West 4th Street’s Most Wanted

Published October 19, 2015

ABOVE: BYRON AND DEXTER PEART AT THE WANT LES ESSENTIELS STORE.

There seems to be something with sets of twins dominating fashion design conversations, or more precisely, musings on modern minimalism. Case in point: womenswear designers Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen of The Row, menswear designers Ariel and Shimon Ovadia of Ovadia & Sons, and Dexter and Byron Peart of cult accessories label Want Les Essentiels.

Raised in Canada, the Peart twins are designers’ designers: their preferred aesthetic is pared down, stripped back, and no-fuss. Although the 43-year-old brothers (they appear much, much younger) and their primary Want Agency offices are based in Montreal, Bryon and Dexter simultaneously run and operate a second office in the Chelsea Arts Tower. Their business is a family affair; Bryon’s husband oversees the brand’s retail growth, and Dexter’s wife oversees Want’s public relations. The two families live just down the road from each other in Montreal.

Just before Byron and Dexter unveiled Want’s first-ever standalone boutique (neatly nestled on the corner of West 4th Street in Manhattan’s West Village), we discussed matters of well-considered design.

TEDDY TINSON: Why brick and mortar and why now?

DEXTER PEART: The message is really the brand name—really speaking to what we think is essential to people’s lives and the products that we make, how they add value. We’ve used the opportunity now to showcase and tell that narrative through points of sale including our own website as of last year. The retail store becomes this place of engagement, almost like a piazza. A place were we can really tell the story of the brand, but also exploring the idea of our customers being able to engage with us and tell us a little bit more about their needs and their wants. We feel like now is the right time because it gives us an opportunity to get closer to our customers, and get the customers closer to the product and also the value behind the product.

BYRON PEART: We always thought the brand was about community, and we want to have the customer write the story with us to a certain degree. Brick and mortar retail, in the traditional sense, isn’t that interesting to us, but the idea of a physical space and a community environment, where guests and customers will feel as though this is their home or that they’ve been invited into [our] home. This will be a non-traditional setting.

TINSON: How’d you settle on the West Village?

BYRON PEART: You mean, “Why on a residential side-street?” [laughs] It’s poignant and relevant to why the store exists as it does. We didn’t want to be on a high-traffic throughway, or even Bleeker Street, to be quite honest. [Our Bank Street location] is something of a destination to certain degree, but it’s also very familiar. So whether it’s familiar to the residents in the neighborhood, or familiar to New Yorkers as a wonderfully beautiful, tree-lined street with their favorite restaurants and favorite services, and now their favorite retail point, it would be the embodiment that we’re seeking to deliver.

TINSON: How difficult, if at all, was securing the former Marc Jacobs store space?

BYRON PEART: It’s a cool story. Being from Canada—although we’ve worked here for 15 years, we’re not New Yorkers—I guess we have this idea of an ideal New York environment that suits our brand, and the ideal environment to tell the story we want to tell. We never felt that it really made sense for our first store, maybe a second or third, but not the first, to be either uptown or downtown in SoHo. Dexter recalled telling someone yesterday that it’s been more than three years that we’ve been walking up and down West 4th looking at potential spaces, whether it was an art gallery—”Oh, I wonder if that might convert to a space if it becomes available”—or a corner shop. What happened with the Marc Jacobs space, it was always the most beautiful and most idyllic of all the spaces. Then we received word that the Marc Jacobs secondary lines were [dissolving] into the main line. We found out the status of the space, got an early in and were able to work with them; it turned out it was a mutually beneficial transition. It was a space that we would have never even dreamed of having because it always seemed so untouchable, but when it became available, we made sure that we didn’t miss out on the opportunity. What makes us most proud about securing this particular location is that it is our brand.

DEXTER PEART: We’re not really impetuous people, I know sometimes it might seem like we take lots of risks…we do, but at the same time, this was more measured. We really knew where we wanted to be. It was a little serendipitous for it to happen.

TINSON: Will Want expand into new categories with the opening of the new boutique?

BYRON PEART: Over the last year we’ve expanded our offer significantly. However, some of the stores that we would sell to in a wholesale environment, like if you walked into Barneys, often you would find Want exclusively in the men’s section, although we really saw ourselves in many ways a unisex brand. The exciting thing is last year, we expanded into women’s then we were able to be placed in the women’s section. Then in men’s, we just launched footwear in January. So, if someone walks into Selfridges in the U.K., or Barneys, they would find us in different areas. But by bringing all of these new divisions of Want in one space feels very, very attractive for the retail store. On that note, we have expansion plans for a few things. Our new location will be the first to carry our women’s footwear line. It will be a limited rollout with a sneaker launching this fall, which we’re very excited about. The store will also have exclusive items across all areas of our offer that will only be available in the West 4th street store—that would be exclusive bags for men and women, and footwear.

TINSON: Are there plans to expand into ready-to-wear?

DEXTER PEART: That’s not something that we see in the traditional sense, but we cater to the essentials of life, so there is an area we’ve been developing in cashmere and various accessories that will be available exclusively at the store. Everything from knitwear items—everyday sweaters you might travel with, maybe throw in your luggage, to a blanket in this range. There are also hats and scarves.

TINSON: Who supplies your cashmere?

BYRON AND DEXTER PEART: Loro Piana.

DEXTER PEART: We’re a leather goods brand. It’s how we started, and leather has become a natural, critical base source material for us. We’ve developed leather and organic cotton, something our customers also know us for, and there are various treatments we’ve been working on. The cashmere is a new and third entry for us. Working with natural materials is essential, things that have longevity. It’s the story of our brand.

TINSON: Is there a color palette for the cashmere range?

DEXTER PEART: A pretty essential palette…[laughs] Beige. Grey. Black. Really those key items in your wardrobe that you rely on—things that can be worn in the day, re-worn at night, and then used on the weekends. The concept of the things that you use regularly in your life is the space that we live in. Once you get into a truer “fashion” space, it becomes less and less where we live, so that’s why these Essentiels knitwear pieces that you wear on a plane, and then take it with you, those are the types of transportable pieces that you want to pack. If you left them at home, you’d be kicking yourself because you’ll wish you had.

BYRON PEART: Oh, and everything comes in navy! [laughs]

TINSON: Your “needlepoint” trim became something of a temporary signature. Are there any new fabrications you’re exploring as this season’s special addition?

DEXTER PEART: We’re always attracted to some contrast, things that create fantasy.

BYRON PEART: Things do not appear as they seem.

DEXTER PEART: This season, we’re introducing a new take on bouclé. It has a new feel and new look, but save for the organic cotton and leather, we haven’t attached ourselves to any particular material. Things that have elements of versatility and permanence are most interesting and inspiring to us. It’s why we’re so inspired by architecture and design, going back to the home element of the store.

TINSON: What are your personal must-have essentials in the new store?

DEXTER PEART: I’m especially into the leather magazine racks from Vienna by Carl Auböck. Byron and I love the concept of finding confidence in the slowness, and creating a lived-in environment with reminders of home in the store. And of course, the Byredo scented candles—things that make you feel at peace.

BYRON PEART: A Josef Frank bookcase from one of our favorite home and interiors stores, Svenskt Tenn in Sweden, completes the notion of the physical space. When we were uncrating the boxes, we felt it was the perfect complement to the environment. And you can only purchase it if you go directly to Sweden. It’s a neat find. If we’ve done our job well, then it people will spend time and discover this new retail environment with us. Then we will feel we’ve delivered on a promise.

DEXTER PEART: There’s no “finality” at day one, it’s very much a living environment.

THE WANT LES ESSENTIEL VIE NEW YORK FLAGSHIP STORE IS NOW OPEN AT 301 WEST 4TH STREET. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE LABEL’S WEBSITE