Running a successful lifestyle store – the kind of shop that combines a little bit of fashion, a little bit of beauty and, inevitably, scented candles – comes down to having a good eye. Byron and Dexter Peart, the identical twins behind the leather-goods company WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie, have four of them. That's evident in their retail ventures, WANT Passport (a travel lifestyle shop at Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport) and WANT Apothecary (the boutiques in Montreal and, as of this past week, Toronto). The brothers, who have a knack for showcasing their favourite international labels alongside their minimalist line of bags, were recently named accessory designers of the year at the inaugural Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards. In advance of WANT Toronto's slated opening, they spoke with Globe Style about their design influences, the meaning of It bags and wanting to take WANT Apothecary to other parts of Canada.
We live in an era of It bags. Have you bucked the trend?
Byron: Our bags are devoid of overt logos. In fact, they're devoid of any detail we deem unnecessary or irrelevant. WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie products are designed to make a subtle yet confident statement.
Dexter: In the fashion world, which is inundated with flashy brands and trendy pieces, you could say that our more discreet, timeless designs make our products the anti-It bags. We want our bags to be relevant and practical for seasons and years to come.
How did your choose fashion as a career?
Byron: We both studied business and economics at Western University in London, Ont., but we always wanted to be active in both the creative and business sides of the fashion industry. When we launched WANT Agency, a wholesale distribution agency with offices in Montreal and New York, with our partners Mark Wiltzer and Jacqueline Gelber in 1999, there were very few international brands available in North America that stimulated us. We sought to change this by seeking out and offering fresh design talent from Scandinavia, beginning with Acne, Filippa K and Nudie Jeans.
Dexter: Seven years later, we co-founded WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie [to fill] another void we observed in the global retail market, this time for luxury leather accessories that catered to the needs of those in motion. We were travelling all the time and struggled to find accessories that didn't force us to choose between what looked good and what worked well. WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie strives to deliver both.
What are your design influences?
Dexter: We're heavily inspired by industrial, interior and architectural design. We're huge fans of design concepts that stand the test of time, such as the Series 7 chair by Arne Jacobsen or the Habitat 67 building complex in Montreal, where we both live. As we design our products, we often revisit groundbreaking design icons like these, then consider what makes these concepts timeless and yet extremely relevant.
How did you decide to expand to Toronto?
Dexter: We have experienced great success with the WANT Apothecary retail concept that we launched in our home city three years ago, and we really felt that it was a natural evolution to build an outpost in Toronto. We have actually built quite a strong following among Toronto clients who come to Montreal for business or pleasure and always make sure to come by the shop.
Maria Rosa Di Ioia of Idea Design did the interior of the Montreal store. Have you worked with her again for Toronto?
Dexter: Yes, Maria has once again helped us to interpret the store's loose concept of a 19th-century pharmacy translated into a timeless yet modern style emporium. We did a significant amount of structural renovation and consequently have also worked closely with the wellrespected Toronto-based architect Drew Mandel.
Are you carrying the same brands?
Dexter: We will be offering the same fashion labels as in Montreal, including Acne, Filippa K, Maison Kitsuné and grooming brands such as Aesop as well as an expanded women's shoe section and a feature wall dedicated to our WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie collection. We're the exclusive Toronto retailer of Michel Vivien shoes from Paris and Stop The Water While Using Me! grooming products from Germany. We're also one of only two retailers in Canada carrying Byredo Parfums from Sweden.
You've been travelling lately to Paris and other cities. Are you seeking inspiration?
Dexter: It's quite common to find us peering through windows of old apothecaries in London, lifestyle shops in Tokyo and vintage-furniture stores in Paris for design and service references that we hope to infuse into our concepts.
What else is on the horizon for WANT?
Dexter: Before the end of the year, we plan to open more retail concepts within Canada.
Byron: And we'd love to one day open in other cities around the world. We've been very fortunate to collaborate with some amazing people and brands that share a similar vision, such as J.Crew. And we intend to continue working that way with interesting new partners in the near future.
This interview has been condensed and edited.