Sara Radin, Associate Editor for City by City, interviews the Montreal masterminds behind Canada’s cult accessories brand, WANT Les Essentiels
On a recent trip to Montreal, I spent time with founders and twin brothers Byron and Dexter Peart of Canada’s cult accessories brand, WANT Les Essentiels. Established in 2007, the luxury label makes timeless designer travel bags, accessories and shoes. The brothers offered up some insight into life in Montreal as well as how their design ethos speaks to the culture of the city.
Here we picked their brains about the young and vibrant city they say everyone loves.
How did the WANT les Essentiels brand come about?
We started this brand as a contrast to a lot of things that were already on the market – Accessories that were highly embellished and logo driven which met the needs of someone who was looking for faster fashion. We wanted to dial that back. Put design, function and sustainability first.
We wanted to design a family of products that would be essential to the way people live their lives and, in a way, help improve their lives.
Our products have a global perspective and an international point of view that is also inherently Canadian. This brand is a convergence of what we’re seeing around the world. We travel like crazy; we’re in every city around the world fifty-two weeks out of the year. Want Les Essentiels is a mixture of all of those things and how we’re able to present it in a meaningful, clear way. That’s what the brand speaks to and Montreal, in a lot of ways, supports that.
How does Montreal play a part in the brand’s DNA?
There’s so much inside the recipe of Montreal that is channeling through our product and naturally inspires us. It is a bilingual city so there is something really charming and elegant about its convergence of history and language. There’s conflict and beauty in it so we tried to carry that narrative into the brand. The city has a local feeling, almost like a village and while the community is so tight, it’s quite an international city. Montreal has a very strong, unique identity and point of view. It’s extremely diverse with a lot of cultural contributors so it is not defined by one singular thing: It’s defined by many cultural references. Creativity and commerce are both a strong part of the city and our brand.
As a brand we try to push the envelope of the art and design industry in Montreal and Canada.
We like playing a role in that, we feel very much like active participants. There’s an independence to a city like Montreal and there’s something wildly independent about our brand as well. It’s not a big city and we’re not a big brand. But it’s a city that dreams big.
How is Montreal evolving?
This city is really about pockets and little neighbourhoods, which are all stitched together in a neat way. We have lived here for twenty years now and it’s the first time we’re seeing all of Montreal getting connected. The city is filling in in a really nice, fluid way. Each neighbourhood has its own sub-identity or subculture, which is still very much in line with the fluidity of the rest of the city. There’s a confluence of different people from all different backgrounds who have a place here. It’s extremely collaborative and affordable here. It’s not a rigid place so it’s a very interesting place for people to be artists or musicians or start businesses.
What makes the WANT Apothecary store so special?
Our store and the experience of our store speak to our vision of how we see the city. We’re trying to create more than a retail shop. It is super friendly, informative, and specific and very curated. It’s really about the experience and trying to give someone an international experience that happens to be in Montreal. There’s something very tasteful, tangible and physical about that experience.
Why did you choose Westmount as the store’s hometown? What about the neighbourhood appeals to you?
Westmount has a lot of the contextual beauty of the city and it’s very charming with an old world aesthetic to it. There was opportunity to modernise it or kick start a new kind of life there. We didn’t want to just open a store where other stores are. We saw this version of luxury that we didn’t relate to so we created what we thought was a new way for our customer to identify with a luxury accessories company. It felt really interesting to go into a residential neighbourhood with other retailers and businesses like a butcher, grocery store, hair salon or a florist and add our version of a fine retailer. I don’t think we could’ve captured that in what has been traditionally the commercial area of Montreal. Instead, we wanted to create the language of a new shopping quarter that felt part residential, part destination.
What other stores should we check out around Montreal?
Michel Brisson for designer menswear and Caheir d’Exercices for designer womenswear. We’re friends with both of them and we encourage people to go there. There’s a kitchen and home store called Les Touilleurs that I’m absolutely fascinated by. I want to cook when I’m in the store and I think that’s something that takes you to another level.
Where do you go to get inspired in Montreal?
We live in a building called Habitat 67, which was built to re-envision what modern living would be. It’s a Montreal monument and we’ve been living there for years. I think it’s very inspirational to us but also to people who are visiting. It’s probably one of the most recognised buildings in Montreal. Outside of that, the Museum of Fine Arts here is somewhere we go regularly. It has world-class exhibitions, for example Mapplethorpe is here this summer. It’s an obvious place as it’s our fine art museum but it’s a wonderful place.
What are your favourite restaurants around Montreal?
Nora Grey, which is run by young entrepreneurs. It’s a totally independent restaurant in a not obvious neighbourhood in a not obvious building. It’s quite intimate. It feels like a hidden treasure and it feels like home. Not stuffy but extremely amazing food and a nice environment. There’s another restaurant called Chasse et Peche, which translated means hunting and fishing. It’s been around forever, at least fifteen years. Fifteen years ago it was at the forefront of the Montreal food scene and it still holds a very interesting place in the Montreal food scene today. In this city there’s a lot of pioneership where the early people who have an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit lead the way for others to follow. They really started the new international food scene in Montreal. I’ve been there five or six times a year, it still holds up to all the young places that are coming up.
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