Red carpet obsessives may have noticed a common denominator among their favorite Hollywood power players of late. An array of influential women in the industry — including Ava DuVernay, Yara Shahidi, Mindy Kaling and Heidi Klum — have all recently worn bold red carpet-ready designs by Greta Constantine. Although the Toronto-based label's most major moment caught by paparazzi this year was off the red carpet when Meghan Markle wore one of its things in March (more on that in a bit).
Greta Constantine may have only entered your Instagram feed in the past year, but the brand has in fact been going strong as a hometown darling in Canada since 2006, when Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong first founded it. Their friendship dates back to the '90s, when the two were neighbors in Toronto kicking off their design careers. Pickersgill paid his fashion dues at Dsquared2 in Milan, while Wong stayed local, working under veteran costume and custom designer Susan Dicks. In a 2007 interview with Toronto Star, Pickersgill and Wong shared that their design partnership began long distance via "faxes, MSN chat and phone calls," which evokes the most vivid of early-aughts memories.
The two christened their label "Greta Constantine" after Wong's mother and Pickersgill's grandfather and quickly gained attention in Canada, with pickup from luxury retailer Holt Renfrew and prestigious editorial placements, including a Hilary Duff cover of Fashion. Pickersgill and Wong became known as "The Jersey Boys of Toronto" for their innovative microfiber jersey, which creates the dramatic impact for a memorable red carpet moment — and meets the functionality of a multi-tasking woman who doesn't want to make another trip (and another payment) to the dry cleaner.
"I call it 'the Holy Grail of fabrics' because it does so many things," says Wong, over the phone from Toronto. Created in an Italian mill, the high-performance microfiber was actually developed for the athletic-wear market. Wong and Pickersgill gravitated toward its colorfast ability to hold highly-pigmented, eye-catching hues and also its potential for creating sculptural shapes and body-enhancing silhouettes.
"It almost makes you feel like you're wearing Spanx," he says. The versatile microfiber comes in various weights for versatility in style and design: The bonded version offers architectural structure, while a lightweight form allows for softer draping. "It wicks away moisture. It's very durable," Wong adds. And the bonus that no doubt resonates with consumers? The microfiber is machine washable.
The duo steadily grew the brand's global reach — working with a New York and Los Angeles-based showroom, securing Greta Constantine's first U.S. retailer, Henri Bendel, in 2008 and holding a presentation in Paris for fall 2015. But Pickersgill and Wong were biding their time for an official entry Stateside and eventually the spring 2018 season at New York Fashion Week presented an opportunity.
"It just seemed like the perfect time," says Pickersgill, about debuting at NYFW with a presentation last September. "It was that period when so many designers were going to Paris and some were going off schedule and we just thought maybe this was a good time to come to New York."
Fashion month led into the annual awards season red carpet onslaught, which presented another very highly-publicized way for Greta Constantine to showcase their bold and versatile aesthetic to the U.S. and global audiences. The celebrities in Greta Constantine were diverse in a multitude of ways, but similar in that they're all barrier-breaking women making an impact on Hollywood — and society at large.
Each of the stars wore their Greta Constantine designs in their own way: Shahidi in a playful metallic cobalt drop-waist mini-dress at the Essence Black Women in Music Event, DuVernay in a fuchsia and orange mock-turtleneck gown at Cannes, Kaling in a custom jewel-toned shoulder baring column, "The Sinner" producer-actress Jessica Biel in a polka dot sheer bib-neck blouse for a "Colbert" segment and, most recently, Klum in a gold and silver metallic romper.
"A group of diverse women — of cultures, of size, of age — it's what we're [surrounded by] because we come from families of women," says Pickersgill. "So it shows the true capability of what we can do and the exciting part of that is we never know who's next."
But perhaps the duo's most major "celebrity" moment was when the future Duchess of Sussex wore a teal mermaid "Jace" skirt from the spring 2018 NYFW debut collection during a surprise visit to Belfast with then-fiancé Prince Harry. "We saw the most response from Meghan Markle," says Wong, who noted a jump in online traffic, sales, number of Instagram and social followers and general brand awareness after her outing in March.
During her increasingly regular public appearances, the Duchess is known for showing strong support for Canadian brands, like Mackage, Sentaler and, most recently, House of Nonie. Understandable, since she spent seven seasons shooting "Suits" in Toronto, where she established longstanding relationships with local brands and her stylist, Jessica Mulroney. (The Toronto-based stylist has also styled the Canadian Prime Minister's wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, who has been spotted in Greta Constantine.)
"[Markle] was always a client and a friend and her stylist introduced her to our brand. So it all kind of started from Toronto," says Pickersgill, adding: "The skirt is still in demand. We're always getting that question, 'what is she going to wear next?!'"
As we wait for Markle to Wear (her next) Thing, U.S.-based customers have more options to shop one of the Duchess's favorite Canadian labels. Nordstrom will carry Greta Constantine in select locations, starting with the color saturated and sequin-heavy resort 2019 looks recently shown to media in New York. The line is also available at retailers in eight states, including Lord & Taylor in New York City, En Avance in Miami and So Susu in New Orleans, plus Moda Operandi online. The prices start around $395 for separates and range from $795 to $1095 for dresses and $1295 to $1695 for red carpet-style gowns. Sizes run from XS to 2XL, with the option to special order additional sizing directly through the brand.
Currently, Pickersgill and Wong are hard at work on the Greta Constantine spring 2019 collection for NYFW presentation in September. They promise "new fabrics beyond microfiber," an injection of lively prints, "lightness, texture and always glamour." And more sparkle?
"Never forget a sequin!" exclaims Pickersgill.
Homepage photo: Tim Rooke, Pool/Getty Images