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The French Connection [Elle Tatum]

Can it be that only 48 hours ago I was half a world away, immersed in my beloved Parisian “Frenchness” and more artistic eyewear than I could ever have imagined, at SILMO Paris?  Not my first trip to Paris, but my first to SILMO, though it has been on my career “bucket list” for twenty years!  Lucky for me I was blessed with colleagues that arranged a mentor to show me the ropes and introduce me to several European eyewear designers that were proven favorites to do business with.  There was a different set of circumstances to ponder regarding doing business outside of the US, including the company’s knowledge of customs and shipping outside of the European Union, proficient use of the English language, ease of contact, proven reliability and quality craftsmanship, to name just a few!  I was very grateful to have trusted eyecare professionals and frame buyers and sellers to help me break down this universe of awesome eyewear I was experiencing.

I was introduced to and very intrigued by a French company NAONED and its fabulous eyewear collections. Owner Jean Phillipe, another European optician-gone-designer, has just added a small but growing collection of the first-ever produced seaweed frames, DON.  Beautiful and luxurious to the touch, the seaweed for these eyewear pieces is harvested in his home region of Brittany. Easily sourced and renewable, biodegradable, significantly reduced manufacturing footprint – I was impressed!  NAONED became my top choice for the French eyewear I was hoping to bring home. As the show progressed, the momentum picking up each day, I was not able to get a full sit-down appointment where I could work out the business details and prepare proposed orders! Ideally, I might have acted on this on Day-1 but I needed to digest what I was seeing and being taught.  With a good night’s sleep I had clarity on my choices, though the vast increase in SILMO attendees (35,000!!) nudged me out of availability for the full sit-down appointment I needed!  Lesson learned and it now means that I will be going to New York‘s Vision Expo East to follow up with NAONED (though I hate to wait!)  Another French eyewear line, XIT, booth partners and friends of NAONED, greatly impressed me and I will be following that up in New York, as well.

Unexpectedly, as I was intending to shop only European collections, I did end up choosing to go into a very cool American line, KALA Eyewear, handmade in California.  Along with KALA’s fabulous design,  craftsmanship and affordability, its US West Coast family distributorship meant I could have KALA Eyewear trunk shows – a very big plus for my little shop!  Furthermore, KALA was sharing booth space with my people, Dutch ROGER EYE DESIGN and Seattle distributor Keith Harlow of ZOWEE.WOW DISTINCTIVE EYEWEAR.  I was finding that optical family bonds were strong and very beneficial.

As I mentioned in my September blog post, Roger Hoppenbrouwers of Dutch ROGER EYE DESIGN had designed a frame just for me and named it ELLE, in my honor, and it was to debut at SILMO, which it did! I can barely fathom that this could and would happen to this optician and small business owner on Bainbridge Island! What an exquisite design it is, and the man really knows how to give a gift – presentation, presentation, presentation! On the quiet morning of Day-1 SILMO, seated at the ROGER booth, he presented to me a 4-piece Roger Eye Design case.  Upon opening, the white inner lid had been hand inscribed by Roger, in beautiful calligraphy, ELLE! Hit by a wave of emotion, I felt as blessed by that as even the ELLE frame itself!  Kept a secret, the beautiful frame, in four colors, awaited under that fancy inner lid and it was love at first sight!  A few minutes later, Roger pointed out the huge frame graphic across the back wall of his booth – yep, it was the ELLE! The occasion was celebrated Saturday night at LA CAPOULE, a stained-glass-domed, art deco era, landmark Parisian restaurant in Montparnasse! I could easily imagine the spacious and open restaurant filled with the loud and often raucous writers and artists of that bygone era - heady stuff! Dining with Roger and his lovely and beautiful wife, Sylvia, his son and daughter, distributor/friend Keith, and my new business partner, Daniel of KALA, was a delicious, beautiful, personal, and bonding experience.  With deep appreciation, I THANK YOU, ROGER!

I did have a couple extra days in Paris after the show was over and enjoyed just being in Paris with my two long-time best friends, shopping, walking, eating and people watching from those cute chairs lined up on the sidewalks outside of the endless Parisian cafes and bistros.  I am missing the fresh croissants, the little demi-tasse cafés, and all that Parisian atmosphere.  By the end of the trip I found myself thinking in French, and though most would not have understood much of my spoken French, I was very sorry to be murmuring the last little, “merci” as I boarded Icelandair, Seattle bound!

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