There's nothing about North Menswear to indicate that it's the store owner's first foray into retail. From the impeccably merchandised space to the thoughtfully assembled brand list, Pete Surprenant has left no detail untouched. Perhaps what's most surprising about the shop is its location: as many know, Laguna Beach is a world renowned surf destination and resort town - not the first place you'd expect to find a shop of this caliber. And to us, that's part of what makes this shop so special. We took some time to chat with Pete about how he arrived here and what's helped shape his vision for the space.
You’ve said before that this shop was 10 years in the making. Can you tell us more about your previous retail experience? What was the final catalyst that pushed you to finally open North Menswear?
I’ve worked in retail since 16 years old. Not to date myself, but that’s 20 years. I’ve worked big corporate retail with huge staffs and little mom and pop retail with just a few people. I’ve seen all types of retail business succeed and sometimes fail. From each experience, I’ve taken away little pieces of knowledge, whether good or bad, and basically formed how I waned to run my store.
The final push to open the store was becoming a dad. Sounds kinda crazy, I know but I kept asking myself do I want to be the dad who sits behind a desk and is unsatisfied with my work or do I take a risk and chase a dream. Ultimately, I wanted to lead by example plus running my own shop allows me to be very present in my son’s life. Nothing more important than that!
Are you from Laguna Beach originally? If not, did you move there specifically to open the store?
No, I’m from little Rhode Island, of all places. I grew up on the beach there and eventually chased the setting sun and surf West. I ended up in Laguna Beach not to open my store but because my wife is from here. It’s an incredible town with lots of creative folks and beautiful beaches. It’s home.
How well received is North Menswear’s aesthetic in a surf-centric town?
Laguna is very much a surf town. Shoot, half the reason I came here was to spend more time in the water. North is something Laguna hasn’t seen before; its overall aesthetic is more rugged than what the town is used to seeing. However, I do have some elements of surf in the shop. I am a huge surf history buff and try to showcase some of that in the shop. I have a few timeless photos hanging on the walls from Leroy Grannis, a well-respected surf photographer from the 1960’s as well as a couple of boards on display at all times.
The shop has been very well received, though. I think its been a breath of fresh air for people. When you are so used to seeing the same brands and beach attire in store after store, it gets old and stale. I often hear things like… “Finally, a good men’s store” or “Laguna has needed this place for years.” It certainly is nice to hear.
The shop is one of the best merchandised spaces we’ve seen. Aside from other retail stores you’ve visited, what were some of the inspirations and reference points you pulled from as you built it out?
Wow! Thank you! I take a lot of pride in making the space as interesting as possible. Most of my inspiration comes from family and places I’ve loved…Mountain cabins, old general stores, wooden boats, etc.
When doing the build out, I wanted to create a “thin” place where time is irrelevant. Somewhere you can connect with the past and present at the same time. The space is filled with vintage pieces from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, most of which belonged to family. Some of my favorites would have to be the portholes that my father-in-law salvaged from shipwrecks off of the Channel Island or the pictures of my grandfather during WWII. It was important that everything have a story, a story that speaks to where I am from but also a story that relates to the clothes I sell… because it is all timeless.
As a husband and father, how have you dealt with the demands of a small business while still making time for your family?
Oh man, that is an on going process. I opened the store so that I can be present in raising my son and soon to be… son(s). But as any small business owner knows, you’re never off. You’re always working and thinking about your business. I try my best to drop my phone and computer as soon as I get home and just be in the moment. Family time is precious and I do protect that.
You cite your grandfather as one your central influences. Tell us more about him and how he’s shaped both you and the store.
He was a huge influence on my life. He was my main father figure and a WWII B-24 Navy Pilot. He served 25 missions in Europe bombing German submarines. He was tough and strong. He did what he said and said what he meant. He certainly was from a generation that will never by repeated. When it comes to his effect on what I do now, it comes from one place: we never left the house unless we looked our best and this was not in vanity but it was a form of good manners. Dressing well was just as important as saying please and thank you. I think that really formed my interest in clothes. Now as a shop owner, I can look around my store and see the roots of a lot of what I sell in my grandfather’s generation.
What are some of your favorite local business that you like to support?
The Den Barber Shop and Shave Parlor to get cleaned up.
Anastasia Café for breakfast and coffee
The Wine Gallery for dinner with my wife.
The Shop and Laguna Supply if I am buying for my wife.
Brass Tacks and Vertigo has great home décor items.