Montreal-based Want Les Essentiels has amassed a cult following over the past nine years for its understated but considered, practical leather goods — first among well-dressed men, and more recently with women, whose interest in the brand's unfussy backpacks and totes triggered the launch of a dedicated handbag line last fall.
Previously only available in a few stores including Barneys, Opening Ceremony and Ssense, New Yorkers can now find the full women's range (and men's, of course) on a quiet corner of the West Village in a cozy, sun-drenched store that — until a few months ago — housed Marc by Marc Jacobs (RIP).
The brand's twin co-founders, Byron and Dexter Peart, designed the space to feel like a home. Think of it as the West Village townhouse to The Apartment's Soho loft. You walk into the "living room" with its huge, envy-inducing arched windows, where men's and women's bags sit on shelves around mid-century furnishings; then travel into a his-and-hers closet where you'll find Want's smaller leather goods, men's shoes and knits and some third-party brands to round out the inventory, including a small selection of knits and footwear for women by 1205, Japan-based Tomorrowland (which also just opened its first US store in NYC) and French label Michel Vivien. In the back, there's a serene space to sit and drink tea as well as an assortment of super chic home goods for sale. It's the kind of place you never want to leave.
The brand has a different store concept in Canada called Want Apothecary, which is designed to feel like an old pharmacy and sells skin and body care products and brands like Acne and Maison Kitsuné. Want Les Essentiels's founders wanted their first store outside of their home country to be different. "We really wanted this one to be about Want Les Essentiels, so it's the first time we're doing a store under the brand moniker, but it had to be about the essentials of life — these are things you desire you covet but they're the essential things you need every day," says Byron. "We could have made a very beautiful store with [just] bags and shoes but then you don’t have the depth... this feels like a much more modern way to retail."
While the Pearts have no plans to open another US store anytime soon, they do have their eye on Europe. "I could easily see us in London in a couple of years having an environment in the same sphere," says Byron.
For now, the brothers have their hands full with an upcoming women's footwear launch. They're starting with a simple sneaker, which, similar to the way they launched women's bags, was sparked by female demand for men's styles. "When we launched [the men's shoes] in January, in one month we were sold out of all the size 39s and we called around and every woman was buying our shoes." That will launch by early November, with more styles to come next year.
Rather than splitting responsibilities, the Pearts do everything together. "It's probably not the most efficient way but we love that everything's going through two very distinct filters between us," says Byron. "People look and they know how much thought's gone into every product." Though as the company grows, that's only becoming more challenging. "We always say we need a triplet now because it's too much work."
They are simplifying in one area though — the brand's name, which has always been the mouthful Want Les Essentiels de la Vie. "We're transitioning out of the 'de la vie,' Byron explains, in part because they want to focus on "essentials," and in part because it's easier to say. "Our business is going really well in Japan and the first time they asked us for the pronunciation, how to say it, afterwards I was like... ok we just have to make it easier for our customers."