Last week, during Pitti Uomo, I took a brief respite from the oppressive heat and popped into WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie's "greenhouse," stocked with the brand's smart, unisex accessories and mercifully pumped with air conditioning.
Founded by Montreal-based twins Byron and Dexter Peart, the label has already won over the menswear scene with its sleek, practical accessories tailor-made for today's tech-driven world--think grown-up backpacks with perfectly sized inner pockets for all your tech gear or a man clutch that unfolds into a tote bag. With business growing fast (according to a Business of Fashion profile, the brand posted revenue growth of 77 percent for 2012) and a J. Crew women's collaboration set to hit shelves this fall, WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie is primed to make waves in the ladies' department soon. (They can already count a few Fashionista editors as fans). So you might want to start practicing pronouncing their name now.
We caught up with one-half of the fraternal design-duo, Byron Peart, to chat about the new collection, how the J.Crew collab came about and why he thinks those Pitti peacocks are good for business.
Tell us about the new collection. For spring/summer '14 the collection theme was really about new beginnings--spring is always a good time to have a restart. For our own brand, we felt that we were in full bloom, that's sort of what the story starts with. It's also about where art meets fashion and design. We have inspiration from Corbusier, Picasso, David Hockney, Yves Klein--there are a lot of strong blues in the collection.
There's a lot of texture this season, too--and a little bit of illusion. One of our backpacks, for instance, is coated to look like rubber but it's actually canvas--so you get the lightness of canvas with the look of leather.
That's so practical. Yeah for us, our commitment is really for organized travel--all of our products are named after International airports. We're treating fashion with a refinement that takes functionality into it. Something that really looks interesting on a design level but more importantly works on a function level.
What do you think are the most important components of 'organized travel' accessories? To me the most important thing is, it should be easy. When it comes to functionality, sometimes you think of there should be all these compartments. But that's not necessarily true. When you're traveling you need things that work for you. We travel a lot, and as I said we named our items for international airports because we think [our customer] is on the go, they have enough other things in their day that are hectic that [their accessories] should be very seamless and natural. Functionality and convertibility are key [picks up the convertible clutch-to-tote bag]. This can take you from day to night, or from office to where ever.
Why do you think you've been such a hit with dudes--and are still finding your footing with women--even though all your items are totally unisex? We trend more menswear because our distribution channel is such. And because naturally, our product is more technology-driven, so the market kind of put us in that. It's a strange thing, if a woman wants to buy a business briefcase she has a hard time finding that in the women's department--she'll find purses and totes but not a laptop bag or briefcase. But one of our best-selling bags, [a tote bag], could easily work for a woman--the size and proportion is really good for a woman, but then I can wear it too.
On the other side of that coin, some of your styles, while masculine, almost work better for a woman but are still most popular with guys. Like the clutch style that turns into a tote. It got me thinking about that Seinfeld episode, where Jerry wears a "man purse," and how much attitudes towards men's accessories have changed since then. Now it's cool to wear a man purse! I think [the change in attitude] is really because of the technology we now all have to carry around with us. A few years ago, it was all about the laptop computer bag, because people needed to carry their laptops. Then, a few years ago, when the iPad came out, it became more about folios--accessories followed the evolution of tech. Now, I think the envelope or sleeve is really relevant because things are getting smaller.
Menswear is also having a huge impact on womenswear these days. What do you think women can learn from men, style-wise? I think one thing to take from men is that men will more often take one item of clothing and use it in many different ways. So that blazer is not just like, 'I wear that and I put it on a one month rotation.' It's like he puts it on with khakis, then he can wear it with jeans the next day; he could put it with shorts. And I don't know that women treat their fashion in the same way as separates; for women I think it's more about total looks.
Being here, I see so much amazing menswear, I just want to copy everything every guy is wearing. What do you think is so special about Pitti? You can discover all different levels from suiting to tailoring--the diversity of the product and how many people are here--there's very few places in the world where I think you can get excited about menswear, and this is definitely it. Usually we take the backseat to women's.
At Pitti you're in the spotlight. Well you'll see no shortage of guys wanting to be in the spotlight here.
So what can we look forward to from you guys in the future? We're doing a collab with J.Crew on their women's side that's launching in August.
How did that come about? We actually did something with them three years ago on the men's side. We have a good relationship with Mickey and Jenna. We like what they do, they like what we do.