I have known Carole Yu quite a long time, 11 years, but I learned some fascinating things about her last week that I didn’t know.

We chatted, but with a purpose. I was interviewing her about her leather goods and clothing shop m0851, (1426 Montana Avenue), and the cool one-year anniversary party they’re throwing tomorrow night, 6-9 p.m.

Champagne and (Canadian) caviar, (You’ve got my attention.) Crystal Head vodka (Canadian, Dan Akroyd). Gift bags with beauty products (including one random $50 gift certificate), “special surprises,” and 15-25 per cent off the entire store. All hosted by (Canadian actor) David Alpay (swoon, swoon) of “The Vampire Diaries.” Just your typical Montana Avenue party. But this one is Canadian-themed, since m0851 is a Canadian company.

But how did this come about? I knew Carole as a bright, sophisticated but down-to-earth woman of the world with a ready smile and laugh and a smart sense of style, but also, an unpretentious Culver City mom, and a bit of a stage mother. Her family’s world turned upside down with the death of her husband George, an honored architect, in 2007 at the age of 43, leaving her with two young daughters and an uncertain future.

I wondered how she came to open a high-end leather clothing and accessories store on pricey Montana. This was the first LA-area outlet for Montreal-based m0851 (only 22 stores in the world, only one previously in the US), so wasn’t this a stretch, a pretty big gamble? Did she know what she was getting into? Would the high rent, stiff competition and fine line between sophistication and snobbery on Montana Avenue torpedo this sincere, capable but novice upscale shopkeeper?

Well, it’s been a year now, and she is laying plans to open two more stores, so I think that’s settled.


I knew she had an engineering degree and worked in finance and leasing for IBM. I forgot that she taught English and technical writing in Beijing for a year, and business cultural training in Tokyo. They lived in Canada, then briefly in Rome and Venice on two different occasions, as George won international awards, from Canada and the US, to work there. (Turns out, all of the leather and the fabrics of m0851 products are Italian.)

“My previous marketing experience was not really applicable, though,” Yu admitted. “It was such a different world in 1987, no FaceBook, no social media. Some m0851 product was sold in Fred Segal stores, but not enough for name recognition here in LA. Most people who come in do not know the brand. So we are building the brand, almost from scratch.”

Certainly Yu knew her way around the world, and observed international fashion. But that’s not enough. I’ve been around the global block myself but would never jump into the fashion fire on Montana.

I knew she talked her eldest daughter into booking a mother-daughter commercial in 2009 that paid for a couple of years at UCLA with enough left over for pencils and coffee, but Elena decided that was it, for her acting career, while mom slogged to auditions another eight years, and booked… exactly two more jobs, each paying enough for pencils or coffee, not both. She also guided her youngest, Dara, to take her passion and talent for cooking into America’s living rooms, where she came in second on the inaugural season of MasterChef Junior, the kids’ (8-13) cutthroat chefs competition TV show. Dara, with her distinctive huge red hair bow, came in second out of 24, pretty good, and is still working that career.

After George became ill with a rare form of lung cancer not caused by smoking, Carole took over managing his substantial architectural office, until his passing. Good business experience all, including show biz, but not exactly relevant to hawking high fashion retail leather clothing.

But she returned to fashion school and got her degree at prestigious Otis College of Art and Design (on your right on Lincoln just before you curve into LAX, but you may never have noticed it), and worked as an assistant fashion designer in downtown LA. One year after losing her husband she launched her own business, Bao Style, designing and making purses out of old kimono.

SHE LOVED THE DESIGN AND CREATION ASPECTS, but distribution was a bugger. She often cruised the m0851web site for inspiration, because in the mid-’90s, on a trip to Toronto, she came across their store and was “blown away, I’d never seen such a modern, clean-designed store,” she said. “It was gorgeous. I loved the clean, modern, urban design. The architecture and the product were amazing, and so reflective of each other.” She bought a small zipper pouch then, which she still has, and the company still makes.

So that was the emotional key. She fell in love with m0851 (ask her tomorrow night where the name comes from) and never stopped thinking about it, and when she saw on the web site that they were going to make a franchise opportunity available south of the border, she was hooked. She asked lots of questions (a list of 50), bugged them by phone for two weeks, then made a five-day pilgrimage to Montreal to meet everyone, including people who had worked there 25 years. Finally each side was pleased with the other and Yu was given the first US franchise opportunity outside New York.

But Carole will tell you straight up there is another essential piece of the puzzle. She met Scott Stewart in 2008 and they married three years later, and she will tell you, even when he’s not there to hear it, that she couldn’t be doing it without him. Not just the moral support, but he designed and built much of the store interior that is so important to the branding. He demolished dry wall and took out the dressing rooms (they sell only outerwear). He put in the security and sound systems, the lighting, and chose the dominating chandelier. He knowledgeably informs and serves customers. And God bless him, he even manned the pumps when the Starbucks next door sprung a sewage leak, 40-50 buckets worth, on the busiest day they’ve ever had.

That’s love.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I see music as fluid architecture.” – Joni Mitchell

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at