OH CANADA: The first official White House visit by Canada’s power couple — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau – appears to be a major win for Canadian-bred design. Even first lady Michelle Obama helped to wave the Canadian flag for design Thursday morning by wearing a customized green stretch jacquard sleeveless dress from Canadian-born Tanya Taylor.
Grégoire-Trudeau did her part for her homeland, wearing a printed pink-and-red dress from Lucian Matis, coordinating square-toed heels, an Aldo clutch and Dean Davidson earrings. She arrived in the U.S. wearing a pantsuit by Montreal-based Vietnamese-born designer Duy, Aldo heels, Dean Davidson jewelry and a purple Ela clutch.
A play in textures, the Canadian first lady’s dress had elements that were sheer, leather accents, stretch jacquard for what Taylor described as “a very sophisticated day look.” Reached in her SoHo showroom, Taylor said, “It’s just a proud moment for Canada today.”
“You have no idea,” said Trudeau’s stylist Jessica Mulroney Thursday afternoon, referring to the onslaught of media reaction to Trudeau’s style choices. “It’s been unnnnnbelievable. Unbelievable. But I’m very excited because it’s really what we had hoped for. People really care about what Sophie’s wearing and it’s nice to see a spotlight on Canadian fashion and design.”
Wednesday night in Washington, Trudeau wore a butterfly floral jacket from Ellie Mae, an ivory-colored Judith & Charles dress, and an orange Ela handbag. “We knew how important this was going to be and we were right. We wanted every look to be head-to-toe Canadian and they are,” Mulroney said. “Mixing different price points was important too. Obviously, she’s very young and vibrant, and we both really like color.”
Taylor seems to have proven the potential power of a well-intended thank-you note. The designer sent one to Obama after she first wore one of her dresses about 18 months ago. “Organically, she wore a dress of ours, then I showed appreciation and we kind of developed a bit of a relationship from there. I just always write thank-you notes, so I had written one,” Taylor said.
That alliance led her to be included in the celebration of design event that Michelle Obama hosted at the White House last year. “That was amazing. She was so appreciative to the fashion community for supporting her. Coming from being a lawyer and then being celebrated [by the fashion community] was such a transition [for her] so it was a wonderful evening at the White House. She brought thanks to our community just for being able to design and work with her. It was really an honor,” Taylor said.
Obama’s nine appearances in Tanya Taylor designs have “really allowed customers, retailers, fans to just see a different side to the brand,” Taylor said. “One thing I’m really proud of is that we design for a really wide range of women and that can be ages and races.…Looking at the women who wear the brand, we’re so proud of having her as one of the champions who are wearing the pieces could tell a different story than maybe Taylor Swift who wears a dress. That’s important to me that we’re approaching women who are young and middle-aged. She brings a lot of character to representing us when she wears pieces.”
Having launched e-commerce, Taylor said styles in prints that are similar to ones worn by Obama are “definitely more popular.”
That is something Mulroney can relate to, having seen how the Sentaler white coat Trudeau wore for her husband’s swearing-in ceremony sold out and received international attention. “We realized that Sophie had this great advantage and that she could really do a lot for Canadian designers so it’s become one of her missions.” Mulroney said.
With Trudeau living in Ottawa and Mulroney based in Toronto, they are very particular about staying rooted in Canadian design and retail. “That doesn’t mean she doesn’t like designers from around the world,” Mulroney said. “She’s got great style. She knows exactly what she wants. She knows exactly what looks good on her, and the colors she likes, and what she should be wearing to different events. We also make sure we work with accessible fashion. Things that have very good price points to mix it up a bit – similar to what Mrs. Obama does actually.”
In her single days, Trudeau was a personal shopper at Holt Renfrew about eight or nine years ago, and later worked as an entertainment reporter for CTV’s etalk. There she worked with Mulroney’s husband Ben, who has been friends with the prime minister since they were boys. Like Trudeau, whose father Pierre also served as Canada’s prime minister, Ben Mulroney’s father Brian held that post at one time.