Retail in Asia

In People


Thomas & Matthieu LAFONT

In the Autumn of 1923 on Rue Vignon in Paris’s Madeleine district, Monsieur Louis Lafont opens a small boutique selling spectacles and hearing aids. For the next three generations this Parisian Art Deco boutique will thrive for innovation within the eyewear industry.

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Today, the company is run by the fourth Lafont generation, led by Louis’ great grandsons Matthieu and Thomas. The House emphasizes artisanal craftsmanship with an emphasis on elegance and strong family values – all backed by a name you can depend on: LAFONT. This Parisian institution now operates five boutiques under its own name and exports to over forty countries.

A true optical fashion house, LAFONT unveils approximately 30 new models twice per year. Each season’s offerings include sleek, smart and stylish frames for men, women and children. With a robust collection, designed for all aspects of the family, Lafont has built the brand’s reputation throughout the world. LAFONT’s eyewear tradition combines French heritage, state-of-the-art technology and inventiveness.

Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Thomas Lafont, Chief Creative Director and Designer of LAFONT, about the development of the brand.

RiA: What is the concept behind LAFONT?

Our family has been connected with the eyewear industry since 1923, when my great- grandfather opened his optical store. But the real birth and burst of the collection started in September 1979 when my parents, Laurence and Philippe Lafont, took the decision to change the concept of the products which was very traditional and classical at this time.

My mother, with her textile background, started to paint the frames in bright colours for herself and then for friends. From that she started also to create shapes and she invented the LAFONT house style.  At this time, in the 70’s, very few collections were fully designed by women. I had the opportunity to work with her on the collections for over 20 years until I became the Creative Director of the brand.

Source: LAFONT

LAFONT collection is established as a Parisian flavoured eyewear collection produced in France with a special touch in its colour tones. The collection is very “democratic” in a sense because it covers all age group and put the emphasis on a good price/quality ratio. Our company values are “independence” and “freedom.”

RiA: As discussed, LAFONT eyewear is made in France, woudl you consider it one of the main distinctive traits of your brand?

The choice of producing the collection not only in France but in one factory is, at first, a choice based only and mainly on a special relationship created between two personalities, my father and Mr Joël Thierry, the owner of the factory.

Today, it became also a fashion and political statement. Producing in France is giving us flexibility, efficiency, quality, and proximity. Very few collections took the same decision and today we can say that LAFONT represents nearly 20% of a yearly production of the entire industry in France.

RiA: LAFONT eyewear has a high-design component and it is translated in all the different collections.  How many do you have per year?

The eyewear industry has its own pace, very much like the high fashion industry. The spring/summer collections are usually showcased in Paris at the end of September during the SILMO and the autumn/winter collections are launched early march in Milan at the Mido. We follow that pace having an average of 35 styles (170 colours) launched at each show.

Source: LAFONT

RiA: In terms of material, is there any specific material you have developed and that characterizes your products?

Because the house of LAFONT has a rich textile background in terms of patterns and colours, we have built our reputation on colourful and exclusive acetate materials that we design in house instead of buying from supplier’s catalogues. 84% of our current colours are custom made and are exclusives colours. This specific approach on colour and material is representing 50% of the added value of the collection and it has created a real reputation for the brand on the markets.

RiA: Who is your customer profile? Does it change across different countries?

Our historical retail background in Paris brought us a large scope of clients because our collection covers all age groups and because Paris is an international city with lots of business travellers and tourists. When the collection started to be exported in the early 80’s, the first clients and they remain the majority today, were and are the ladies. More curious about shape and colours, they jumped on our collection in the USA also in Japan.

RiA: In terms of markets, you have a strong domestic market in France and expanding in Europe. What is your current status and plans for Asia?

Asia is representing 15% of the group turnover; far behind France and the USA.

In Asia we distinguish 3 main geographical zones for our business:

Japan is very specific and very important for us having established a strong proximity with independent retailers for 20 years and because it is a specific market with needs and requirements.

China, where we started to sell our collection with a local partner in Shanghai 15 years ago. It is a fast moving and very specific markets that we still must developed. We have not yet found the right pace and partner to grow in China and it is becoming our priority.

Then, Southeast Asia, regrouping Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, are countries and territories where we have maintained a client base since the late 90’s. Most of them are independent retailers that are seeking to make a difference in terms of product portfolio.

Source: LAFONT

RiA: On this side of the world, digital marketing is very important to target new generations of customers. What is your strategy?

The digital environment and its evolution cannot be ignored and is a true challenge for company of our size to reach our today’s and future clients. The overall digital activity is monitored from Paris in a “European” environment and we do know that it is not efficient enough for the Asian markets especially for China. Also, our business model, outside of France is based exclusively on “B to B” relations with selected retailers that are monitoring their own digital messages and campaigns. They often use our products to promote their name and offer.

Source: LAFONT

RiA: What is next?

Plenty of projects are on the way:

As far as the house of LAFONT is concerned:

  • New headquarter in Paris with improved logistic.
  • Global environmental policy in production, products, management that shall revolutionize our business model and our relationship with the new generations of consumers.
  • Industry 4.0 program: Heavy investments in renewing production machinery, staff training and management for quality improvement and flexibility.

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As far as the LAFONT is concerned, the real challenge for our collection is not only to follow the trend but also to lead the styles and fashion approach of what is and will be an eyewear collection for the months the come. Indeed, our industry is very creative with new brands and new concepts popping out every season, so we must be able to regenerate our collection without losing the flavor that makes LAFONT unique and recognizable. This challenge can only be tackled by a constant curiosity, and a true open mind and lots of passion.

We will introduce our new collection for A/W 2020 at the coming MIDO Eyewear show between 29th February and 2nd March 2020 in Milan.