By Gloria Nicola

The story of Faniel Eyewear is worthy of an opera. Actually the designer, Montreal-born Anne-Marie Faniel is an opera singer—a soprano by vocation who has been singing for 20 years. In 2006, she recorded her first album “Noel Angelique” and in late 2011, she recorded her most recent album “Vincero,” written by Marc Provencal specifically for her voice range. Earlier this year she gave a live performance of “Vincero” in Montreal.

Additionally while studying for her career at the Montreal Conservatory of Music, she worked as a hairdresser/makeup artist for magazines and TV. This skill would become invaluable for the second act of the Faniel story, which began when she met her partner and future husband Patrick Bolduc, an optician whose dream was to own an optical shop. They decided to pursue their dreams together, beginning with his dream.

The initial step, however, was to create distinctive eyewear. “My goal was to provide artistic, beautiful eyewear for everyone, not just for the rich. The message behind my eyewear designs is that everybody is unique and we should accept and enjoy our uniqueness. I want to put the ‘Oh!’ into optical,” Faniel explains.

To do this it’s essential to be aware of facial structure, skin tones and eye colors, she notes. For that she turned to her background as a makeup artist, creating a system she calls “facial stylism.” This unique approach is now used in the three stores the couple owns in Quebec and involves having a stylist work individually with each customer. 

Faniel’s second goal was to use recycled materials. “There is no reason why art and the environment can’t work together in harmony,” Faniel says. “I wanted to incorporate sheets of copper foil, wood threads and even sequins into recycled acetate to create a colorful and textured original material. People in the industry told me it was impossible. But I was determined so I went to France and found someone who would work with recycled materials.” In the beginning, all of her frames were made with a minimum of 50 percent recycled materials. But she finally reached her goal of creating frames made from 100 percent recycled materials in a collection she released at the Silmo optical show in 2011.

After Faniel created her first collection, she and her husband still did not have a permanent retail location so they traveled door-to-door selling her eyewear. In 2005, they opened the first of the Les Branches Lunetterie optical boutiques in Saint-Jerome, Quebec. In 2008, Faniel Eyewear was formally founded and is now sold around the world. The second Les Branches opened in Montreal in 2009 and the third in Quebec City in 2011.

The main collection sold in the Les Branches shops is Faniel, but other distinctive boutique collections such as Etnia Barcelona and Ziggy by Cendrine O. are also offered. “Our mission is to carry the highest possible quality at affordable price points,” Faniel emphasizes. “We don’t sell big brands. Our customers don’t want logos on their faces. They don’t follow the crowd. My eyewear is for people who want to be alive, people who expect something different. Faniel eyewear makes a statement. It says, ‘I’m here, I’m different, I’m beautiful.’ We sell an average of 100 Faniel frames a week in our shops.”

Her advice to optical retailers is, “Be open and enjoy the differences in individual customers. Consumers are open and ready to try something new. Be open to them.”

Faniel personally loves eyewear. She has 50 pairs of glasses. Her favorite style and a major focus of her women’s collection is the cateye design. “Cateyes are great. They hide dark circles and give an instant lift to the face. And I think that design makes women look like women,” she adds. For men (40 percent of Faniel’s customers are men), she primarily designs rectangles.

But whatever the style, color is key to Faniel’s philosophy and her designs. “Color brings life and light to everything,” she notes. “Unfortunately people learn to be afraid of colors when they are kids and some people are afraid of anything that has a shine to it.”  With her products, she does work with neutrals such as black or brown. “But you will never find a plain black or brown frame in my collection,” she emphasizes. “It will always be mixed with something bright such as red. I am so sick of black.” Faniel likes to work with blue for men’s eyewear. Her personal favorite color is turquoise. “It’s the color of the sea,” she notes.

For inspiration in her eyewear collections (she does two a year), she turns to nature. “Nature is perfect. It has an amazing and never-ending mix of colors. I also get inspiration from people’s eyes and the energy in their eyes, but nature is where I turn first. Before I start working on a collection, I sit down, look around and meditate for an hour. Then I draw different facial structures and sketch frames on them. I also take photos of my customers and draw eyewear on the pictures. I like to work with real people, not models,” she says. She also experiments with color combinations. “I add a bit of this and that until I get what I want. It’s much like altering a recipe when cooking.” After she has created shapes and colors on paper that she is happy with, she sends the drawings to France to be made into models.

Now that the boutiques and her eyewear collection are underway, she and her husband are focusing on fulfilling her dreams of traveling the world to sing. But she will still be designing eyewear and maintaining the optical business.

“That’s possible because my message is the same for eyeglasses and music. Life is a gift. We don’t help anyone by hiding our personalities. We need to express ourselves and enjoy our differences, whether it is in music or eyeglasses.” ■