Store names are often a poor—and obscure—indicator of the products that lie behind its shiny glass doors. (Eugene Choo? Woo to See You? Umeboshi? And that’s just one block of Main Street!) At the succinctly dubbed Natale (4522 Main Street), however, the moniker couldn’t be clearer.
Named after the French word for native, the Riley Park shop stocks a selection of handmade apparel, art, jewellery, housewares, and gift items, many of them representative of owner Mireille Kessler’s mixed Peruvian and Métis background. Warm alpaca capes traditionally worn in the South American nation line racks, for instance, while beaded children’s moccasins—handmade by Kessler’s mother—are tucked on shelves.
Peru is also reflected in pan flutes, sustainably produced slippers, and Christmas ornaments made from gourds that have been etched and coloured in festive hues, an age-old custom in the country; First Nations art showcasing natural materials like deer bone, abalone, and buffalo-horn beads fills the walls and jewellery displays. The store, overall, is a hunter-gatherer’s dream, packed to the brim with all sorts of trinkets, wonders, and one-of-a-kind toys, though the assortment goes beyond Kessler’s own roots.
“I try to honour my heritage, my background,” she tells the Straight during an interview at Natale ahead of the shop’s one-year birthday this month, “while also having a lot of other people’s cultures in the store.”
Natale, then, refers to the arts and handicrafts practiced in other countries, too. Visitors to the modest boutique will find vibrant woven baskets from Congo, accessories crafted by women at a Laos co-op, hand-beaded robes from Vietnam, and leather wallets hailing from Morocco. Elsewhere, there are strands of coral beads from Nepal, intricately embroidered frocks from Pakistan, and sterling-silver pendants from India. Kessler estimates she has objects from nearly 20 countries in the shop.
Some of the Peruvian items are sourced from Kessler’s family business, though the majority of the stock is the result of relationships the fashion-design grad has built with makers and suppliers from around the world. She wants to support little-known artisans, she says, so they have the opportunity to pass on their skills to the next generation. “Sustainability is really important to me,” states Kessler.
Being from Vancouver, however, the 20-something entrepreneur also makes a point to champion local craftspeople like the Senegalese family that makes shea butter soaps and shampoos, her former neighbour who produces Ts adorned with the infamous East Van crow, and a close friend who founded a line of streetwear called LegendaryX. Alongside these items, Kessler carries her own collection of easy, breezy viscose and Peruvian-cotton womenswear which she debuted following her graduation from the Blanche MacDonald Centre in 2013.
“They’re just a lot of staple pieces that are made with really nice materials,” she explains. “In Peru, we’re actually known for having some of the best cotton in the world.”
Prices at Natale range wildly—from $45 for woven baskets to $146 for alpaca capes, for instance—though are reasonable given the quality of the handmade products and the fact that Kessler cuts out wholesalers, preferring to work directly with artisans, whenever possible.
Seen one way, the shop offers the designer a chance to carry on her family’s work in retail where they produce a range of Peruvian goods. Seen another, Natale is simply the store that Vancouver’s diverse landscape has been missing. “Vancouver’s really multicultural, so I wanted my store to be like that,” explains Kessler.