Good craftsmanship is the foundation of any quality product. Mathieu Mudie, an artisan craftsman, knows that from his own work, and he keeps it in mind as he oversees the retail projects for Zeppelin Development. After being tapped for that job, Mudie moved to Denver from Montreal earlier this year. His first project was establishing the Made in a City rotating retail experience at Zeppelin Station, a series of three-month pop-up stores; he also curated the artisan retailers in the Source Hotel and Market Hall, which just opened next to the Source.
As RiNo gets ready for a crush of business from Crush Walls, we spoke with the man responsible for filling these cool new retail spaces.
Westword: What inspired you to get into the retail world, curating and setting up spaces like these?
Mathieu Mudie: I didn't start with retail, actually. From a brand perspective, I got into retail at the end of the cycle. My partner, Rachel Fortin, and I created different brands. We were making everything in-house and then we went wholesale. Before that, we used to do the whole craft circuit and travel across the U.S. and Canada making our own bags; we used to do leather bags and wallets, and purses with leather, mostly, so that's how it started. In Montreal we started opening the retail spaces. First one, and then a second one, which was doing very well. It was around 5,000 square feet; it was kind of our flagship store. Our brand was the main focus, but we carried other brands, things by our friends or just things we loved. We did accessories and we carried apparel for men and women, and objects, all kinds of stuff....
I met Zeppelin in Montreal and there was a strong connection to see what they were doing and what their vision was. They really liked what we were doing and our store, so they approached me to do a store here. ... I was lucky that Zeppelin offered to have me oversee their retail and projects. I thought it would be a perfect fit for me after Montreal. I came here to visit and see everything and meet with them in January, and then two weeks later, I moved here and started working on projects.
Retail is the part that I really like. Everything is done under the Eyes Open umbrella. We are going to slowly introduce new products from Eyes Open in a multi-brand retail space. We'll start back up with bags and more stuff, so pretty soon there will be Eyes Open collections. We are doing it a little backwards here, creating the brand first and the retail after, but that is just because that's how things came along here.
In Montreal, my partner was a fashion designer. She would manage the production side and I would manage more the retail side that was not actual products. She would do product development. It was natural for me to come here and do that, because it allows me to work with all these brands that I like. I like things that are well made. I like cool designs. I like people. I have been around makers my whole life, in the crafts circuit and working with all those designers. So this is a good opportunity to go and meet these amazing people and work with them to create spaces that are up to the standard of what they are making.
What was the name of your brand in Montreal?
I had lots of them, but Lowell was one....It was inspired by the French and Canadian history in my family and Jack Kerouac, who was actually from Lowell [Massachussetts] as well. That was sort of the inspiration behind that brand.
I know that the first city in the Made in a City series was Montreal. How do you go about picking the cities?
Montreal was easy, in the sense that I am from there and I knew a lot of people from there. First I wanted a wide variety of products and brands. ... It was the first time we were experimenting with something like that, so I wanted to try new things. I think the idea is to have a lifestyle or a concept with more than one product, but they work well together. So someone can come here and buy ceramics, a T-shirt and stationery, but it all works together. A lot of them were my friends, and they do cool stuff, so I brought them here.
For one week, the Crush Walls festival is taking over the three bays, and then we are launching Portland. A few weeks ago I spent a week in Portland on a scouting trip, and I had a lot of meetings, and I just went from workshop to workshop. ... They have a really strong makers community. Discovering a city through its makers is amazing. I don't want to reveal everything yet, but we have an amazing lineup for Portland; we have some more established international brands, as well as more up-and-coming and edgy designers. We have a lot of different categories. I think Portland will be amazing.
We will launch that in mid-September, and have a launch party with a band from Portland and a bar takeover from Portland. The Portland one will go until the end of December, throughout the holidays. Right after that, I am doing Mexico City for January, February and March. I am going on a scouting trip in October to Mexico City. So I am very excited. After that, I want to do Iceland. So again, it is all retail and all makers, and it is just a great way for people to really see the best a city has.
With Eyes Open and at the Source Hotel, it is more permanent. We work with the brands in ways to create and have them on a more permanent basis. I think retail is hard now, and you need to be creative to have people come into retail spaces instead of ordering online. I think online is great, but we all need something more than that. We need that connection to people and to see stuff and touch stuff. What we carry is not fast-fashion. It is very well-made products that you have to see and touch to see the difference. I think people still want that, and want to interact with great spaces.
Like the space here at Zeppelin Station, where you have bars, restaurants, retail; you can just hang out. The hotel is the same way, and it just creates a whole experience. In the hotel we are working with Vinyl Me, Please, so we have a listening station for people, we have the whole retail counter and kiosk with two turntables. You can drink and shop. I still think people are looking to have that interaction. Online is cool and it's practical, but we are trying to do something else. I think you have to be creative and bring cool brands and cool concepts here, just bring more options for people and make it as risk-less as possible, by showing the people of Denver what Denver can be and also making them want to go shop.
How do the retail Zeppelin Station and the Source differ?
The biggest difference is that at Zeppelin, the shops are temporary and at the Source, it is more permanent. The brands there we want to help build over time in this new market, Denver.
The cool thing about having a three-month pop-up is that you can work with it. You know you can launch it and promote it. It also changes enough that it keeps people interested and coming back. I think it's a cool idea to change it often. That's one of the big differences between the Source and Zeppelin; it's different concepts. Working with brands in pop-ups can lead to more permanent spaces. We want to be able to have that flexibility.
I think that they are still similar because I don't work with stuff that I don't like. My point is that I am trying to talk to the same person, the person who wants to buy well-made products that will last and be of good quality for their money. It's well-designed, cool products. We are really on the edge of what is happening all the time, so both are part of the same universe.
What are some brands, or people, places and things, that inspire your fashion sense and personal style?
That changes over time. Personally, I really like things that are well made, and I know where they are made, and how they are made. Everything I wear, I always know who it's by and how. That's a very important thing for me. Other than that, there are some things I like that are clean and neat, but I also like really busy designs. So it is hard to explain my personal taste... .
It changes. I am influenced by where I travel. There are so many things that influence me, but the base of all that is that I really want to know where things come from and how they are made.
What are some colors you like?
I mostly wear navy or black.... With Lowell and other brands in Montreal, we used to stay really black and white and neutral colors. Now with Eyes Open, we are going into pop colors. I still like black and white, but I like adding pop colors to all of it. Our main color for Eyes Open is industrial green, because we still want to have that idea of making things. A lot of sewing machines and cutting tables are that color of green. We also used an aged-copper color. We use them differently, for more pop, but it is still comes from the background of workshops and making things.
You used to design bags. What is your favorite accessory?
I would have to say bags. I love a good bag, and shoes. I love shoes and boots; I'm not a sneakerhead. But I like leather boots and shoes. I have a lot of bags and boots. The other thing I really like are hats. Any kind of hat. I like caps, beanies, fedoras. I bought a Goorin Bros. hat recently.
What are you excited about in the Source Hotel?
Eyes Open is managing the space, but we have Poketo coming. They are a great stationery brand from L.A., where they have four stores. ... The fact that they chose Denver as their first space outside of California means something. They have really great products and that space is amazing in the Source Market Hall.
We are doing a full space of Winter Session. They are a Colorado brand that does canvas and leather bags and wallets. I have always liked what they do; they have an amazing workshop here in Denver. They do a lot of wholesale, so this will be their first storefront. It's going to be like their flagship space. I am really happy to help them merchandise; it looks amazing.
We have lots of other cool brands, like Vinyl Me, Please. They are a record club, and every month they put out new limited-edition records that their subscribers can purchase. They do reprints of classic albums. They work with the artists to create these amazing vinyls that become like an art-object piece. Online it's great, but seeing them in person is beautiful. They are also headquartered here in Denver and ship records all over North America, but no one really knows. So now they will have a shop for the first time with a listening station, and you can listen and buy records. It adds to that customer experience.
What kinds of retailers are at the Source?
We have apparel, accessories and even apothecary and care products, along with Native Eyewear, which makes sunglasses built here in the U.S., with lenses from France. Very high-quality product for a good price point.
We have the Poketo space, Winter Session space and then Eyes Open, which we work with other apparel brands like Naked and Famous, a denim brand, but they do shirts and other stuff, too. Now they have a really cool women's line, so we will have the collections for men and women. I am really excited to be working with all the brands.
How did you go about picking the brands for the Source Hotel?
I wanted there to be different categories. It's a hotel, so we have care products, but even the toothpaste is made in Italy; we are trying to elevate everything. We even have a deck of cards, but they are artistic. We are trying to have the very best and very artisan. We have some bigger brands, but they keep that same philosophy.
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Would you like to add anything?
I would just like the people of Denver to check out what we are doing. We are trying to bring some really cool brands with cool designs here. I think it is worth it: People are ready to invest in a good meal and good wine, and that is amazing, and a good thing. I think it's time for people to take that mentality and apply it to fashion and retail.
It is important to know how things are made, where they are made. It may seem pricey, but if you think long-term, and if you buy classic things, it will last longer than one season. We are trying to offer great products for an affordable price. ... These are artists who are not charging a lot for what they are doing. Just like leather ages better, or nice canvas, nice materials will just get better with time.
The Source Hotel and Market Hall is now open; find more information on the Source Hotel here.