Stepping into Atelier B is like entering a piece of Montreal’s garment production history, transformed into a bright retail space full of clean-cut men’s and women’s clothing and accessories. Located in what was once the Maple Leaf Hat and Cap factory, Atelier B’s dual-purpose boutique and workspace integrates many attributes of the shop’s past, visually reflecting the values of function, quality, and sustainability the brand stands for.
Created by Anne-Marie Laflamme and Catherine Métivier, Atelier B has been flourishing on the Montreal scene since its first collection in 2009. The best friends opened their namesake store in 2011 and recently celebrated its two-year anniversary with a show at Montreal Fashion Week. The brand is continuing to grow in its new space, where this season’s well-displayed stock is contrasted with future collections-in-progress.
We sat down with Anne-Marie and Catherine to find out more about the inner workings of Atelier B and its deep roots in Montreal’s creative communities.
Can you describe Atelier B for us? What is the aesthetic and where does it come from?
We work hard to create clothing that is good quality and we want the pieces we create to last. That’s why we create designs that are really simple and classic. We hope that a garment will stay in your closet for years and that you will still want to wear it after two or three seasons. That’s the main idea behind it. It’s casual, daily clothing you can dress up or dress down. It’s also important that the cuts are very flattering on women [of all shapes and sizes]. We try to keep things really authentic and real, so our cuts have to be this way too. You look good when you wear them, they’re easy to care for, and the quality lasts.
When you were developing the boutique to house your brand, what was your approach to curating the rest of the stock?
It happened very organically and naturally, as it’s basically things we wear to complete our looks and that our customers are already in love with. It’s all local– from designers that craft them carefully with love in Montreal or Quebec.
It’s also about the lifestyle around. We like to read books and magazines. Most of our customers work in the cultural industry, but they are not in the spotlight– like graphic designers, photographers, urbanists, landscape designers… we didn’t realize they would be our customers when we started, but we are so happy to have those interesting people [around].
Do feel that now, you’re tailoring your line to that particular type of creative customer?
Of course, because we’re getting to know them and we have direct contact with them, so it’s easier for us to satisfy their needs. But we also have very diversified clientèle. We want to keep our customers versatile. And when we have events going on, we’re so happy to be surrounded with smart, creative people.
How has settling down in Mile End affected the business?
It’s a neighbourhood we’ve cherished for a while, but we basically fell in love with this specific workshop and its history. It was also a smart choice for us because we have some fabric suppliers and some contractors that are in the neighbourhood, so we can just walk over and see them. You save time, you save energy– it’s very organic. People are so creative here. And with business owners, we don’t feel like there’s much competition. We buy from local stores and they are our customers too, so it’s this little network. It’s a very community-based neighbourhood and that’s great.
Tell us about your relationship with art and creation beyond fashion?
You see, we’re not that fashionable. We are very simple in the way we dress and we are passionate about the construction of clothing, garments– like all of the technical aspects. But we are not inspired by fashion. We are inspired by architecture, photography… by graphic design a lot too. We are really close to the art community, so we use the space to promote and present the work of inspiring people. We have music performances too– [music is] a big part of our lives. It’s nice to bring it in-house and it gives us a chance to be so much closer to these people.
Anything exciting in the works?
The next exhibition will be by Raphaël Ouellet. He’s the photographer who made our fall/winter lookbook this year. He created a project on the side that he will present exclusively here. And he told us something about a book no one knows about, not even us. It’s still a mystery. The event will be mid-November. [The series is] very sensitive, fragile and poetic.
You’re making a video for your upcoming collection (to be released early 2014), but is there anything else Atelier B is working on?
We’ve been wanting to launch a project for a year, but it takes time, money, and a lot of energy. We want to launch a collection of shoes that will be made here in Montreal. We’re slowly working on it and hopefully we’ll be able to spread the word about the project in early 2014.
A sample from Atelier B’s shoe design process.