Montrose Shop owners Juley Le and Kim Nguyen have big plans.
The store has a light, airy feel.
A fireplace is the center of the store's homey environment.
Some of Le and Nguyen's favorite dishes are on display.
A selection of wardrobe essentials
On display for you.
A retail space is only as good as its curators, and when the curating is being done by an ultra-stylish duo, it’s bound to be twice as good. That’s the case with The Montrose Shop. Nestled in a cozy space on Westheimer Road, it’s a bit unassuming at first glance, but cross the store’s threshold and you’re met with a unique shopping experience chock-full of products you didn’t know you needed until you arrived.
Clothing, home decor, books and accessories, the owners have got it all, and the only thing better than the shop’s plethora of independent goods is its two proprietors.
There’s Juley Le, who in addition to running the shop is also the founder of Upperlyne and Co., her blog and brand that promotes classic, casual and cool life and style. Earlier this year she also launched a line of aprons charming enough to get even the worst cook in the kitchen. If that’s not impressive enough, she’s managed to attract more than 25,000 followers on Instagram (if you have an account, you know this is no small feat). But this store comes with two well-rounded owners. Kim Nguyen makes up the other half of The Montrose Shop duo, and when she’s not tending to the store, she has her hands full with Sprout and Press, her healthy Magazine Street eatery in New Orleans that specializes in cold-pressed juices and fresh, organic meals. Did I mention she also has another restaurant in the works and is undertaking a Sprout and Press expansion?
The New Orleans-based duo met 15 years ago, and the rest is style-filled history. I sat down with the dynamic duo to talk shop, how they get it done, and what’s up next.
What’s the mission behind The Montrose Shop, and why do you think there’s a need for this type of store in this market?
Our goal with the store is to have an inviting and comfortable space where people can discover new independent products; we also want to showcase a true Texan-American aesthetic in a very clean, Parisian way. I think we’re needed because there’s nothing like this in Houston, and a lot of the customers who walk in the doors immediately feel that. It’s important to have a retail experience where everyone just feels comfortable. We’re never pressuring our customers to buy anything here. We just want people to have a good time and leave feeling inspired. I think that’s very important to any market, whether retail or restaurant or coffee shop.
Since the brands you carry aren’t mainstream, how do you go about finding and choosing whom to partner with?
Our philosophy is: less is more. Let’s say bar glasses; we’re not going to have a million bar glasses, we’re gonna have the bar glass. That really guides our decision-making. So, I want textiles, but whom do I reach out to? You do your research on what brands are out there and what mixes with the store and aesthetic. With fashion, we’re really thinking about the signature classic capsule wardrobe. Very practical, muted colors, of course, you see the stripes/textures, but very everyday casual and chic. As far as home goods, it was a little natural as well. We’re not looking at every store. We have a list of brands we’re targeting because we’ve either seen them on Instagram or we’ve been using them for a very long time. We’re not always in a rush to get a bunch of stuff. We take our time, and we’re very thoughtful about the process.
Favorite products in the store?
Kim: That’s the hardest question. I love the cook books personally, because I’m just a cook book person, and the ones that we’ve selected are really just practical, but inspirational healthy cooking and, of course, baking. I have to buy stuff for the shop in New Orleans because it’s so nice.
Juley: Emerson Frye, which is like the quintessential, American chic brand. Very well-made materials. I’m a big fan of her work. Our jeans are great, very soft. Kim’s working on some really great fashion brands for the fall. So, I’m sure we’re gonna have an even harder time taking it in the fall.
Essentials every woman should have?
Our king sheer T-shirt. It’s sheer, and now we’re looking for a really good jersey one. Also, every type of white T-shirt, but the best of it. Then, denim. We’re both wearing Siwy Denim. The softest, the best skinny jeans. You can sleep in them. The high-waisted denim is a must. A chambray shirt. A striped shirt. We’re getting in these amazing Breton American-made French-style striped shirts, and that’s the quintessential shirt for the store. It’s like a Parisian girl in America, or an American girl in Paris.
On Upperlyn and Co.
Juley: Montrose is an extension of the Upperlyne & Co. blog in that it focuses on a thoughtful and simple lifestyle, only I had an incredible opportunity to have a little more fun with developing a store environment I’d like to shop at! Since its inception, Upperlyne & Co. has focused on sharing a unique perspective — one that embodies a classic, casual, cool lifestyle accessible to anyone with anecdotes on building the dream life from the bottom up. I truly enjoy shedding light on the beauty of New Orleans as well as having an outlet that chronicles my Francophile tendencies.
What advice would you give to those trying to develop or revamp their style?
Juley: When developing your style, whether it’s in your closet or home, start by observing your environment and listening to what speaks to you. Then, do some research — Pinterest and blogs are brimming with inspiration! From there, it’s all about trial and error and as you get older and more confident in yourself, your style will develop naturally.
On fulfilling big-city aspirations in a small market.
Juley: Textbook stuff – it’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond. Unless you thrive on a a bustling metropolitan city, I think dreams can be accomplished anywhere, at any stage in your life, and/or at any age!
The last time I was here, you mentioned opening a new restaurant. How’s that going?
Kim: The restaurants still in the works. We’re still building. The juice bar is expanding, and we’re working on that right now, too. So, everything is in expansion and it’s growing, so hopefully it’s finishing up in a few months.
How did you get into the food/restaurant business?
Kim: Well, fashion was always my first thing. Of course, to get into fashion or do anything with it you have to work. My family has always been in the restaurant business. I think manually I just got into the restaurant business not even knowing I’d be in the restaurant business. It’s been great to me. I’m able to finance certain things like opening a clothing store, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. My passion really is in fashion, and second come restaurants. It kind of just molded together without my really thinking about it.
I see on Instagram you’re always cooking. Do you cook everyday?
Kim: Yeah, actually I used to not cook as much. It was only for the restaurant. But now I cook quite a bit, because my fiancé is on this pre-planned meal stuff. So, I try to help him and fix it to where it tastes good. When I’m thinking of dishes I always want to incorporate organic stuff. You know, I know everything is so bad now, so when I cook I always pay attention to what goes into it. Should I replace this with that? I am really careful with that.
Kim: Right now I’ve been eating sesame noodles from the juice bar. They’re sesame Japanese noodles with Japanese cucumbers and sesame vinaigrette. Man, I’ve been eating that like everyday. And that’s my problem, too, I eat stuff so much, the same dishes all the time where I’m like, ugh.
On balancing it all.
Juley: I used to be super type A and have a ten year plan. But, after a traumatic experience in my mid-twenties and overworking for many years, I’ve really come to prioritize a work / life balance. It can be difficult since I manage several social media accounts, including Montrose’s, but I’m getting better at preparing for the weekend. For tools, I swear by the Get Shit Done notepad suite by Meg Biram, which I was introduced to by Glitter Guide. It will save your life!
Kim: Thanks to Juley I also use the Get Shit Done notepads. Everybody needs to get on that. She gave them to me as a gift. Everything’s in my head, like all my schedules. I don’t even do calenders, I don’t know how. Now I’m able to do other stuff, because I’m more organized. Juley’s field is a little different than mine. I’m heavily into digital media (for the restaurant), so it’s work all the time, and you can really not be present. We’re all addicted to social media. I’m working all the time, so I guess I just like to work. And then when I’m not working I’m like, “oh man,” and then I do come back to work. I told Juley next year I’m not going to work. I’ll work this year, but next year I’m going to dedicate that time to learning how to relax. Now, when I take a week off I feel so unproductive.
We are working on our online concept, which is going to launch this fall. We’re taking it slow because we just opened in January. It will be our online shop, and it’s a cool concept. We created and shot a style guide, essentially. It has like 20-25 products that are going to be available for a limited time. We’re not going to flood people with a bunch of inventory, but we’re going to showcase the story. We’ll do it quarterly or semi-annually. Then we have some events for the fall that we’re working on and trying to think through as a team. Something in the backyard with some music. We also want to do more collaboration with some of our favorite digital personalities, and more blogging. Houston’s been really really kind to us.
Follow Juley, Kim and The Montrose Shop on Instagram @juleytl, @kimbeetle_ and @montroseshop.