This story about Lafont Paris eyewear was created in collaboration with Lafont Paris who provided me with a pair of sunglasses, took me on a tour of the atelier in Paris and provided me with a pair of eyeglass frames. There was also a contribution of prescription lenses for my frames provided by The Village Eyeworks in Phoenix.
It all started with a pair of sunglasses.
But that isn’t the real beginning. I have loved and purchased Lafont eyewear for over a decade.
Throughout the years on this blog, I’ve shared about my petit péché mignon (translation: little weakness) for glasses. And okay, scarves. I have always loved showing a bit of personality with a stylish and colorful pair of glasses or in my case, pairs. In Berkeley, I had my doctor, my dentist, my hair stylist, and my eyeglass dealer, err I mean shop with an adorable older couple who loved European designs and went to Paris every year to seek out the latest styles.
About a year before we left the San Francisco Bay Area they retired which left me devastated and with just a few pair of glasses. During our 18-month sabbatical, my biggest worry was getting a haircut and I simply relied on my collection of glasses to get me by.
When we landed in Phoenix we got eye exams but I didn’t love any of the frames I’ve seen so my prescription had been sitting on my desk unfilled and sad.
That’s why I couldn’t have been more thrilled when Lafont reached out to me to collaborate. I’ve worn many a pair of Lafont but none recently. They sent me a beautiful pair of sunglasses. You’ve seen me sporting them on Instagram and I’m quite taken with them.
I ALWAYS want to know more about the brands I love. Curious foodies want to know the story behind the food on their plate. Where did the ingredients come from, what’s the farmer’s story? What was on the chef’s mind when he or she created the dish? That’s why farm-to-table is so popular and it’s something I’m passionate about. It’s why I spent a week eating loco moco, why I studied nearly every stand in Kyoto’s Nishiki market. And why I will forever miss Anthony Bourdain. (Although his spirit lives on in the books he inspired Matt Goulding to write.)
But for me, it doesn’t stop with food.
I want to know where the things that surround me come from. Recently I was appalled to learn the one daily pill I take is made in India. I really stumped the pharmacist when I asked her if I could have a pill made in America! It’s not that I’m a nationalist or a protectionist. I just want to know what and who are behind the products in my life. That’s why the vast majority of my furniture comes from Room & Board made in Minnesota. Why I know the very store in Florence where my dining table comes from. And why a lot of my t-shirts come from Let’s Keep It Wild in Mesa, Arizona.
When I worked in Switzerland and lived in France I discovered the Jura mountains and the artisanal traditions of watch and eyewear manufacturing. These alpine towns have long cold winters ideal for spending the day inside perfecting the art of objects with many small pieces. The same sort of environment that Seattle historians will tell you were superb conditions for the coders who went to work at Microsoft and Amazon. And although my house gets a package from Amazon every week and I’ve worked with laptops and PCs for 30 years, I much prefer the tangible physical workmanship of a pair of glasses. So I wanted to know more.
My experience at the Lafont Boutique in Paris
Last fall when we returned to Paris, I had the honor, privilege, and pleasure of visiting the original Lafont store which opened in the Madeline/Opéra District of Paris in 1923. Walking into the store felt a little bit like walking into an artsy aunt’s boudoir and I absolutely loved it! The presence of vibrant colors is driven by Laurence Lafont (now deceased), a Parisian fashion designer who married Lafont founder Louis’s grandson, Phillipe in the 1970s. The couple was a match made in heaven and their influence continue to be a driving force. You can even see on the second story, family photos hanging on the wall! I have always been a fan of purple and green together and had my bedroom those colors for many, many years, I loved everything about the boutique from the moment I walked inside.
The French eyewear maker is still run by the Lafont family and produces two collections of beautifully designed glasses every year (70 new models a year). The glasses are made in France and there are about 200 steps that go into making them. They are real artisans who are passionate about continuing the history and craftsmanship that Lafont is known for. Design and detail are the quintessential ingredients in any pair of Lafont glasses. They are meticulous with the layering of materials (metals and acetate made with natural elements such as wood and cotton fibers) and the blending of colors, every pair is a piece of art.
Laurence and Philippe’s son Thomas once said that the inspiration behind every design comes from the family’s fascination with color, fashion, and the “city of light,” Paris. Lafont has a long history of cool designs, vibrant colors and unusual materials like fabric and I don’t see that changing any time soon. There is a quote attributed to Laurence Lafont: “A frame is a frame, but the color is what makes the true difference.” I couldn’t agree more. The vast majority of my glasses purchases have been driven by color – red is my favorite and notice which color I have in my hand above! Their glasses come in a variety of styles from artsy and funky, to chic and sophisticated, but all timeless and all works of art.
One thing I didn’t know before my visit is that you can also have glasses custom made for you at their attached workshop in Paris. I got to visit and see the process and it’s fascinating. When I see the respect, the artistry and the knowledge that goes into creating each pair, it makes me appreciate my glasses even more. I met the mistress of the atelier (workshop) a masterful and expert eyeglass artisan (no pictures of her face as people are very private about that thing in France, but she was a lovely lady!). She (along with the boutique manager) walked us through several of the steps that a pair of glasses takes with a pair she was currently working on.
After the measurements, material decisions and frame shape are taken from the client, the process of creating the custom eyewear begins. One of the very first steps is to cut the frame parts out of blocks of acetate with a laser. The machine is following a computerized design.
Now all the work by hand begins! Lafont has a proprietary system for doing the nose pieces or nose shape, which I couldn’t explain if I wanted to (my French is good, but the explanation was a little too technical for me, if Mr. Misadventures knows, he is not sharing!). But trust me, it is was interesting!
Then the metal fasteners to bring the sides together with the main frame is attached.
And now the work that keeps Madame mistress of the atelier fit – sanding and shaping by hand! She has plenty of tools of the trade to test and validate the fasteners and to whip the frames into the final shape.
She uses very fine sandpaper and years of experience to ensure that the nose (along with everything else) is just right. She is a perfectionist and it takes days to weeks to create a single pair. In Morbier where the main manufacturing takes place glasses take between 8 – 16 weeks to make it through the entire 200-step process. There is no rushing perfection!
When she has everything assembles she sands and polishes the entire pair. But you know what? It still isn’t complete!
We went back into the main boutique (the atelier is the back) and descended into the basement/cave where we met the rest of the Lafont staff busy at work with their various responsibilities. We went deeper into the back to find another work area where the “polisher” is located. There are 3 circular “boxes” filled with different sized stones that turn round and round and polish the frames, it is pretty neat to see.
The plan had been for Mr. Misadventures and me to visit the boutique and atelier and to try on frames. We got so involved with the history of the Lafont brand and the cool work done in the workshop that after 4 hours, we never got to look at frames (except for the first few minutes while I was waiting for my meeting). I was a little bummed as I love trying on all the glasses, but time ran out and that was that.
The Village Eye Works in Phoenix
Looking back I am so happy it happened that way. Otherwise, I would have never have met the wonderful Royden family, owners of the 2 Village Eye Works shops in the Phoenix area. Meeting and working with Bob and Steph (and Ann) was just like being at my old “dealer” in Berkeley, the highest level of customer service, friendly, and boy do they know their products. It was such a pleasure to have a great eyewear purchasing experience again, and I have my new shop for life!
In a way that personifies the level of personalized service that The Village Eye Works provides, Steph had emailed me before my visit to ask if there were specific Lafont frames that I had my eye on. Of course, I gave her a list of 20 – can’t help myself – and told her there were probably more than that. She had the glasses out for me to look at when I got there.
But Steph didn’t stop there. She looked at my website, she looked at my Instagram and gave it more thought and had a few suggestions for pairs she thought would look really good on me. The problem was: how to choose! Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…I loved every pair! Kind of always been my problem. I love glasses and I love great design and color. Hence loving the Lafont brand.
Every paired I tried on, I loved, but wouldn’t you know it the 3 that I narrowed it down to were all picks that Steph selected, she really knows her stuff!
Every time I tried a pair on, I would return to the Socrate (French version of Socrates, can my pea brain live up to that name!?), in the end, the choice was just obvious, I had to go with them. Steph took the measurements for the progressive lenses I would need and wrote down the other frames I loved onto a wishlist (they are so smart!).
I left the shop thrilled that I had met Bob, Steph, and Anne, that I had new friends and a place to call home for all my future eyewear needs, and that I was going to be a proud owner (again) of a pair of Lafont Paris eyewear. Oh la la, the francophile in me was happy!
The day I went to pick them up Mr. Misadventures and I were heading out for a hike, so I had hiking pants, a t-shirt and an old cardigan on, not anything fancy, but my new glasses certainly spruce up this and any outfit that I wear and I have already gotten several compliments on them. Turns out that the Royden family know their stuff, they are passionate about eyewear and I had such a good time working with them!
And of course, we had met because Lafont Paris had connected us. They know their stuff too and select extremely talented, passionate and knowledgeable people to sell their eyeglasses.
Many thanks to my friend Sarah who tagged along to take photos, and because Mr. Misadventures was away in France, she served as my back-up to give me a second opinion on all the glasses I tried on – thanks, Sarah!
Lafont Paris has 3 shops in Paris
- Madeline: 11 rue Vignon, the original shop!
- Rive Gauche: 17 boulevard Raspail (while you are in the 7eme, here are things to do, see and eat)
- Les Marias: 12 rue Sévigné (while you are in the 4eme, here are things to do, see and eat)
The Village Eye Works has 2 shops in Phoenix
- Paradise Valley: 10625 N Tatum Blvd # 110
- North Central Phoenix: 5813 N 7th St
How about you? Do you wear glasses? Do you have a favorite brand or local store that you love? Are you curious about the history behind the brands you adore? Do tell!