TORONTO — Ever since Justin Trudeau became Canada’s 23rd prime minister in late 2015, he and his Rapunzel-haired wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, have made ho-hum Canada seem, well, kind of cool to the rest of the world.
“For years people have thought of Canada as that ‘nice’ neighbor living north of the U.S. But suddenly this country has shed its conservative persona and become a hip, creative place to be. That shift in the public’ perception has everything to do with this young power couple,” according to Canadian designer Lucian Matis.
Matis felt the true impact of Canada’s newest style icons first hand. In March 2016, the Toronto-based fashion designer was himself sitting in a meeting with a client when his phone began pinging and ringing.
“Naturally I thought some emergency had happened with my family so I rushed out of the room to learn what was going on,” he recalled.
Instead, it was a pivotal moment in his 10-year-career as he discovered a slew of images capturing the 42-year-old Grégoire-Trudeau in his red day dress embellished with orchids, which she wore as she joined her husband on a state visit to Washington.
“The exposure was instantaneous and international. Then the calls started coming in for interviews. Frankly, I was floored by it. I knew Sophie was going to wear one of my gowns from my collection. But I never expected her to wear two of my dresses during the same trip — and on the same day,” said Matis.
The Romanian-born designer, who immigrated to Canada in 1999, also created a gown in purple, fuchsia and orange that Canada’s first lady wore to a state dinner hosted by the Obamas at the White House, sparking a social media frenzy.
As a result, “the sales of these two dresses increased by several thousand per cent,” Matis said. “But the same was true of the entire collection. Sales clearly went up. Sophie’s choices definitely had an impact on our bottom line.”
Matis is not alone in his admiration for Canada’s youthful First Lady and current PM, whose style he describes as “casual and sophisticated.”
For Femme de Carrière designer Sandra Angelozzi, Grégoire-Trudeau’s push to wear Canadian and promote homegrown talent has been a boon to its fashion industry.
“We are very proud to have had the opportunity to dress the First Lady for the 375th anniversary of the city of Montreal,” Angelozzi said. “But the fact that our First Lady chooses to wear Canadian brands shows that she’s down to earth and cares deeply for her country. She’s the perfect representation of a Femme de Carrière woman.”
Grégoire-Trudeau’s fondness for wearing items directly from current collections “feels real to today’s woman,” said Judith Richardson, vice president and creative director of the tailored, career-friendly Canadian label Judith & Charles.
“We saw the potential in Sophie right away as a person who could make a great visual connection between herself, her new role as First Lady, and Canada,” said Richardson, whose company reached out to Grégoire-Trudeau in November 2015.
In January 2016 Richardson got the go-ahead to “work on Sophie’s appearance,” she explained. That included the creation of two dresses Grégoire-Trudeau wore to Washington, including a navy sheath and white dress paired with a pastel floral jacket by Toronto’s Ellie Mae Studios.
Judith & Charles also dressed Grégoire-Trudeau in another head-turning red number worn during her official visit to Italy.
“We had never met Sophie before our collaborations began. But we could tell that her feeling for fashion was strong and organic,” said Richardson.
The fact that Grégoire-Trudeau had worked as a personal shopper in the mid-2000s for luxury retail Holt Renfrew clearly sparked her fashion sensibilities, according to Richardson.
“Beauty and fashion are closely related and Sophie and Justin Trudeau are two very beautiful people. That certainly gives them an advantage in today’s media,” she explained. “As well, the Prime Minister and the First Lady are extremely approachable – which we haven’t seen in some time in this country.
“They’re also progressive, embrace diversity, and speak to issues that young people want to hear about today. That has all contributed to the public’s fascination with this couple,” she continued.
Grégoire-Trudeau’s practical approach to dressing, according to Matis, also feels authentic to many women.
“Sophie wears dresses more than once. Women like that,” said Matis.
Moreover, the Trudeaus have emerged at a time when people want yet relatable public figures.
“We’re so used to seeing politicians in their 70s. But I don’t believe that wisdom comes with age,” said Matis, who will soon launch his first men’s collection. When that happens, “I’ll give Justin Trudeau a call,” he said with a smile.