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Exclusive Interview // AHLEM MANAI-PLATT

First Image Film Out Now

AHLEM is a luxury eyewear brand, founded by Parisian born, LA-based designer, Ahlem Manai-Platt. She has won the 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award for her talent as an eyewear designer. Our frames are designed in Los Angeles and handcrafted in France. We take pride in our craftsmanship, and each frame is designed to uphold this very standard. 

Hi Ahlem, thanks for taking time for the SPECTR interview. What is AHLEM eyewear in one sentence?

AHLEM is committed to quality craftsmanship, first and foremost.

You grew up in Paris, but currently you live and work in Los Angeles? Is AHLEM now more typically French or typically West Coast?

Always French but living in the laidback nature of West Coast has helped define me as a person and also as a designer.

A little history: when did you launch your first eyewear collection?

In 2014, after selecting precise Mazzucchelli acetates and certain color palettes, I finally saw my creations slowly coming to life with various prototypes from the factory in France. What materialized were nine handmade eyewear frames in cool, chic shapes all rendered in Italian Mazzucchelli acetate.

How did you get into eyewear design in the first place? What did you do in your previous work life?

Before launching AHLEM, I worked almost ten years in the fashion industry. I was first a buyer for Acne and Miu Miu in France. Then I started up my own consulting firm, offering up-and-coming French de-signers with marketing and branding support. I was also serving in an advisory role to the Fédération Française du Prêt à Porter.

After that it was just a question of timing.  I used to collect glasses when I was 5 years old, so it’s something that has been with me forever. It never occurred to me that I could do something about it until an encouraging coffee date with friends. We were discussing goals, and I showed the group a sketch from my notebook. The expressed excitement gave me the guts; the loss of a beloved pair of vintage sunnies shortly thereafter gave me the final push. And that’s how the brand was born.

To what extent is your fashion experience good for your eyewear designs?

With 10 years of experience in fashion, I still have my finger on the pulse.

Please tell us what the design process looks like for you when creating a collection? Where do you get the inspiration from and what happens next?

We offer styles in small batches and I don’t design based on seasons. Mostly it is when inspiration finds me, which can be at any moment. Sometimes when I see inspiring architecture, or I was thinking about an artist that I love. 

Precision and excellence play a major role for you. How do you make sure that these are reflected in your products? (you can talk about craftsmanship)

When it comes to eyewear, not all frames are equal. AHLEM is committed to quality craftsmanship, first and foremost. This means eschewing the easy in favor of the excellent. There’s utmost respect for artisanal expertise played out in each pair of glasses. Throughout production, glasses travel to three specialized ateliers, and into the hands of nine skilled artisans—each with a particular craft passed down through the generations. 

I aim to shed a spotlight on the human hand at every stage of the process. Each atelier, each artisan we work with puts heart and soul into every pair of glasses—down to the very last detail. We choose to work with family businesses who have passed down their respective skills from generation to generation. We celebrate the imperfections and irregularities that come from raw cuts of one-of-kind Mazzucchelli acetate. And above all, we stand behind each pair of glasses and the craftsmen and craftswomen who create them.

What do you want to express with your glasses and what type of people do you basically recommend your designs to?

We really put so much detail and attention into every component of our glasses. The quality is not subjective. I think that is the biggest difference for us. We are committed to timelessness and quality, down to every microscopic detail. Our collection reflects a design philosophy that is centered around the relationship between simplicity, beauty and functionality. Never influenced by trends or bound by seasonal restrictions

Our frames are made for everyone – men and women – all facial shapes. Classic frame shapes summon a timeless sensibility while distinct design details look stylishly ahead. The result is an eyewear collection that exudes edge and excellence—to wear every day, to any occasion and by anyone.

Do you accustom yourself by certain styles? Also from other areas such as architecture?

I find inspiration everywhere: in my everyday life, the vibrant cultures of Paris and Venice Beach, and the work of my favorite artists and architects. I am drawn to the beauty that exists between functionality and design, so it is natural that the Bauhaus movement of the early 20th century is particularly important to me. My designs reflect the Bauhaus commitment to craftsmanship, functionality, and simplicity.

You have two stores of your own. Why is that important to you?

This is where we get to express and showcase our DNA fully (design, scent, furniture). In both of our stores we like to create stories, atmosphere, and showcase objects collected and curated by me.

Your designs are sometimes very elaborate and detailed. Why is this important to you?

I design with details in my head, the design inherently follows the details.

About the New Collection

Let’s talk about your new collection. Dou you have a specific theme?

 Our collection reflects a design philosophy that is centered around the relationship between simplicity, beauty and functionality. Never influenced by trends or bound by seasonal restrictions. I don’t design by theme, just when inspiration arise.

Are there any fundamental changes to the existing collections, a general development of the AHLEM brand?

The hinge is new, it has 5 barrels and a thread lock technology.The part inlaid in the acetate is wider than the standard and has a more pronounced curved anchor which takes up more space, sits deeper and has a better hold of the acetate.

What are your favorite materials you work with?

Acetate and Metal are both my favorite

In the new collection you work with the hammered technique for the first time. Please tell us what is behind it.

All five new optical metal models feature a new technique called martelé which translates to hammered. Each frame is hammered by hand which makes it definitively unique. Unlike the Bauhaus filigree or the diamond temples, it does not follow a specific pattern.

Doesn’t this technique pose a particularly great challenge to the craftsman?

Yes, the gesture is precise and requires a delicate hand. This complex and time-consuming goldsmith technique originates from the Middle Ages and can only be performed by skilled artisans.

Some models are decorated with so-called Bauhaus engravings. What do you particularly like about them?

The line and the movement.

About the Film

In the past you have mainly communicated a lot with still photography. Now, for the first time, you have made a film. Why?

We been wanting to make a film for a long time, and I was finally able to find the right team to bring my story to life. I think it was the right time and place, being our 5-year celebration.

In retrospect, would you say that such a close relationship was good for the outcome of the project?

It was great, Bo is an amazing director, as we are two different people and on two different career paths, I am so glad we were able to work creatively together.

Your film comes in black and white. Why?

I always shoot in that format, as my favorite photographers and directors shoot in that medium.

You work very much with light and shadow. Is there a direct relation to “glasses”?       

Light and shadow has so much to do with lenses, from your eyes to the photography I love. The glasses are the focus.

You also play a lot with sharpness and blurriness. Also this connection to glasses is certainly deliberately chosen, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. It is interesting to play with the lenses. I am very particular about the lenses used to shoot our eyewear.  

What’s the story?

It is a tale of a classic cat and mouse chase between a man and a woman.

How would you describe the general mood of the film?

It is all about love. 

What did you choose as location for the film shooting?

Atop one of the highest peaks in Malibu, the narrative unfolds against the backdrop of a modern home designed by architect, Michael Sant

What can a film do better than photography?

With film, it is a three-dimensional experience, we selected a soundtrack to play off the emotions of the story. It is a living expression of creativity using time and space.

Do you already have new film projects in prospect?

 Yes.

Thanks for the interview. Find out more about the Brand here.

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