Saager Dilawri must be the heir apparent to Mr. Rogers. Maybe it's because he's a well-respected member of his community or that he always dresses impeccably unpretentious for every occasion. There's one thing I know for certain though. He's founded Neighbour, a valued addition to the retail fronts along the red brick lanes of Water Street in Vancouver's Gastown district. After acquainting himself with the neighbourhood for the better part of this year, he finally sent out an invite to all his patrons to partake in an official grand opening celebration also featuring the 1st book release of dear friend and photographer, Jennilee Marigomen. We managed to whisk Saager away from the night's melee for a few brief words about the shop, the opening and being the new kid on the block.
"... I’ve always been into the underdogs. Sidian, Ersatz and Vanes are one of those brands where no one had it in Canada. "
Interview by Justin C. Lintag
Photography by Mario Soriano
To Saager Dilawri and Neighbour
Can you say a few words about your grand opening tonight and how the partnership came about with Jennilee Marigomen?
We sent Jenn an email when we first opened. My friend Kyle [of Sit and Read, Brooklyn] who designed the store sent her an email to take photos of the shop but then we ended up doing a lookbook for Spring. We hung out and became friends, and I figured I wanted to do something with her after talking to her, as I had followed her blog and work. I’ve also seen her work in Inventory Magazine and I’ve seen it through her Tumblr, which is really heavily followed. So when I came here we met, we spoke and it organically grew from there.
We wanted to do an opening but we just didn’t know when. I guess I was kind of scared to do an opening by myself because you don’t know how many people are going to come. Jennilee is from here so she has a lot of friends here as well.
I'd say you’re in the most unique architectural retail pocket in the city; Gaoler's Mews/Water Street, is just incredible right now. How are you fitting in with the "neighbourhood?"
I think everyone has a unique take on either retail or art, and it’s nice that they’re all independent businesses as opposed to chains. I think that helps a lot. We send people to Haven and vice versa. We send people to Roden Gray, Inventory, whatever it may be, back and forth. I think everyone has their niche but at the same time are going after a similar customer base. Everything from restaurants to coffee shops to galleries to retail stores, I think they all have their uniqueness.
There are tons of brick-and-beam as well as online shops with great men's garments and things that can sometimes get bunched up together or looked at as having the same aesthetic. Describe Neighbour’s specific taste in the product you bring in.
I feel like some of our stuff is pretty playful and we’re not really brand heavy. Some of it people know but a lot of the brands we carry people have no idea, or we’re the first retailer in Canada or North America to have it. I think it sets us apart to a certain degree. Obviously there’s some overlap and a lot of the brands other guys carry I’d love to as well, but you have to fit it with your own niche. I definitely think there's a difference between each aesthetic.
Can you tell us about the particular fascinations with some of the brands you carry, even with a fairly succinct stocklist you manage to bring in brands that are rare in North America.
Norse Projects I just thought was really clean. Some of it has branding but anyone can wear it, it doesn’t matter who you are. Sometimes a 50 year old man will come in and buy a t-shirt and then you might have some kids come in, who know Norse Projects and follow the brand pick up the same t-shirt up. With the other brands, I’ve always been into the underdogs. Sidian, Ersatz and Vanes are one of those brands where no one had it in Canada. Svensson, for example, always has a good story and they’re super nice people to deal with. You can actually say, "I met this guy [behind the brand] and he explained to me why he started his business, why he works with certain factories, what detail goes into it and the reason for picking certain styles of fabrics."
I think that’s nicer than just going into a showroom and not knowing who did what. You just have people trying to sell you things. I’ve always liked the story of bringing up small brands. It’s a goal of mine to grow with whatever brand that you see on the up. Svensson was featured in Monocle but no one has it. You hope to be that type of originator who’s stayed with that brand as it grows.
Earlier you mentioned a bit about Kyle of Sit + Read. Tell us how you first came in contact with him and his work.
Kyle and I worked on a couple Unis projects when I was in New York. I emailed him one day because with Unis, we wanted to remerchandise everything plus add in some furniture. We didn’t have the money to do it and I had been following Kyle’s blog, which led me to find out he was in Brooklyn. So it made sense to send an email and see what happened. The next day we met and he said, “Let’s sell some stuff in the store as well as remerchandise the place.” It made sense for both parties as we were getting a revamp for the store and he was able to get some exposure. We didn’t have to pay for the furniture but he was able to sell furniture in our more high traffic area in New York. All his furniture did really well at the store, it matched [Unis’] aesthetic and it allowed us to maintain a friendship. Later we worked on two other projects, one with a friend’s store in the Hamptons and another one with Unis where we revamped the store for a second time.
So what was that like– bringing a new project out to Vancouver and flying him out to draw plans for the build-out?
It was tough for two months. We knew what we wanted to do but it was difficult because Kyle was over there. So we found a project manager here who was willing to execute and find the trades to develop Kyle’s ideas. He came out twice for 4 or 5 days at the beginning when we first met with the project manager.
Is this his background, interior design and whatnot?
He went to university for something else but he started doing set design. With that he allocated a lot of product and eventually was able to sell that online. Now he does interior design for other people as well.
This specific little cove in Gastown Vancouver went through a total renovation just before you guys popped in the spot. You’re the first business to actually occupy the space, tell us how you injected your personal decor and theme to run through the shop.
It was all cement when we came in. We wanted to keep our style with the architecture that was already there. We just kept it really minimal and let the clothing speak for itself. The lighting is beautiful, it’s bright in here but I had nothing to do with that.