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The Chicago-born lifestyle brand PRSVR—short for persevere—opened a second location last week, this time introducing their high-end fashion to the crowds at 900 North Michigan Avenue. The clothing and luggage line is owned by husband-wife duo Brandon and Margaret Williamson, who have dressed the likes of Nicki Minaj and Nelly in pieces that include luxury leather track pants. The couple opened their first boutique, Hours, in Pilsen last January and quickly developed a reputation for being accessible while still remaining dedicated to an extravagant leisure aesthetic. Even as PRSVR grows, it remains somewhat mom-and-pop in nature. "We're always there at the stores," says Margaret, who co-owns the brand alongside her designer husband. "Brandon is awesome at mentoring so it's an open-door policy." Along with opening doors on Michigan Avenue, PRSVR recently debuted a Camouflaged Flamingo addition of their Luxury Work Boot in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
We spoke with Brandon and Margaret about the launch of their new shop, the road to success thus far, and what they have planned for the future (Hint: it involves their effortlessly fashionable baby). —Courtney Ryan
Racked: First, tell us a little about PRSVR. How did the brand go from being a shoe to a complete boutique?
Brandon: I got started with a couple of friends of mine about 10 years ago. We were in footwear doing some customization things and we decided it was time for us to make our own shoe. This is back when we were fresh out of college so a little young and in debt, so the amount of money it cost to make a shoe was a large amount and we just weren't able to come up with it…. Years later, I met my wife Margaret and she allowed me to kind of recreate [the brand] and build it back up. So we went from trying to create this footwear line to really creating what the lifestyle would look like, how it would be viewed on one person. So within that of course the shoe was important, but we didn't start with the shoe as far as what we wanted to be known as. We started with what we defined internally as like an urban warrior: an individual who has to go from city to city, from work to play, from hot to cold climates all within one day. What would that person wear? So we designed around that premise.
R: The name Persévérer is the French word for persevere, but I know it's also an acronym (passion, resilience, sacrifice, values, and respect). How do those words represent the urban warrior?
B: We look at those things as being needed in order to persevere. Each individual fundamental is just as important as the other. With passion, if it's not something you genuinely want to do––whether you're getting money or not––you're not going to excel to the next level. There's gonna be some obstacles that come up and if you don't have resilience you won't persevere. You might sacrifice certain things that are fun and exciting to get to your actual goal. If you don't have a proper set of values that make you up as a human being to where you'll be able to honor what you're doing and what you represent, you won't persevere. And if you don't have respect for yourself and others and what you're doing, you won't persevere. So those are the words we felt stuck the most.
R: Since you use so much inspiring language throughout your line can you talk about someone or something that has really inspired you to do what you do?
B: A lot of what we've been able to accomplish has been based on inspiration we found within our parents. Both of our fathers speak with such great meaning… Margaret's dad is an author and my dad is a pastor so they inspire us and keep us going through situations that might not go perfectly. And we both have heavy relationships with God... You know, we just want to leave those things we accumulate along the way to the next generation in order for people to get through [the same challenges] too.
R: When did you realize that the brand was going to make it?
B: Oh boy. I didn't realize this was going work until June of 2013. We were in Los Angeles and I was still working a job and we took off a week to go to the BET Awards to try to do a pop-up shop and try to get relationships with artists. We didn't get to go to the show but were watching at the hotel that sponsored the show. So we're watching in the lobby and I see a guy with our pants on. I went to say hi because, you know, we were excited to see someone we didn't know with our clothing on. So I said, "Hey, you got my pants on." And he just looked at me like "whatever" and I'm like, "I'm the designer, I own the company that made those." So I went back to the hotel lobby to watch the awards and he later found us and was like, "Hey, you don't have to watch this in the lobby. I work with BET, here are some tickets."
R: That's gotta feel good.
B: And we knew Nicki Minaj took some stuff and everybody was taking t-shirts, but while we were watching the show [Nicki Minaj] comes on stage and we're sitting there like, "Those can't be our pants!" So to see that [made us think] "Ok, we got something, we just need to figure out how to advertise it."
R: A lot of famous people wear your stuff—Nicki Minaj, Teyana Taylor, Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, etc—do you have a muse?
Margaret: Obviously it makes a huge impact to have celebrities and tastemakers be fans of the brand and wear it. But I think we mostly think of our lives. You know, when Brandon talks about the inspiration for the brand and how it came from this entrepreneur who's following their passion and has to go from work to play––that's really the inspiration and the muse. Fortunately a lot of celebrities embody that, but I can't say that there's one particular person that is really that idealistic image.
R: Tell us about the new Michigan Avenue store. This must be really exciting.
B: I'm from Michigan so when we would come to Chicago and take a stroll on the Magnificent Mile, we couldn't have imagined in our wildest dreams that we would have an address on Michigan Avenue. You don't get better than that here.
R: How will the experience at the Michigan Avenue shop differ from the Pilsen boutique?
B: Hours [in Pilsen] is really a concept of us taking a collection of things and putting it in one spot…. Anything from books to music to instruments to different clothing we want to test out that maybe isn't ready for the market. It's very experimental and laid-back. My son walks around in his walker there and we may eat lunch on the floor. Whereas at 900 we're really creating this elevated experience that goes with our product. So we might have the jeweler on site doing things as opposed to having ready-made things at the store. We're really presenting what goes into these pieces because I think that gets lost when people see it on celebrities and then go around the corner to Pilsen to pick it up. And some people don't go to Pilsen but everyone goes to Michigan Avenue so we can really compete where we feel we should be competing.
R: What inspired the Men Against Breast Cancer campaign and the Camouflaged Flamingo Pink Work Boot?
B: Every year we try to come up with new ways to donate our funds. We were using the embossed camouflage, which no one else is using currently, and we thought it looked super cool so we decided to use it. And our signature lining on everything is pink so we decided we have to do a pink [shoe]. So we presented this flamingo we also use within our branding. And we wanted to work with a few organizations so it was just perfect timing for it to all come together.
R: What's your favorite piece in the collection? I know that's like picking your favorite child. Anything that represents your personal style?
B: Personally, I'm a huge fan of the flight suit. I don't think currently anyone is doing anything like it. There's four pockets on the front for all the things we have to move quickly with as we're on the go all the time. I think it's just a great bridge between urban and chic all within one outfit.
M: It's really hard for me to pick my all-time favorite. But the first time I met Brandon he was carrying the ostrich carrier, which is one of the luggage pieces. It's such a chic piece. It's one of those things that as you walk through the airport you notice those people who have the Louis Vuitton monogrammed bag… these looks and these logos that have automatic status, if you will. But at the same time, you're going to see a good number of people with that same thing. I want a piece that's going to be just as noticeable, that's going to make someone stop and say, "Whoa, that's a nice piece of luggage," but they haven't seen it before.
R: Given how much PRSVR has blossomed in the last few years how do you see it evolving in the future?
B: It's difficult to say…. With this Michigan Avenue location, from here we want to expand and see what markets make sense for us and also expand our children's line. We have some great ideas for the children's market, which we always sample and make for our son but never make for sale. I think expansion into other markets and our children's line are our immediate goals.
M: I think one thing that really sets us apart from other, if you want to call them, "streetwear brands" is the fact that ours is His, Hers, and now Baby. It's not just a unisex type of piece but it's something universal. It's something where my husband and I could actually end up wearing the exact same piece on the same day but the way you can style it and interpret it allows you to express your individual style. But still when you look at us you're going to see that immediate bond. You're going to know that we "belong" to each other. And I think there's a big movement happening around the world that's taking it back to families, but it's different familial units. It could be two sisters and a niece, or best friends or cousins or coworkers. It's time for us to have that piece of unity. I think that we have yet to really capitalize on that and make things for both men, women, and children. I think you'll see a lot more of that over the next year.
· PRSVR [Official Site]
· PRSVR To Open in 900 North Michigan Shops [Racked Chicago]