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.

Comme des Enfants

In conversation with Marie-France. The shop owner who never really grew up.

#c5#c2Allo Marie-France!
You worked on movie sets for nearly a decade. How did that world lead you to Comme des Enfants?

I loved it. Loved the people in it. But I wanted to do my own special creative project because my job was helping realize creative projects, and I’m very good at that and I’m a team person. But it was more technical, more organization, and so I just wanted my own project that I could be creative in and grow. There was always the thought of eventually having a family and as much as it’s crazy fun being on sets, it’s also crazy hours. I wanted more creativity and more freedom.

#c9#cde1#c4#c7What was it about the world of kids that you have such a strong connection to?

I never left that world basically. I read kids books. They’re beautiful and fun. I buy kids souvenirs for myself when I travel. Travelling through Laos, what I wanted to bring back was toys. I love kids movies as well. Spirited Away, Totoro, and all movies by Studio Ghibli. Oh, and Where the Wild Things Are ! I am really drawn to that world and the imagination and discoveries it implies. The wonder and the excitement speaks to me. I think I never quite left. I hope to keep this feeling even when I’m very, very old.

What sorts of ‘kids souvenirs’ do you pick up for yourself when you travel?

Interior decor books for children’s bedrooms or playrooms. I’ve brought back two inflatable, weird, neon-coloured animals, a pink one and an orange one, from Cambodia. My husband was like, “ …what are you bringing back?!” But they are really fun and beautiful and are now in my son’s room. The specific type of animal they are is very unclear. Deer, maybe … It looks like a deer …

#cde5Maybe it’s the simplicity or the open white space, but your shop has a Scandinavian feel. Is it a source of inspiration for you?

In ways but it wasn’t necessarily my first inspiration. The world of children has changed so much in the last few years and I saw so many beautiful things being made and created, especially in Europe. The kids’ stores I visited in Paris were gorgeous and I thought, we don’t have this in Québec or Montréal. They create playful universes to walk into. It’s not just about certain styles or specific things you are buying. It’s much bigger than that.

“It’s about appreciating beauty, taking time, and heirloom quality toys. Here I try to make the space to appreciate play.”

#cde8#cdes1#c6Comme des Enfants is certainly your own universe. What is the feeling you want everyone who visits this planet to feel?

I built Comme des Enfants by instinct. I want this place to be a welcoming haven. Cozy and calm but playful. I want this place to speak to your inner kid and capture your coups de cœur. The name of the store means, “to be like a child”, which speaks to me. I love this expression. When I see the adults who visit express themselves, much more than the kids — the kids take the space for granted and are like fish in water because this is the world they live in — but the adults are delighted. There is something that touches them. You see in their eyes these are things their inner kid would’ve wanted or things they want for their child, now.

#c8#cde9#c3About a year after opening the shop you welcomed baby Félix into the world. How does being Félix’s mom inspire the life of the shop in relation to your own?

Félix makes it all the more real. I can imagine being in this world or pretend to be in it but he’s the real thing. The real deal. If I become ‘too much of an adult’ somehow, I go run after him or he shows me something and is like, “Wow! Wow! Wow!”. He’s wow-ing at everything.

He brings me back to that child-like place and keeps me there much more. Yes, it took that within me to create the store but sometimes it’s hard to stay in that spirit. The adult world is a lot of responsibility and sometimes it’s hard to let go and return back to that. He brings me back.

How do you let go and play?

I play with my son outside a lot. Toys are lovely and I’m trying to surround him with creative things and play freely but I love exploring outside. We go on outdoor adventures. I meet so many amazing people working in this field who inspire me.

I work a lot so I don’t play as much as I’d like. Balance is hard so this is a tough question for me. But I am thankful to be surrounded by inspiring, creative people and discover things through their eyes that oftentimes I wouldn’t have access to. We can grow through the experiences of other people. Their interests become my interests. I love when people share their discoveries.

#cde3#cde4#cde7#cde2#cde6There’s a playful and design-focused quality to the items you choose. What are some of your favourite products?

They’re all coups de cœur but I loooooove these little activity books by Minus Éditions and they come in both English and French. It’s a small French company with wonderful people. Their goal in what they create is to help you connect and to encourage complicité (bonding) between adult and child. Each activity book touches on a different and interesting subject that you get to discover together. There’s architecture, great artist movements of the 20th century, subjects like Naughtiness or Love. You discover together, you open up, you have conversations, you learn more about one another and you ask and answer questions like, “What is love?” and “How do you fall in love?” 

There’s even one about politics that explores, “What is a tyrant?” and “What is a dictator?” You get to talk about royalty and political initiative and forming your own government. So you really get to talk about real and interesting things with your kids. You might start with this book but it opens discovery up even wider. You go to the library, you talk with other people.

They even do books specifically for relationships between grandparent and grandchild so that they can learn about each other and talk about things like, “What were you wearing when you were my age?” and “What kinds of things were better when you were a kid?” To me, it’s amazing.

I also really love Le Gros Manuel which is a book that has all different types of activities. There are recipes, bricolage, fort building … it’s huge. You hide this book in the wardrobe and pull it out when you don’t know what to do. It’s super creative and you’re the coolest mom ever because you always know what to do.

I really love my kites made by a small studio in Brooklyn called Haptic Lab. They collaborate with artisans in Bali and the ones I have in the shop are all silkscreened in their studio. I just love kites in general but these are beautiful. They are symbols of freedom. It’s also very convivial —friendly, lively and social — Hey! Let’s go fly a kite!” Like the song from Mary Poppins!

These toys by Des Enfantillages are really fun and the company is family run. The kids try out the products, the grandparents do the production, and everything is lead by a creative duo who are also a couple in life. They’re graphic designers who became toy makers, and so the mix of both makes amazing toys. They really think about the object too. For the slingshot they usually have pom poms but they also have flower bombs — little balls with seeds that grow edible flowers. They’re all my coups de cœur, I could go on and on!

#c1When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I didn’t know. But I didn’t want to grow up. I never understood why people wanted to. I was like,No, I’m good”. I loved stories, always have and always will. Tell me a story. I love it. Anne of Green Gables is my favourite. She was a very imaginative girl.

What’s advice you’d offer to someone who’s thinking about flipping the script, like you did, to open their own business?

Do it for you and no one else. Pick one thing you’re really passionate about and focus on it. You have to be passionate about it and really love it. Because sometimes it gets really hard and you still have to be able to see the beauty in it. And surround yourself with really awesome people.

Taking a walk around Mile-End with Félix, where do you go? What’s your spot?

We really love that little alleyway that’s in between Waverly, Esplanade and Jeanne-Mance and between St-Viateur and Fairmount. It’s like a little secret passage in the Mile-End where people gather and hang out with their neighbours. To me it’s really special. And the Champs des Possibles. It’s a piece of wild inside the city and it’s also a gathering place and an ‘anything is possible’ kind of place.

And of course, Kem Coba. I need to try all their ice cream flavours and especially like anything with cassis or chocolate. Félix looooves gelato.

I also look forward to trying all the brunch spots in the neighbourhood with him. The Butterblume, Cardinal Tea Room (mmmm scones!), Arts Café, La Petite Adresse, La Petite Maison, Fabergé, Sparrow and all the others! He’s almost 2-years-old and such a busy boy so it’s tricky keeping him eating quietly for a long time. For now it’s mostly me or his dad running after him around tables, which is also fun in a different way!

For really running around though, the parks are great. I like parc Lhasa, all the kids of the neighbourhood seem to meet there! And St-Michel park on the corner of St-Dominique and Laurier, on hot summer days, has a really fun splash pad! And of course, while we stroll, we do have to say “Allo!” to every cat we meet!

Marie France's M-E

Story & Editing by Sarah Di Domenico
Photography by Wedge
Illustration by Mathieu Dionne