Montréal Design as Seen by Caroline Monnet
Caroline Monnet is a visual artist and filmmaker from Québec’s Outaouais region. She has been based in Montréal for four years. With French Canadian and Algonquin heritage, Caroline often speaks to her Aboriginal identity in her work. It is expressed in the artist's films, sculpture, painting and installations. Caroline’s impressive portfolio includes short films (screened at numerous renowned festivals including TIFF, Rencontres Internationales and Sundance) and art installations—at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), Walter Phillips Gallery (Banff) and Montréal's Arsenal, McCord Museum and Musem of Contemporary Art. She is currently preparing a multimedia installation that she will setup in November at Parc sans nom (“Unnamed Park”), situated beneath the Van Horne overpass. While promoting a positive image of Aboriginal Peoples remains her biggest cause, Caroline Monnet also takes inspiration from architecture and the modernist movement, and is interested in industrial materials, glass and plastic. Caroline offered us an in-depth look at Montréal's design scene, seen through her eyes.
How would you define Montréal's vibe?
For me, Montréal's vibe is both relaxed and constantly moving. It's an interesting encounter of francophones and anglophones, and there’s a European influence you don't find anywhere else in Canada. It always surprises me. It's like a big village with the opportunities of a big city. I also love the sense of community. I think it's a good mix of elegance and humility. It's a place where you can breathe and grow.
How would you define Montréal’s sense of design?
Avant-garde, yet accessible, with great attention to detail.
What location, institution or building most embodies Montréal design for you?
I love the Pierre-François Ouellette contemporary art gallery. The building previously consisted of artists’ studios, but the interior of the building has since been entirely renovated. It's all light and high ceilings now. When you go inside, you almost feel like you're in Europe—a bit like Montréal in general.
What Montréal creation do you find truly inspiring?
I recently discovered UNTTLD. They exercise great creative freedom in their fashion design, which is simultaneously modern, comfortable and humble. The styles are interesting and typically Montréal, in my opinion. I also love the contemporary jewelry by Anne-Marie Chagnon.
Why is it important to you to support local design?
To maintain our economy, grow together and encourage the people in our inner circles.
In what way would you say your style is typically Montréal?
I've only been in Montréal for four years, and I travel a lot. So I don't know if my style is typically Montréal. I'd say it adapts to my environment. In Montréal, I like my style to be comfortable and modern, without being pretentious, and with a touch of whimsy. I need to feel comfortable, particularly since I like to walk everywhere.
How does Montréal inform your work and creative expression?
Montréal is constantly reinventing itself. It offers venues for different communities and allows experimentation. It's the same thing in my work, where I explore different mediums and themes. There are no limits in Montréal. You can inhabit the grey areas and blend different creative scenes. That might not be possible in a larger city.
Where do you go in Montréal for a coffee?
Café Olimpico, because it's a classic and there's always good company. The vibe is good and it's the best coffee in the city.
I love L’Express. It's a French restaurant where you can spend hours—it’s unpretentious and so typically Montréal. And yet, sometimes you forget you're in Montréal when you're there. I also really like Chez Doval, a delicious Portuguese restaurant with an amazing ambiance, located in Little Portugal. It's incredible to have such an eclectic and multicultural food scene in Montréal. There's a variety to choose from for every occasion.
Snack N' Blues, a bar that always plays good music. They used to have DJ Coco, an older gentleman who played jazz and blues. It's a timeless fixture of the Mile End.
I recommend strolling down Saint Laurent Boulevard. In the Mile End, I really like vintage boutique Ruche, where I always find amazing and unique items.
For hanging out?
I like getting lost in the streets and alleyways of the Plateau, discovering the buildings and observing the ever-changing architecture. Gilford Street is one of my favourites.
What’s your favourite neighbourhood?
The Mile Ex, for its industrial side. It's starting to get saturated, but you can still sense the possibility of doing things and transforming interesting spaces. The neighbourhood reminds me of Berlin, with its garage cafés and spaces that pop up in unconventional places. I'd like to live there.
Tell us about a hidden spot you’re going to regret sharing with us.
The patio at Club Espagnol, which is probably the best in the city. Sunlight all day long, an immense yet hidden location, drinks and delicious tapas. You need to be a member to get in, but you can invite up to seven guests.
You have a design-obsessed friend coming to Montréal. Where do you send them?
I'd send them to meet the team behind graphic design studio Feed, whose office is on Casgrain Avenue. Their design embodies Montréal: it's elegant and avant-garde, it says a lot with few words, and yet it's still contemporary. I’d also tell them to get a drink at Big in Japan. It's somewhat hidden, and you feel special being there.
This post has been presented in collaboration with Souk@SAT, avid supporters of Montréal design.
Laure Juilliard, blogger
Laure is a writer, community manager and the founder of the blog Une Parisienne à Montréal. She’s also an epicurean globetrotter who’s always on the hunt for innovative concepts and must-try restaurants. In 2016, she co-founded Slow Journeys, a webzine that focuses on ecotourism and design.