Initiated by AGAME (the Mile-End Business Association) with members on a mission to support local business, community & positive evolution of the neighbourhood we love.

Dev by Barkas. Design by Wedge. Creative Direction by Sarah Di Domenico.


Between the temporary exhibitions and continuously redesigned shop, we never get bored of (re)discovering Bref. We chatted with Cynthia, one of the two founders of the concept-shop.

Hi Cynthia!

Could you explain the concept behind Bref?

Bref is a gallery-boutique presenting emerging creatives and brands, limited editions created by artists, collaborations and capsule collections. Each chosen theme guides us through the research of original products. We then showcase them over a period that last between 6 to 8 weeks long. The shop space is transformed according to the chosen theme. From one theme to another, we try to diversify the universes we propose. Sometimes it can be really specific, sometimes it can be broad. In either case, the space like an exhibition, but where you can buy.#bref1#bref-2

Does Bref mainly showcase the work of local artists?

We present the work of quite a few local artists, but we enjoy to complete our themes with creations originating from the international community.

“Overall what is important for us, since the launch of Bref, is not whether a piece is local or not, it’s more about giving visibility to independent production, limited editions and emerging creatives.”

It’s this perspective that brings us to navigate between artists and objects, more than a proximity perspective. It creates unlikely confluences and local artists are happy to see their work exhibited alongside the work of artists from elsewhere. There are already many beautiful places in Montreal where you can find the work of our favourite local artists. To avoid stepping on other store’s toes, we broaden our horizons and we work hard to find objects that aren’t yet in the Montreal market. It can be because they are coming from outside of Montreal, Quebec or Canada; and it can be because they are created by artists who essentially sell online or who pop-up occasionally at marketplaces like Souk@SAT and Puce Pop or who presenting their very first collections, etc.#bref-3

How does the ephemeral interact with your work? How does it influence your approach? 

Our world is hyper sensitive to movement. Usually, a traditional shop bases its stock seasonally. So when customers see the spring stock, for example, they won’t necessarily come back immediately. They might wait until summer to come back. Bref breaks those visit and consumption patterns, because the offer and the experience is different according to each theme. The Bref flavour is always there, we can feel it, but it’s applied to very different topics. People attend the vernissages or they see Bref as a week-end destination because they saw that there is a new exhibition and they are curious to discover it. Often, the themes attract new clients. People often ask if the shop just opened. In a way each exhibition is a new opening, even if Bref has been open for 2 years now. Perhaps you are not tempted by a specific theme, but then, suddenly, we present a theme that captivates you and you stop in. People feel as it is a brand new shop each time, and that’s great!#bref-4

Why did you choose the Mile-End over any other neighbourhood?

We were looking for a young and dynamic neighbourhood. A neighbourhood with a natural sensitivity to art, design and culture. Maybe we could have chosen another area, but we would have had to sensitize people to make them shop at Bref. It is easier here because there is already an artistic vibe impregnating the day-to-day life. The Mile-End has a nice neighbourhood life. People enjoy walking down the streets, they might be workers, tourists (because the area is on the hit list of places not to be missed in Montreal), passersby or residents: there is always someone walking around! The Mile-End was this area that checked all the boxes on our wish-list when we were looking for a place. At some point, we were looking around without a real intention to rent a space (we weren’t ready), but we found that perfect location and everything went on from there!#bref-7#bref-6

This summer 2018, Bref was on fire with a collaboration at the FM-R Station and a brand new pop up store in Boston, what brought you there?

Yesssss! Since Bref’s beginning, we were hoping to make our themes travel. We wanted to have a permanent place here in the Mile-End, but we also wanted to present elsewhere occasionally or send an exhibition made here to another place. It was an appealing growth perspective to us. When the FM-R Station (in Griffintown) launched its call for projects, we realized it was a great opportunity to try it. It was important to try it, to see if it was possible with our resources to offer two points of sale, with two different offers. It worked and we are happy with the results. Regarding the Boston pop up store, it’s a wonderful project we are really busy with right now! A Montreal-loving American property developer discovered us on Instagram and contacted us. He is working on the development of a new area in Boston and wanted to create an ephemeral retail town. They selected 10 concept stores lead by women to launch the project called the She-Village and we are part of it. We are the only Canadians. It’s a business neighbourhood, filled with young professionals, the contemporary art museum is nearby, and it’s by the waterside. We were amazed by the place, so we jumped on the opportunity!#bref-5

I’m going to ask you a very difficult question…

Go on! 

Who would be on your not to be missed Mile End’s artists, illustrators and designers list?

Only in the Mile-End? That’s quite restricted! What about from Montreal? We have a big crush on Cécile Gariépy. We love her! We included her on a lot of our projects. We suggest ideas to her, she brings others. She even did the first facade of our pop up store in Boston. We just worship her work!

We also like Miss Cloudy’s work. Also known as Pauline Loctin, she collaborated on the paper exhibition in 2017. She’s back on the paper exhibition in Boston. She has created a special series for the occasion. She works so well! She’s creative and does wonderful projects. Moreover, her journey is fascinating! At some point, she bought a book about origami, she started reading on the subject and it became a passion. A passion so powerful that she decided to transform it into her job.

But there are so many creative people in Montreal, we enjoy a ton of them. Each month, our favourite artists change according to our new discoveries! #bref-8

The shop brings something particular to art: it places it in the day to day life, democratizes it. Was this part of your concept when you created the shop?

At Bref, we weigh the art of words, which may sound scary sometimes. We use word art, but we also use design, creation. We present series of objects that come from a creative process. We will probably never present major artworks. We don’t have the structure to welcome those kind of objects. It’s not the mission we gave ourselves. At Bref, we wanted to create a place to present creative work in it broadest sense, but also affordable creative work. We aren’t a gallery. Everybody has his own vocation!  We offer a space to show some of our favs, new creators not to be missed, inspiring pieces, goods that tickle our curiosity. And we have so much fun doing it while being inspired by scenography and a museum ways of doing things. Each time, the most small object can be presented in a really theatrical fashion. That’s what we take pleasure in, giving a special aura to each piece, each items we have.#bref-9

Maude is an environmental designer. Concretely, what does it mean?

An environmental designer wonders about the conception of day to day objects, and the conception of interior or exterior spaces and constructed locations that form the environment we live in, to give it a soul, to make us live a special experience of the place.#bref-10

You are a brand strategist. Do you see something like a commercial specificity for the Mile-End, an identity, that you could describe?

Mile-End is a small community. There is something tight-knitted about it. There is a pride and an attachment. People love to wander, in a very positive way. They like to take things slow. There is the sensitivity to art we talked about earlier. People are aware. It’s also a lively and cosmopolite neighbourhood.#bref-11

Last question: what are your favorite spots in the Mile-End?

We enjoy Butterblume very much. Each time we eat there, it’s the best meal we’ve ever eaten! Phyllo Bar Melina’s, just around the corner, serves an excellent coffee. I love to go there. They offer  plenty of small exotic things. It’s always a pleasure to have a conversation with the staff and the owner. There is also Drawn & Quaterly, seriously, it’s impossible not to love that bookstore! I could stay there for hours. The new Pastel Rita is quite nice also. I love what they did with that place! The space is stunning and the coffee is good.

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Story, Photography & Editing by Mile End's Business Association
Revised by Scott Meleskie
Illustration by Mathieu Dionne