Variation Design

Dominique Varlet

Words Mark Renton


A close knowledge of the market, plus the ability to transfer skills to young designers in order to create the models that meet the need and demands of the market: this is the secret of founder and Art Director of Variation Design, Dominique Varlet

How and why did you decide to create Variation Design?
I am a self-taught man and I was disappointed by the frames that I saw every day in my store. So, I learned, with the support of my family and many hours of training and testing, to acquire the skills to create a software by myself. After many tests, I created my first frames and I decided to go on the road to defend the ideas I had in terms of colours and shape. Thanks to the trust and the support of many opticians in my region I was able to continue and develop. Thus. Variation Design was born (2003).

What’s the meaning of the brand? 
VD is a play on words that I wanted to make with my initials to allude to the diversities that I aspired to find in our brands: through the concept of ‘variation as well as a varied ‘design’ that must be accessible for everybody. 

When did you transfer your knowledge and style to your team designers?
As soon as I was able to employ young designers my first objective was to teach them about the terms and the needs of the optical world. I think that you can only create a product as it should be once you have understood the concepts surrounding it. I like to think that my experience as an optician is valuable to them, because who better understands a product than the person who puts the lenses in? 

How does the team work now? 
Now, I am working with a team of three designers, each of them with their own speciality. They evolve and develop our products according to the needs of the company and the demands of the market. I’m continuously aware of the trends. I take part in the creative process at the beginning by suggesting ideas and principles and by selecting the models to develop. From then on, the designers organize themselves, make plans, define laser, cut, colours and so on and develop the products with our suppliers. When we get to the final prototype, we decide together if the frame matches with market and trends in order to launch a production run.

How did you develop the brand in the French market and in the rest of Europe?
I have gradually built a solid team both inside the company and on the road, which has enabled me to establish the company’s reputation throughout France. I am lucky to have sales representatives who actively participate in the life of the company and who always provide feedback from the customers. They embody our image and am proud to have a dynamic and motivated team that is in line with the company’s ideals. For the export markets, we acted step by step, starting with the European trade fairs close to France, presenting small stands. We now have a solid team in Germany and Belgium which is doing better and better and an Italian team which is developing. In addition to these two teams, we also have many distributors worldwide. 

How did you change your design and adapt your style to suit the different taste of the public over the years?
We have tried to evolve with the trends. We turned a corner around four years ago on our men’s models in order to renew them and to anchor the collection in a more technical mood, while keeping in mind that we are makers of colourful metal. For women on the other hand, for a long time we have been recognized by our successful models with ornamented temples. Slowly. our temples are being refined while our faces are becoming more and more sophisticated and coloured; to be in fashion whilst keeping our personality. Moreover, I give my designers free rein with their ideas. 

What’s the best of Variation Design in your history?
VD’s ‘best-of” has varied over the years. I remember the 2010 edition of Silmo when the 5936 Wings NO model was on all the order sheets. In fact, at that time our style was recognized for its very marked eccentricity. Later we added bright colours, as seen on the Elios and Esse models. Whilst the Tiffany and James models, for their part, thumbed their noses at a trend for acetate. In 2015, the Orchis model with its ornamented temples became the image of our brand. Then to finish, the retro vintage models revisited with current forms, like the Lina or Sonia for women’s models. 

How did you face and manage the new challenges of the pandemic? How are you changing your approach to the market?
I have come to realize more than ever the motivation of all my teams who stayed mobilized in order to keep the company up and running all through this period. At the beginning of the first lockdown only a few teams remained active: such as the designers, because for them it was right in the middle of the creative period and then also the accounting department which remained on active watch. We also provided a minimal service to our customers and kept in touch with them through digital tools. Regarding logistics, the most difficult aspect was to project and quantify the needs for stock: so, we decided to wait for as long as possible before launching our productions. The team mobilization and the loyalty of our customers have made it a success, just as we expected. I have faith in the future and in a return to ‘normal’ life. And we look forward to meeting people again at trade shows.

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