own and the eyewear available for them was ugly – a nightmare,” she explains.
So Lafont started a small collection of colorful frames, some with floral prints, for four to seven year olds, then expanded to include seven to 12 years olds. The first style Lafont designed for kids was the P-3. Not a perfect shape for very young children, she notes. “It’s more suitable for seven or eight year olds and older because their face shapes are developed enough to handle that shape. But we learned and our kids’ styles have always done very well.”
However, the children’s collection did not include styles for infants to four year olds. “Now we have two granddaughters – one is six months and one is under two,” Lafont notes. So once again she is designing out of necessity. “We felt it was time to reach out to one more generation.” The result: Lafont Pour les Bebes, an eight-piece collection, together with a presentation kit, which launched at MIDO in May.
Designing for babies presents its own set of challenges. “You need a totally different approach for babies,” Lafont says. The materials have to be soft and flexible so she uses two layers of acetate: the bottom layer is a rubbery substance that will adhere to the face; the top layer is a transparent acetate. The temples are molded – molding is necessary for this age group so that the frames stay put, Lafont explains. Two designs are available, a mini-round for those under two and a small oval for those two to four. She does not use cable temples, but the temple tips have small openings and a rubbery type of ribbon is available, which parents can use to secure the frame if they want. “We actually used our grandchildren as fitting models for the designs to see what worked and what didn’t,” Lafont says. “Now the little one wears the round and the older one the oval, as sunglasses.”
Whether designing for babies, children or adults, the foundation of the Lafont collection has always been color. “A rectangular frame is a rectangular frame. The personality of any collection is in its colors,” Lafont explains. “The number-one color for girls is pink. I always ask why do we have to do so much pink?” the designer says. “But that’s what girls want – pink, pink, pink. And they like purple, too. For boys we do two-tone blues, blue and green, blue and red, brown and kaki or brown and orange. The girls can wear the blues and reds if they like, but they usually want pink.” Of course, the new collection, Pour les Bebes, features a lot of pink and blue and green, many with floral and geometric accents on the temples.
The response to the new babies collection has been great – “better than we expected,” Lafont comments. “Our biggest children’s market is in Europe: France first and then Belgium, where we have had a strong children’s business almost since we started. We have a good kids’ business in certain locations in the U.S., but there is some resistance because we are considered expensive for kids,” she says. “But I always use the analogy that good shoes for kids can be almost as expensive as shoes for adults. Children’s shoes and glasses are smaller in size, but the same quality materials and same amount of design and technology – if not more – go into the children’s product. Actually our older kids’ styles are often sold to petite adults so that helps expand the market a bit, too. With the babies, though, my goal is to provide good quality and attractive styling for parents who want nice things for their infants,” Lafont emphasizes. “Those are the customers we want to reach.”
Her next step is to do “mini sunnies,” sunglasses for babies. This will be a challenge she realizes because of the cost. “We’ve tried in the past adding sunglasses to our collections for the older kids and found them impossible to sell. But that is our next step. It is really important for children of all ages to have quality sun protection.” As Madame Lafont so aptly puts it: “Voila – a new generation.”Interview originally appeared in 20/20 Magazine