There is a small bookstore near my house. It sits on a brick-paved street and seems perennially filled with sunlight. In the past year, it’s become my safe haven. A gateway to life’s now-forbidden pleasures: travel, adventure, meeting new people… I can have it all with the right book from De Stiil.
“Don’t feel like you have to buy anything,” the owner, Aude Le Dubé, tells me as I browse, though I rarely manage to walk out empty-handed. Le Dubé has exquisite taste in books. With her blunt bob and black-frame glasses, she is also impossibly cool (and brushes me off everytime I tell her so).
For one thing, she’s lived about a thousand lives. Born in Brittany and educated at the Sorbonne, she moved to the U.S., then back to France, then to the States again, and then to Switzerland before settling in Montreal a decade ago. “It’s a place where no one is made from the same mould, which I love,” she says.
She’s been a translator, a copywriter and a press attaché, and has penned two novels, one of which was awarded the Grand prix de l’association des écrivains bretons.
“Anything that allowed me to make a living from writing, I did.”
Nowadays, though, she finds fulfillment selling other people’s books. “I don’t have to write them—I just read them and judge them!” she says with a laugh. It’s that discerning eye that’s made her shop a hit, despite its pandemic debut.
See, before De Stiil was a bookshop, it was a clothing store called État de Style.
“I also have a passion for fashion—I adore it,” says Le Dubé. “In my old age, I had this wild idea of creating my own clothing label so I did it. Seven collections in all and they did pretty well.”
“I felt like the world needed books more than it needed clothes”
But when the city went into lockdown in spring of last year, she did what a lot of people did: question what she wanted to do with her life. Next season’s line was drawn up and about to be patterned, but her heart wasn’t in it anymore. “I felt like the world needed books more than it needed clothes.”
So she replaced the racks with shelves and turned the boutique into a bookstore, the only one in the Plateau exclusively dedicated to English language literature. Sort of like a mini Shakespeare and Company, if you will, the fabled Paris bookstore frequented by Hemingway and Fitzgerald.
It wasn’t easy. “I didn’t have a lot of money after that first lockdown, so I really had to cherry pick the books I was going to sell. I thought, ‘Darn, my shelves look pretty bare, it doesn’t really feel like a bookstore.’ But it turns out that’s what people wanted: a curated selection.”
Surrounded by small restaurants and hair salons, De Stiil was for awhile the sole shop open on its street, garnering it a loyal following. “It became this islet of normalcy in people’s lives,” says Le Dubé, who encouraged customers to escape, sit for a while and leaf through some books.
“When you walk into a big box bookstore, every possible book on the market is there, so finding a good one is tough enough, never mind taking the time to ask yourself if it’s really a fit for you. Here, the idea is to find the book that’s right for you, because they’re all good! [Laughs]”
Le Dubé delights in the thrill of that hunt, unearthing the latest and greatest titles. “I set my alarm for 6 a.m. and read for hours while eating breakfast in bed—every morning.”
But it’s not only about her personal taste. She’ll often order books with particular patrons in mind. “One woman, Noelle, is 83 and reads up to three books a week. When I see a novel or a biography I think she might like, I get it.”
From buzzy page-turners to hidden gems, Le Dubé’s got something for everybody. But there’s one genre you’ll seldom find on her shelves: anything of the self-help-y, “how to be successful” variety. “If I read books about business, I probably never would have opened this shop!”