For the past decade-and-a-half, Toronto-based designers Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong have been crafting bold, undeniably feminine evening wear under their label Greta Constantine. The duo’s well-honed combination of sophisticated tailoring and glam silhouettes have made them an industry favourite, and earned them fans like Ava DuVernay, Tiffany Haddish and Coco Rocha. In their latest collection, vibrant colours and tropical orchid-inspired ruffles come into play for dreamy, vacation-ready looks. We caught up with Pickersgill and Wong at Nordstrom Toronto Eaton Centre, where they were debuting their resort 2020 collection, to talk about why meeting their customers is still important, stepping up while Toronto Fashion Week steps down and how social media has helped grow their brand.
What was the inspiration behind the Resort 2020 collection?
Kirk Pickersgill: The resort and the spring collections are a combination of two themes: it’s based on our Jamaican roots mixed with the flowers of Jamaica. The vibrance of the colours is from certain flowers that we were attracted to. Jamaica has a certain smell; it’s the tropics. We don’t do prints, so we have to create our own prints through the use of colour and the way the fabric moves.
Stephen Wong: We were in Jamaica in May and Kirk’s aunt has a vast collection of orchids. They’re incredible. They were kind of the jumping-off point – not just the colours and the shapes, but also the feel of them. It’s like a celebration, a riot of colour.
What are some of the key silhouettes or pieces of this collection?
KP: That [there] was more colour. You’re going to see a lot of ruffles – they mimic petals. We started off doing jersey and one of the biggest faults it had was it didn’t have hanger appeal. The remarks would be, “It’s beautiful but it doesn’t invite someone wanting to wear it, so let’s find a fabric that can add a bit of structure to it.” If it doesn’t have hanger appeal it’s going to be harder for you to understand what it looks like on your body.
SW: We have to make it really easy for people to look at something and be able to picture themselves in it.
What do you do when you’re in a creative rut?
KP: We get to travel quite a bit for work to New York and Paris, so that’s kind of a high. It’s not a vacation but there’s less to think about and more to get inspired by. I don’t think we ever get into a place where we don’t know what to do next. Once you get your fabric, you’re playing with it, you’re looking at it [and] you’re interpreting it in your head. That’s when it actually starts to go into motion.
SW: Personally, when we travelled for work, I always found it inspiring. You get ideas, you see things that are just incredible. I take a lot of photographs and notes, and I often like to go back and revisit those. Just to get those juices flowing and feel that again helps.
Is having access to in-store retail space and getting to connect with the customer still important for you?
SW: It’s paramount for us. To be able to meet the customer, and just to hear first-hand from them what it is that they want, their lifestyles, where it is that they might be going out to, where they will be wearing these clothes – it’s something we take into account.
What was your reaction when you heard the news that Toronto Fashion Week is on hold this season?
SW: Not so much surprised but disappointed. For example, there is a school from Windsor that contacted me recently because they had a number of students that were supposed to have this fashion week experience. They had planned on this – tickets were bought, hotel rooms were reserved, so now what they’re trying to do is make the best out of the situation and they asked us if they could take a tour of our studio.
KP: It wasn’t fair. I wish they had said more. The guilty feeling I have is all these fashion students…some of them [would] love to go to a fashion show just to dream for a day. So that’s why I thought, “OK, it’s time for us to give back.” We never went away. We were just doing presentations at the same time as Toronto Fashion Week. Like Stephen said, the word I’d use is disappointed.
Is it still exciting for you to see your designs on the red carpet?
SW: Very much so. Because we also don’t know if [celebrities are] going to wear them or not, and we find out the same way everyone finds out.
KP: We don’t want to be disappointed, because in the beginning it was like “Oh, such and such is going to be wearing your clothes,” and you’re sitting there watching the TV and then they walk by and are wearing something else.
“I don’t think we ever get into a place where we don’t know what to do next”
Do you find that models and celebrities still have that kind of power today, even with social media and influencers?
KP: Once you become part of social media, that’s your brand. They only help endorse the brand, and build confidence and awareness in the brand. We’re part of their conversation. like Angela Bassett. We’re like her Canadian boys. Never met her before, but she’s like “I need my Canadian boys.” Or Ava DuVernay. Her thing is when she accepts an award, she wears Greta. And the diversity of it all too. She’s not a small-sized woman or sample-sized, and it shows the diversity of the company. We’ve got a culture diversity too, which our agent was saying it’s never been so strong since she started representing our brand.
SW: There’s a huge power behind celebrities wearing your clothes. We’ve been around for 14 years and it wasn’t until celebrities started wearing our clothes that people thought, “Oh wow, you guys must be doing really well.” [Laughs] People don’t give you that credibility, they don’t think you’re doing anything good until a celebrity wears it.
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