I am getting really excited for Nationale, the shop/gallery going in at the corner of 28th & E. Burnside, in the former Do or Dye salon space. Unfortunately, the weather has been a hindrance to getting the doors open, and the Frenchwoman behind the operation, May Juliette Barruel, is now estimating it will be this Friday or Saturday at the earliest. I keep checking in at her blog, linked above, for tantalizing descriptions of the products as they arrive, like traditional Marseilles soaps that can be used for just about everything and which she describes as smelling like pure soap: "not rose petal, lavender, almond, green tea, iris, or oatmeal. just soap." Plus there will be lots of books, art openings, accessories, candies, other toiletries from the Continent like toothpaste and deodorant, and more. I wrote about the venture in my forthcoming column, but of course there is never room for all of the questions and answers, so here it is in full:
What brought you to the US, and did you come to Portland directly? Why Portland?
I was born and grew up in Grenoble, which is a mid-size French city in the alps (see Winter Olympics 1968 for its moment of glory). I moved to Boston when I was 20, got married to my American boyfriend, lived there for two years and went to photo school. We then decided to live in Paris for a year but ended up staying three. I finished my BA in English and got an MA in American literature from the Sorbonne Nouvelle. We realized the Parisian life was taking a toll on us in terms of stress and financial worries and decided to move back to the States. we were originally planning on going to Vermont but changed our tickets on a whim at the last minute and picked Eugene because of its local organic food, proximity to the Pacific Ocean, and (embarrassing but true) the Country Fair. When we separated a year later, I wanted to live in a city again and moved to Portland. I've been here for eight years now.
Prior to deciding to open up shop, what have you been doing for work, and do you have any other pursuits?
I've been working for Stumptown Coffee for almost 4 years and will still be there part time after the shop opens. I am in charge of curating the downtown cafe and am a "floating" barista at Belmont. Art-wise, I've worked a bunch with textile and I've been focusing on photography this past year (mostly through my blog).
How did the idea and circumstances for the store come about, and what do you plan to have there? I've seen what you have written about it on your blogs, and it sounds like a mix of French toiletries, literature, and art, but can you give me a rundown of the full vision?
I've wanted to have a small shop for many years, and the idea has kept evolving with time. When I was at the Oak Street [Building] I had plans for a bookshop but ended up just giving books to my friends when they'd visit. I curated a french movie night there for a long time, as well as some music shows. The new store will probably be a combination of all this. In addition to the retail side of the business, I want to host intimate, private evenings with one specific musician or writer. My job as curator for Stumptown downtown has also been a huge influence on deciding to have a tiny gallery of my own because I've enjoyed doing it so much, have learned a lot, and simply want to do more of it. I think this will be a perfect balance because this place is so tiny that I'll only be able to show very small work, as opposed to the cafe, which is gigantic and where I have to be very conscious of the general aesthetics of the place and make sure the pieces do not get lost in it. In terms of the circumstances, it kind of happened almost on its own. I'd just got done working on this huge photo show and felt I had no energy left to put into anything. But then I walked by the space with Jen Olesen from Valentine's and she encouraged me to take the number down. I called and within a day decided to jump in. What I plan to have in there is a sample of candies/toiletry/art/books/old trinkets/magazines/accessories that i feel grateful for and inspire me in one way or another. Items of quality that do not have to be so expensive you can't ever afford them, but that still feel very special. Because of the way they were made, a feeling they provoke, or the traditions they respect. I'm also excited to introduce French products to the Portland market, stuff I grew up with that were never a big deal but that I really miss now that I'm here. The simplicity of every object will hopefully come through and is an important part of my vision.
The store is to act also as a gallery, can you tell me about what kinds of events we might expect to see happening in the space? Is there a particular genre of art that you would most like to concentrate on showcasing?
What I have in mind right now is mostly work on paper, and I have a dream list of people I would like to work with. This of course will depend on circumstances other than just liking someone's work. I'm floored by what Tauba Auerbach is doing. Does that mean she will have a show at Nationale? Probably not. Many people that I would like to showcase are already at the next level, they have representation or they might need for their career to exhibit at an established venue, somewhere they can count on sales and reviews, etc. That being said, these five wonderful friends of mine (Niles Armstrong, Carson Ellis, Dana Dart Mclean, Tim Root, and Ryan Jacob Smith) have all agreed to bring work by between now and February, so we're starting off with an exciting selection of Portland artists. I don't have any kind of art history education and I don't read about art, so my choices are completely from the heart. I'm trying to learn more about what's going on, especially outside of Portland, and this particular blog has been very helpful. I'm very excited to see what Ryan Boyle comes up with for his February solo show. His Stephen Wolf gallery exhibition in San Francisco a couple years ago literally made my legs weak. Event-wise, I'd love for Oregon Book Award recipient Tom Blood to do a reading. Or have musician friends play small concerts and recreate the intimacy found in projects such as the take away shows for instance.
Do you plan to have a grand opening celebration, and if so, when? What would you like that to entail?
I think the celebration will be in the small, subtle moments. I'm pretty nervous as it is, so I'd rather keep it casual and mellow for a while and reserve a proper party for when I'm able to enjoy it. I also am not going to have official hours until after the holidays, but I'll try to be there as much as I can in the afternoons/early evenings. The blog will have updated details.
Care to share any thoughts on beginning a new business venture during times of economic turmoil?
That's the part I'm trying really hard not think about when I'm falling asleep. For me it was more a symbolic move of just doing something and not being plagued by my fears. But then again, the only thing at stake is the money I've been saving for the last 10 years. I'm not opening a restaurant or taking out a huge loan. I also have an amazing circle of friends providing important support. My friend Curtis' contractors (accelerated development) have been incredibly generous and have helped me out with a full time pro, Aaron, who redid all the walls and completely turned the place around. I'm also trying to remind myself that despite the economic hard times this country is facing, it would never be possible for someone in my situation to start the same business in France. So I feel grateful for having this opportunity and will do my best to not contribute to the crisis by panicking or putting everything I own under the mattress.