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Parisian-born Laurence Lafont leads two lives. She designs creations for the home: bed linens for one company, carpeting for another and a complete collection of products for the home, including bedding, china and glassware under the ELLE magazine name for the Asian market. She's also the frame designer for Lafont, a French manufacturer of high-end eyewear.

Then her husband suggested she design a few frames for the Lafont boutique, which at that time only retailed products by other manufacturers. (Now the three stores carry Lafont frames exclusively.) Her first collection, though small, sold so well that 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, creating a collection for distribution in Paris.

Today, Lafont eyewear is distributed throughout Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. In fact, Lafont says 65 percent of its eyewear is sold to markets outside France.

"A rectangular frame is a rectangular frame. The use of color is what distinguishes it," notes Lafont.

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See more Lafont eyeglasses from In 1981, Lafont started her own studio where she continues with a staff of four, including her son, to design housewares for select accounts and eyewear under the Lafont name as well as all frame packaging and displays, window displays for the three stores and booths used at optical shows.

The designer's favorite colors have changed over the years. She currently likes working with purple and lime even though she notes these aren't necessarily bestsellers in eyewear. For her own wardrobe, she has made a resolution to change from blacks and grays to navy blue. "I know that's not very radical," she laughs. "But when you travel a lot it's easier to have basic colors that can be coordinated."

And that's another important lesson, notes Lafont. "It's not difficult to do good design, what's difficult is the timing. If you introduce something too soon, it will be rejected and if it's too late, everyone else already has it."

What is also important in design is objectivity, Lafont notes. "When I design eyewear, I try to step back and forget about optical and all the product I've seen," says Lafont. "I walk on the streets. I travel. I observe what people are wearing. If you focus too closely on optical, everyone ends up with the same product."

In her years of designing, Lafont has observed several key changes. "I know it's a cliché that eyewear has evolved into a fashion accessory. But this is really just starting to happen," Lafont observes.

"In France, consumers change their eyewear only once every four years, sometimes less. Something is not a true fashion accessory if it's updated that infrequently," she emphasizes. She notes that Americans update their eyewear more often and has expectations that this concept will also take root in Europe.

When asked about her long range goals for the eyewear business, Lafont says the company's objective is to be recognized as a distinctive Parisian business with an international customer base. "Most importantly, we want to achieve a balance," she says. "We want people to look stylish in our eyewear, but we also want the frames to wear well, to function, to be comfortable. Frames, and actually all fashion, should be something we can wear proudly, but also wear well."
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Reprinted Courtesy 20/20 magazine
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