Welcome to Mis Recuerdos (translates to “my memories” or “my souvenirs “), a series inspired by the daily stories and anecdotes that we hold close to our hearts because they remind us of our culture and past travel experiences. When I launched Recuerdos it was that burning desire I had to create a space where we can all immerse ourselves in the culture of travel by making it part of our daily lives. But more than just travel, Recuerdos celebrates heritage and traditions that are passed on from generation to generation and makes our lives that much richer.
Today we are chatting with Natalie Haddad – founder of Monty, a shop based in Montclair, New Jersey, rooted in supporting emerging and established designers. I came across Monty last Summer while exploring Montclair and immediately fell in love with Natalie’s curation – it’s thoughtful, whimsical, and global. Here, Natalie talks to us about her shop, her recent travel experience in Jordan, and how she stays connected to her roots.
What is your story?
Oof, this is a LONG story! 😉 I grew up in Washington State – Tacoma and Seattle. I am a first-generation American born to an immigrant father and an American mother who divorced soon after my younger sister was born. My dad is Palestinian, conceived in Palestine yet born in Amman, Jordan, after the Nakba; he moved to the states (Tacoma, specifically) to finish high school in 1967. Growing up, I spent the school week living with my dad and his parents in Tacoma and spent weekends with my mom and my stepfather in the Seattle area. I studied apparel design in Seattle and came to NYC for what was to be a one-month internship. Said internship turned into a job (for extremely low pay) which I accepted with enthusiasm, of course! One month later, I flew to Seattle for a weekend to pack up my apartment and ship most of my belongings to New York via UPS. Ah, youth!
In 2006, I moved to Jersey City and absolutely loved it. So much of the area and the people reminded me of my life in Seattle; it really felt like home. I ended up in NJ because I became thoroughly frustrated living with roommates and the communal lifestyle – the only way I could afford to live in the areas I wanted to live in. I’ve lived in New Jersey ever since.
Tell us about the concept and inspiration behind Monty.
I had been living in Montclair for about 5 years before I opened Monty. I was a Monday-Friday NYC commuter, so on weekends I really did like to stay put in the neighborhood and had been feeling like the shopping options were so limited. At the time, we had only one good shop in town and if I couldn’t find what I was desiring there, I’d have to go into the city or shop online – I felt like I could bring something really exciting and different to the area. This idea coincided with me feeling super fed up about working my ass off for other people, so while working my day job, I began to dream, plan, and build what would become Monty.
For me, it is very hard to separate my store and myself – Monty is very much a representation of me! There is a sense of ease (but not boring), playfulness (but not childish), and elegance (but not stuffy) in everything I carry. I truly believe that fashion should be exciting and wearable at the same time – no garment should be too precious. If it feels good, wear it! Everywhere!
How are you connecting with your heritage through the designers you partner with for Monty?
Since my father passed away (20 years ago now), I have had to make a more concerted effort to stay close to my Palestinian roots. Truthfully it has been difficult to find my place among “my people” because I do not speak Arabic, my family is not Muslim, and I grew up with so much American influence. Finding Nöl Collective was an exciting moment for me as Yasmeen’s designs allow me to feel close to Palestine and the traditions of our people in a very modern and accessible way. I knew immediately that I needed to carry this line at Monty, and witnessing the reception by my existing and new clients has been absolutely heartwarming. I love helping to grow Palestinian awareness and the support of traditional manufacturers in the region in my own small way.
Advice would you give women looking to start their own business that you wish someone had told you?
It’s not as scary as it seems.
Local Guide| Montclair, NJ
Coffee/Breakfast – Harvey’s Handrolled on Walnut Street for an outrageous bagel sandwich and locally roasted Cozz Coffee. The. Best.
Dinner/Drinks – My favorite neighborhood spot for dinner is Palato – authentic Italian fare in a cozy sliver of a restaurant. As with most restaurants in Montclair, it’s BYOB (and if you’re asking, my favorite wine shop is Grape Collective on Valley Road in Upper Montclair – the friendliest and most knowledgeable staff!)
Shopping – Duh, Monty! Also & Son for home, decor, gifts (and soon menswear!); Grayford’s for vintage and heritage clothing; Kaight for eco- and socially-responsible women’s clothing, and Dot Reeder for established brands
Culture + Art: Definitely Gold/Scopophilia gallery in Upper Montclair – Jen, the owner, has an amazing eye for exciting artists; our art museum is pretty solid (Montclair Art Museum); and honestly, the adult workshops at One River School are a lot of fun and very educational!
Travels | Jordan
Describe Jordan for those who have never visited. What makes this beautiful country so special for you?
Jordan is an amazing place for everyone to visit. I have family here, which of course, makes it extra special/personal, but even if you are just a tourist with no familial ties you will love it! The people are warm and welcoming, the weather is perfect (even in July), there are tons of sights to see and things to do, and most importantly: the food is downright outrageous.
What are some of the regions and towns in Jordan that you love to visit most, and why?
On this particular trip, I spent most of my time in Amman, and didn’t do too much sightseeing (I’ve done much of it before and the thing with ancient sites: they don’t change too much 😉 ). I wanted to check out some of the newer shops and galleries that have cropped up in the city over the past decade, in addition to spending as much time as possible with my family. We did stay one night in Petra and one night in Wadi Rum, where we got to ride camels through the desert and stargaze from our clear bubble tents!
The most memorable meal you’ve had while traveling there?
Even the most basic snack was incredible (I have since adopted the classic mid-east breakfast of labneh and zaatar into my daily US routine) but my favorite mealtime experience in Amman was a group cooking class at Beit Sitti. We prepared all aspects of our lunch – maaloubeh, mutabbal, bread, and dessert – in a beautiful space with a roof deck overlooking Amman. One of the best days of my trip and I highly recommend this to all visitors!
Can you share wardrobe essentials for this trip?
(As I said, the weather in Amman is perfect. When I visited in July, the days were sunny and hot (about 90 degrees), and in the evenings, the temperature would drop to about 68 and breezy – you needed a jacket or a shawl. So much better for fashion than summer in NJ! The country is very popular with European tourists. It is also not as conservative as many of its neighbors, so there is no need or expectation for women to cover themselves. Still, I recommend dressing in light cotton layers during the day to protect yourself from the sun and the heat. You will also feel very out of place if you wear a lot of tight athleisure – people tend to dress up a bit more than Americans, and they definitely wear real pants, hahaha. Right now, some favorites in the shop that would be perfect for a trip to Jordan include the Simple dresses from Anntian, any of the Cordera pieces, and the poplin shirting from Fabiana Pigna. The city is also very hilly and old, with many stairs, so make sure you have comfy shoes! In the summer, a leather sandal (like these from Kyma) is perfect, but I love the Martiniano flats in the fall.
Name a favorite recuerdo (souvenir) from Jordan that holds a lot of meaning for you.
On this trip, my sister and I took a calligraphy class at ELHARF House (another amazing spot that everyone should visit), where we each created a painting of a word (or words) in square kufic style using paints and papers made in the region. My creation says “monty” in Arabic, of course, and it now hangs in my shop. My sister created a stunning square design of her daughters’ names (Alta + Iris), which I had made into a gold pendant as a 40th birthday surprise to her while we were still in Amman. This was a very special day, filled with new friendships, studio cats (always a favorite), and beautiful recuerdos to keep forever.