By Catherine Mendel, Chanaiah Maxwell, Isaac Worthington, Stephen Laarkamp
A boutique selling $600 customizable glasses and high-end accessories would not be expected to thrive in the current failing economy, but Valerie Vittu defied expectations. A French immigrant living in the United States for eighteen years, Valerie is the owner and manager of Margot & Camille Optique, located in Old City, Philadelphia. The shop is named after her two daughters. There she sells sunglasses and eyeglasses in an array of customizable frames, available with or without a prescription. Prices range from $149 to $660 for a pair of glasses, and although some people see that as an extreme price range for something so inherently fragile, many believed that the quality and durability of the glasses Valerie stocks is well worth the price.
Valerie originally started with the idea of dealing in lesser-known brands because she believes that every pair of eyeglasses should be unique to their wearer. As someone who wears glasses, Valerie sees them as an extension of their wearer's personality. "My first customer... She had charisma," Valerie said. "She said she was looking for new glasses, and I thought, 'This is going to be a tough cookie.' She looked so great. She removed her glasses, and it was gone. Her whole personality was gone, and I thought, 'I am going to love this job.'"
Another shop selling expensive eyewear, Esque Eyewear, opened two blocks away only a few months after Margot & Camille Optique, but despite being in the same industry, they sold a completely different product. Esque sold brand-name glasses such as Gucci and Prada, while Margot & Camille catered to a more unique clientele, and while Esque had logos the standard consumer would recognize, Margot & Camille had an unusual flair that enticed customers.
Walking in, you look down to see jingling Christmas bells hanging from the inside doorknob and a small white dog barking up at you, begging to be scratched and petted. Paintings from lesser-known local artists, which rotate monthly, add a splash of color to the walls. Glasses in every shape and size sit on shelves and draw your eye in, and the personality of each pair speaks a different story. A pair of wavy, blue glasses belong to an artist; a more sedate pair in cool earth tones belong to a lawyer; and a pair of blocky purple and white glasses belong to the owner of an individual eyewear boutique.
Because of her distinctive idea and innovative thinking that kept herself afloat in an economic recession, Valerie has done well enough that she is relocating to a store double her current size. "There's two different people, who react in difficult moments," Valerie said. "You have the survivors, who are going to fight, and you have people who get numb. I choose to fight."