The Conversation

Why the Creative Crowd Can’t Quit Vancouver

BY CELESTE MOURE  •  PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALLISON KUHL  •  NOVEMBER 20, 2018

Why the Creative Crowd Can’t Quit Vancouver

BY CELESTE MOURE  •  PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALLISON KUHL  •  NOVEMBER 20, 2018


It may pale in size to design hubs like New York and London, but Vancouver has a surprisingly energetic appeal in the startup world, according to two entrepreneurs putting it in the spotlight.

Lyndon Cormack and Omer Arbel were aware of each other long before they met. Vancouver is that kind of city—a place where vision, talent, and creativity gets you noticed. Arbel, a sculptor and lighting designer is the co-founder of Bocci, whose portfolio of sculptural fixtures can be found in museums, restaurants, hotels and private residences around the globe. Cormack, with his brother Jamie, are behind Herschel Supply, whose rugged, retro-styled collection of backpacks, bags, and travel accessories have become ubiquitous from Toronto to Tokyo. “I remember a friend of mine saying, ‘Hey, have you heard of these crazy brothers that have a really successful backpack company?’” recalls Arbel. It would take a few more years—and thousands of backpacks and lighting fixtures sold—before the pair finally connected to work on what would become Herschel’s first flagship store in their hometown.

Inside an historic Gastown building, the 5,000-square-foot space with views of the harbor juxtaposes original maple flooring, brickwork, and tin ceiling tiles with new additions like an infinity mirror installation, coral reef–inspired lighting, and sculptures by a range of Canadian artists.

Herschel joins a host of trend-setting companies to blossom in Vancouver: Within a mile of the new boutique, shoppers can visit the flagships for 1980s revivalist Fluevog shoes, athleisure pioneer Lululemon, vegan shoe maker Native, and performance clothing brand Arcteryx. The headquarters for digital titan Hootsuite is just a ten-minute drive.

Cormack and Arbel recently stopped for a drink at Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s Prohibition Bar to discuss their collaboration and why they think Vancouver’s smaller size is perfect for entrepreneurs with big dreams. Read on for excerpts from their conversation.

“It’s never even been remotely tempting to move.”

Omer Arbel

 

Vancouver has a lively start-up scene. What is it like launching a business in this city?

Omer Arbel: If you have a spark, internally, then Vancouver’s a fantastic place to work. A lot of creative people and entrepreneurs rely on an ambient sort of community of energy around them, and they require a propelling group surrounding them. Vancouver is an amazing place to work because there’s very little dogma, culturally, that you have to respond to.

Vancouver’s youth, and frankly, obliviousness to a lot of the things that we’re interested in is actually an amazing advantage because it allows people like us to form it or create it. And also to really do novel things, because there’s less inertia in the creative process. I think that’s really subconscious. It’s not something you’re ever aware of, but it’s something that constantly exists behind the scenes.

Lyndon Cormack: A lot of the complaints that creatives have about Vancouver is, “There’s not enough community.” That is absolutely correct, but there’s also a very positive aspect to that. A lot of other cities have rules you’re supposed to follow. We didn’t know that, and that was a huge benefit to us. You trust your gut a lot more than what others are doing, because there aren’t a whole bunch of great examples.

How did the conversation of working together on the Herschel store come about?

OA: We had a series of conversations, even before we started working together, that established the foundation of shared values and aesthetic references. And that was really invaluable, because it set the tone for the store project when it began. We traveled around looking at spaces together for a year or so before the actual store project began. Just listening to Lyndon and Jamie’s dreams about retail and ideas about experiences, exchanging references from popular culture and from art.

The store is in Gastown on Water Street, near the iconic steam clock. How did you decide on the location?

OA: We looked at a lot of places before we walked into what was previously a carpet store. Having the ability to go from Water Street right through to the water was something that really excited both of us.

LC: Yes. When you go to the Herschel store, it teaches you what we really care about. There are all these things that, with great rigor, we decided on. Some people might just say, “Oh, the windows open at the back.” Well, that was a monumental project to get those things to open—we wanted people to walk to the back of the store and have fresh air and feel the juxtaposition between the inside and outside. We set on an end goal of creating an extremely special place where people could experience Herschel products, and I believe we achieved it.

Vancouver is surrounded by incredible natural beauty. And Vancouverites are a very outdoorsy lot. Did that influence your work or become a source of inspiration?

LC: Whether backpacking or hiking or camping or exploring, these are part of our regular lives in Vancouver. So that would naturally influence our designs. That being said, our bags live in urban centers. We spend a lot more time on subways than we do on mountain peaks with Herschel.

“The store allows people, consciously or subconsciously, to really understand the things that Herschel cares about”

Lyndon Cormack

 
Have either of you, as your companies grew, ever thought about moving your operations elsewhere?

LC: Vancouver is the place I want to live and the place I find most beautiful. We also like leaving it. I talk occasionally about those Vancouver nights when you’re flying in and it’s a blue sky or dusk is setting and the sunset’s happening. The mountains are in the background and you’re like, “Oh my God. I’m so glad I’m home.”

OA: We have a big thing going in Berlin and a satellite office in London, but it’s never even been remotely tempting to move. I share Lyndon’s love for Vancouver. There’s a nice feedback loop that’s started to develop in the last 10 years between what we’re putting out in our portfolio and the way the city influences us back. Weird synergies start occurring creatively and professionally when you stay in one place for a long time, especially a city like Vancouver, where the community is small and you start to get to know everyone intimately.

You get to know everyone, and you get to work together. Do collaborations appeal to you? Do you seek those out?

OA: Collaboration for me has to do with the kind of knowledge or craft that I can bring into our studio and art direct. So, when I think of collaborators, my team of glassblowers is at the forefront of the people that I exchange ideas with. It’s more of an internal creative collaboration.

LC: Even when we first started working together, you always referred to people you worked with as your collaborators. Which is probably also that attitude of knowing that you can’t do it yourself.

OA: Yeah. And I always say “we” when I describe our work. It’s not my work, it’s our work. People say it takes 10,000 hours to be good at anything, right?

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule.

OA: It takes 10,000 hours to be a great glassblower. It takes 10,000 hours to be a great architect. It takes 10,000 hours to be a great ceramicist. If you add those up, it’s way more than one lifetime. And I want to be great at a lot of different things. The only available shortcut is partnering with people who have spent that requisite time to become masters.

Who are the people you think are doing pretty interesting things in Vancouver?

LC: I have a huge love affair for Inform Interiors and what they’ve done for the city. They get a lot of respect and they deserve every ounce of it for bringing beautiful design to Vancouver. Being able to walk into this place full of magical design creations, it can change people.

OA: I like [Chef] David Gunawan’s Farmer’s Apprentice a lot. I appreciate that there’s a risk-taking culture in the kitchen that lets those experiments occur that, most of the time, yield very exciting and fascinating food, and then once in a while don’t.

LC: I believe in people who try to take the benefits of what a city has given them. When people talk about Vancouver, they talk about the mountains and the oceans. I have a true admiration for people who let that speak for itself, and then try to add beauty. Omer is a perfect example of someone who amplifies a city, rather than take away from its natural beauty.

 
The Herschel store is an example of adding beauty to a city, from a design perspective and a retail experience perspective.

LC: This was the first time that we built a store for Herschel. It’s not my home or my brother Jamie’s home, it’s Herschel’s home. When you go to someone’s house, whether it’s beautifully decorated or very simple, you learn a lot about what a person cares about—whether they’re eclectic or minimalist or whatever they happen to be. What I love about the store is it allows people, consciously or subconsciously, to really understand the things that Herschel cares about. Herschel, the brand, loves design, and it loves experience. Herschel loves robust projects and loves celebrating ideas. We’re very honest in what we are as a brand.

What other beautiful places or experiences do you share with out-of-town guests when they come to Vancouver?

OA: I take them to the Museum of Anthropology, in which you find the most beautiful artifacts of native peoples. The Brutalist building was Arthur Erickson’s masterpiece, constructed when he was a young man, It has this bright energy—it’s a little bit immature, but in a good way. And then, inside, you see these beautiful wood artifacts, sometimes well-preserved, other times badly preserved. It shows what this place was before Western contact. It shows what this place is now. It’s a beautiful conversation between those things.

Do you have a favorite neighborhood, a place you like to explore when not working?

LC: I love meandering through Gastown and seeing some of my favorite shops. I love going to Neighbor, which is also a great retailer in this city. There’s an amazing shop called Haven and another shop called Roden Gray. There’s a little gift shop called Old Faithful that I like to look into, and Litchfield, which has interesting gift items.

As told to Celeste Moure

Details

Herschel: 347 Water Street; +1 604-620-1155

Inform Interiors: 50 Water Street; +1 604-682-3868

Farmer’s Apprentice: 1535 W 6th Avenue; +1 604-620-2070

Museum of Anthropology: 6393 NW Marine Drive; +1 604-822-5087

Neighbor: 12 Water St #125; +1 604-558-2555

Haven: 52 E Cordova Street; +1 604-696-6896

Roden Gray: 8 Water Street; +1 604-689-7302

Old Faithful: 320 W Cordova Street; +1 778-327-9376

Litchfield: 38 Water Street; +1 604-428-5880

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Written By: Celeste Moure

11.20.18

Locations: Vancouver

See more: Art & Culture, Style

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