It didn’t start with a press release, it started with Facebook. Kirk Pickersgill, co-designer of Toronto womenswear brand Greta Constantine, posted a note on his wall that he and his partner Stephen Wong were heading to Paris to unveil their latest prêt-à-porter collection via a very haute “presentation.” Rumors started flying among the fashion set: Were they stocking stores somewhere in Le Bon Marché, were they outfitting a French first lady, were they holding an official runway show? After all of the skepticism, finally an official confirmation. After many a buyers meeting, but never a media event in Paris, the brand was unveiling its collection for the first time to press in Paris at the Hotel Le Meurice, just steps away from the Jardin des Tuileries.
For those not completely well-versed with the notoriety of the Canadian-beloved brand, here’s a quick cheat sheet. The line launched in 2006, and has been wowing editors ever since. It’s graced the pretty pages of many editorials, was recently featured in FASHION magazine and ELLE Canada and was nominated for Womenswear Designer of the Year at the 2014 CAFA Awards. Now the duo has crossed Canada’s shores to make a mark on fashion’s most-lauded capital.
We caught up with the designers just prior to their trip to Paris and then again at their presentation to the French market. We chatted about the ups, the mids, the downs and how the City of Light received their latest collection. (Hint: They really, really liked them.)
theFashionSpot: How are you preparing for the trip to Paris and your first-ever French press presentation?
Kirk Pickersgill: In short, it’s no different than preparing for a Toronto presentation just instead of paying in Canadian dollars, it’s Euro. To be frank, the expectations are immeasurably higher. Suddenly we’re finding ourselves on the same calendar as the brands that line Fifth Avenue in New York, Saint-Honoré in Paris. A (basic) little black dress won’t cut it. The fabric needs to be luxury, the cut sharp, the finish or treatment flawless.
tFS: What kind of prep goes into packing the new collection up for showing across the pond? How much clothing do you both bring for yourselves to wear? What brands keep you looking great when you’re running ragged?
KP: Fortunately, this season we’re working with a PR and production team to facilitate the necessary rentals, including steamers, irons, rolling racks and in the case of our presentation, forms! While there is quite the shipment of samples being exported via DHL, we’re 11th — err 11.5th — hour creatives and so it won’t be until we get picked up for the airport that we’ll stop working on the collection.
Stephen Wong: It’s the pressure that drives us like no other. I think as a fashion designer, the collection acts as your child and so you seek to perfect it and mold it until the clock finally runs out. But yes, if an extra few suitcases are taken, it’s likely not for hairspray!
KP: I find travelling to be quite stressful. Between the lines and security, filing in and out of small spaces, there’s something rather unpleasant about the experience regardless of lounge access or business class flights. When going to Paris, though, it’s often the one last chance to stop and breathe from preparing the collection. This is because the flight is usually after a week — or weeks — of 12-hour days preparing for market and the flight, or the cab ride en route to the airport, is the realization that nothing more can be added or changed. No more sewing machines, patterns to draft, colours and fabrics to choose. It’s also the only flight I don’t need melatonin to help me sleep.
SW: I’m very loyal to Aveda products. Right before leaving we’re putting in long days and so a regimen based around their Tourmaline collection of products rejuvenates my skin and gives the illusion that the collection was finished months earlier.
KP: We’ll be there for 13 days this season, so you can imagine that there will be more than just a couple pairs of pants packed.
SW: It’s also all about the environment that Fashion Week engenders in Paris. Suddenly, the greatest tastemakers in our industry converge in the city for over a week, decorated in the most remarkable of pieces that you’d only ever see in the pages of Vogue and charged with that adrenaline, you’re happy for that week to call Paris home. By the week’s end, it’s been such a roller coaster that the flight is a necessary escape — until next season!
tFS: What makes this press day truly special and how does it compare to those you’ve held in Toronto? What made you decide to show in Paris?
KP: This time last year we were nearing the end of a strong Paris market and began the dialogue with a very good stylist friend of mine from Toronto that’s now based in the city. We were chatting about the next steps for the company and we started on the need for PR representation. He recommended a friend of his own that oversaw an agency representing many of the staple names in the business and like that, we found ourselves with an agency overseeing the collection and now, a year later, the natural evolution was to formally introduce the collection to the world.
SW: Paris seemed like the natural fit. When we first began introducing the collection to buyers on a broader (and more international) scale in Fall 2012 — nearly three years ago — we soon realized that the buyers interested in the styles were all coming to Paris and were keen on seeing us there. We booked our flights, found rolling racks, an apartment to stay in, steamers, flowers, the list of preparations were endless. All of it paired with the sort of elementary French formality that amazes us now when we look back. And now, we’re here at our first press presentation in Paris.
tFS: Why did you choose the Hotel Le Meurice?
KP: We needed a central, prominent location to show the collection as, for many media and buyers, this would act as their first formalized introduction to the collection. Working with the PR and production teams, they had first showed us the Salon Pompadour at the Hotel Meurice and after seeing images, we knew our minds were made up. No other location we considered could rival the Hotel Meurice with respect to its beauty, ornate architecture and the history behind the space.
SW: The Hotel Le Meurice is such a focal point in the cultural imagery of European fashion that it’s a privilege to call it the home for our first showing.
tFS: Will Greta be sold in French stores? Will there be an official show in Paris soon?
KP: We’d certainly never say no to being sold in a French store! It’s simply a matter of finding the appropriate retail partner. There’s also a goal in showing the collection abroad on a global platform, that the collection will garner greater credibility. That’s not to say that it doesn’t already have credibility, but given the volume of fashion designers out there today, by showing alongside the heavyweights, we have the opportunity to signal to the industry tastemakers that the brand is at a certain tier and importantly, belongs there.
SW: While there aren’t any mono-brand plans as of yet, to think of how far we’ve come in the past year, nothing seems unimaginable anymore. Wholesale still serves as a successful channel for our brand, especially in introducing the collection to markets and clients unfamiliar with our clothes. And a show in Paris? It’d certainly be a dream, but for now, our first Paris presentation format serves as an effective method of introducing the brand and acquainting itself with the industry heavyweights. That being said, with all of the backlash that fashion shows are currently suffering from, I think we need to begin rethinking how to introduce the collection as it’s now as much an industry showing as it is consumer.
tFS: What’s the inspiration behind the collection? Did you have to tweak your collection to suit the French style/sensibility?
SW: Kirk and I are not ones to have a theme per se for a collection. For us, Greta Constantine is a mood that each season we look to advance and delve deeper into. It’s about architectural influences. Often, they are fitted, sensual silhouette — a kind of tension between the feminine and masculine: The prim and proper for daytime dressing and the sultry, sexy, temptation dressing for evening.
KP: More than anything, we’ve found our aesthetic has been well-received thus far by those we’ve seen in Paris. And so it’s been less about changing or adapting to our surroundings and more about making those that were previously unaware of us well aware now! After all, Paris has been home to minimalists and romantics and everyone else in between. The one mindset we had in preparing was that we had to step up and make a collection that we would be truly, truly proud to share and stand behind.
SW: The collection is comprised of nine core womenswear looks that serve as an introduction to the brand and season with about five to ten strong supporting looks.
tFS: What are you looking forward to doing in Paris aside from the press day? Favorite local places you love to visit?
KP: We’re not ones for tourist attractions and as this marks our sixth time in Paris for market, all of the must-sees were notched a couple of trips ago. There’s always the usual shopping outings to Colette and the rue Saint-Honoré strip, not to mention a must-do trip for some macarons at Ladurée. But the bulk of the trip is really just catching up with old fashion friends — the pinnacle of our industry. And the buying appointments are like a geography lesson like school never could muster up. We learn of cultural needs, customs and practices, and learn of political situations, climates and motivations that are shaping parts of the world you only ever see on a map. Personally, I think that’s what makes the trip so fulfilling.
SW: Not to mention that Kirk’s birthday is on March 5 and so we’ll usually find a great spot to celebrate. Most nights we venture to Café Ruc for dinner and when there, we always see someone we know. Birds of a feather, right?