With just a single, carefully crafted eyewear collection under her belt, Ahlem Manai-Platt’s eponymous line is one to watch.
Opening Ceremony recently visited the designer in her idyllic Venice home studio, a treasure trove of vintage Mazzuchelli acetate, pages upon pages of sketches, and her lovable puppy Atlas. “I love glasses; is it cheesy to say that?” she asks with a graceful French lilt. Since stealing her mother’s limited-edition green Ray Bans at the young age of 11, Ahlem has carried on a healthy fascination with unique, vintage eyewear.
Lucky for us, she's made it her trade. The Tunisian-slash-Parisian-slash-newly converted Angeleno settled in California after a fairy tale romance with her American husband, an advertising director who, upon meeting his future wife, extended his six-month work trip in France to five years. The first stop after their wedding? An eyewear factory in the South of France, where Ahlem met artisans who pass on their craft from generation to generation.
“[The artisans] are not used to working with designers,” she told us. Instead, they work by hand with acetate from Mazzucchelli’s storied archival stock, which she then selects to make each Ahlem frame an exclusive. There's a singular element here. Pouring over samples from her new collection, we noticed that each colorful slab, richly detailed and translucent, manages to catch the light.
Ahlem believes that frames should highlight the face, not mask it. She sketches all her designs in true-to-life size (largely due to her aversion to technology). The designs are then sent to her factory in Jura, France,
where they are vectorized and completed. Her designs draw inspiration from her hometown of Paris, but for sketching, Ahlem looks to photographers and architects. “I wish I were an architect,” she confesses. “When you see a picture, your eyes get trained and you see more.”
Ahlem’s top priority is comfort, culling inspiration from interior design. “What we like from [the French metal worker] Jean Prouvé or Eames is that their work is beautiful, and when you sit in the chair, it's also so comfortable!” Similarly, her frames are an elevation in design, but not “difference for the sake of difference,” she says.
Despite her slavish attention to detail, Ahlem is modest about her work. “I don’t invent the glasses. I’m not creating something new, but I go deeply into every detail—from the quality to the design to the beveled arms at the temples." And it's true—upon closer examination, layers emerge. The bridge of one frame recalls a popular skate ramp in Paris. The shape of the Barbès lens is drawn from fish on sale at the bustling marché in Paris’ 18th arrondissement.
For Ahlem, an outfit begins and ends with the frames on your face, the most direct line of communication. After all, as the designer asks, "What defines you more than your glasses?”
Shop all Ahlem here