Driving up Laurier Ouest, architect Gilles Saucier spies Michel Brisson, a 3,700-square-foot menswear boutique designed by his firm Saucier + Perrotte Architectes, out of the car windshield and gasps. “The façade today is green,” he says excitedly. Much to his delight, the storefront’s gray glass curtainwall reflects an image of the nearby foliage. The modern storefront, as tailored as a bespoke flannel suit, is wearing a seasonal print.
This store is the third retail outpost designed by Saucier + Perrotte for Michel Brisson’s eponymous boutique. (The first closed as the new location opened and the second fits smartly in a historic space in Old Montreal.) Saucier credits Brisson with introducing contemporary men’s fashion to Montreal, as trim styles from European and New York designers fill the shop. The largest of the three outposts, the newest space occupies a Brutalist-era bank building on a busy street lined with two-story storefronts. “The existing building is a bit like a naked body,” explains Saucier with a smile. “It’s like we added clothes to connect it to the urban environment. And in a way, clothes, like the façade, act as a way to promote yourself, to show an attitude.”
To get to the structure’s real attitude, the architects stripped away four decades worth of renovations, revealing a rough-hewn concrete mezzanine tucked inside a brick shell. They updated the interior with a series of smoked glass and mirrored walls that seem to expand the space into impossible dimensions. Black metal display fixtures reference the minimalists of the art world. Shirts and pants hang from Sol LeWitt–style grids—square black steel sections suspended from the ceiling and outfitted with built-in fluorescent lighting. The concrete mezzanine is put to use as a more intimate VIP shopping area, with additional clothing and accessories on display. Tucked underneath in the main boutique and lit by a fabric luminous ceiling, leather boots sit on Donald Judd–like cubes. Equal parts arty and edgy, a cantilevered cash wrap skinned in black rubber emerges from a wall of white shelves.
As leaders of a Canadian firm with a knack for the refined, Saucier and his partner André Perrotte have since 1988 methodically established a portfolio of finely executed projects across Canada with a few in Europe, Asia, and Africa. In 2004, they represented Canada at the Venice Biennale and in May, were shortlisted for a cultural institution competition in Bogotá, Colombia (a roster that included SnØhetta and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, among others).
Even as their projects grow in scope, and in spite of the international recognition (and the tony company), Saucier + Perrotte’s work is far from the usual flashy fare. The firm focuses on careful detailing and spatial illusions. Smaller designs, such as the series of Michel Brisson boutiques, offer the opportunity to experiment and tweak a concept. For instance, the smoky glass and mirrored surfaces in the new store are part of an ongoing fascination that Saucier has with how spaces are perceived when reflected. “A real mirror is objective because it sends you a clear image,” Saucier says. “A black mirror will give you depth, but image is obscured. A gray mirror is interesting because it is in between the two.”
Saucier likes to play with the blurring between what is real architecture and what is an optical illusion. He points out the reflection of thin fluorescent fixtures receding infinitely into a nonexistent space. They are dimensioned such that it is difficult to catch where the store ends and the wall begins. “I shift perception by changing the distance of reflection so that people are a bit confused,” he says. “In my mind, confusion means that the object always remains dynamic and challenging—challenging for the eye, challenging for the mind.”