Born to Design, Arielle de Pinto Creates Frames for Centennial Optical

By Paddy Kamen

PortraitAn exciting future for frame design is assured. Young and multi-talented, Arielle de Pinto makes a strong impression with her eponymous collection from Centennial Optical.

There’s a lot to be said for coming to eyewear design from a diverse artistic background. Arielle de Pinto has enjoyed making art for as long as she can remember. “I was always into art as a kid, had a private art teacher while in high school and studied fine arts at university.”

While still working on her art degree at Concordia University in Montreal, de Pinto stumbled upon a specialty that has led to acclaim and a successful business that has nothing to do with eyewear. “I took a course in textile arts and was learning to knit and crochet. We were asked to create something structured and so I went off to the fabric store to look around. The only thing that caught my eye was costume chain.”

After trying several ways to work with the chain, de Pinto hit upon crocheting it into a necklace. “People responded very well and began asking for them. I became good at it but didn’t know if I could make any money with the jewelry. I tried the craft fair route but soon realized that it is not a way to earn a living. Then, gradually, my jewelry was accepted into shops.”

Her big break came when a New York City shop, ‘No.6 Store’, agreed to carry her line. “Very soon after that, I got a mention in the New York Times. Then it started to sell like crazy,” says de Pinto, who is based in Montreal. Another opportunity soon opened up when de Pinto was invited to participate in the Gen Art exhibition for Fashion Week in NYC, in September 2007. Magazine mentions became more frequent, she hired a publicist in Europe, and before long her elegant chain mail silver and vermeil work was appearing in Vogue and Elle.

De Pinto also fashioned exotic, eerie masks and sexy vests from the costume chain. The masks were featured in a film collaboration between de Pinto and the LA-based boutique and magazine THVM Atelier. The film was part of an exhibition in May 2011 at Italy’s VicenzaOro, the world’s leading exhibition of fine gold and silver jewelry. Indifferent to borders between art and fashion, de Pinto develops her art practice alongside commercial ventures.

While jewelry was, and is, her first love, de Pinto was well placed to try her hand at designing eyeglass frames. Her father, Steve de Pinto, heads Toronto-based Centennial Optical, which was founded by her grandfather, Roger de Pinto.

“I always enjoyed looking through sample drawers and learned to appreciate beautiful frames,” says Arielle. “Having been around the business all my life has definitely been an advantage when it comes to design.”

Steve de Pinto is understandably proud of Arielle’s success in the jewelry market. He’s also happy to have her on board, designing for Centennial. “It quickly became apparent that there was the possibility of transferring some of Arielle’s jewelry skill and talent into eyeglass frames,” says Steve. “We started out by having her help in the summer with temple designs. She consults with us on various collections and we launched the Arielle de Pinto collection in 2008. Every three months, we release new designs and the collection is doing very well.”

Linda Mulford-Hum, director of frames at Centennial, notes that, “Arielle brings a fresh, hands-on, artisanal approach to eyewear. Her knowledge and experience working with metals is a bonus for producing workable, cutting-edge design.”

The temple designs in metal are indeed interesting. “She has a gift for textures and interesting colour combinations,” notes Steve. “The collection is perfect for trendy, younger women. It is exclusive and while not inexpensive, it is affordable.”

One of the current knockout frames features a beaded fringe on the temples. Another has fascinating cut-outs of almost-abstract human figures. Colours include copper, champagne, taupe and red.

One gets the sense that Arielle would, perhaps, like to be even more cutting edge in her designs, while her father and Mulford-Hum might be more conscious about what the market will accept. Says Arielle: “I want to be creative and cutting-edge. This is the first round.” For his part, Steve notes, “You can come up with a brilliant idea that doesn’t sell, and the market is not forgiving.”

Clearly, Arielle is grateful for the opportunity to design frames and to work with her father. “I like being involved in what Dad does. And I also appreciate using him as a sounding board for my jewelry business.”

Don’t be surprised if you see the Arielle de Pinto name on other designer goods in the future. While she can’t reveal anything about her expansion plans at present, given her young age and overflowing creative powers, it’s highly likely that she won’t be stopping at jewelry and eyewear. However deep and broad her work extends in the years ahead, it’s a good sign for Canadian design that Arielle de Pinto is on the scene and making an impact.