Spotlight on Canadian designers

The time has come for fashion designers from Canada as its new First Lady gets in on the style game

After New York, London, Milan and Paris... Toronto?

Long overlooked by the fashion folk, Canadian designers were front and centre at the state dinner in the White House last Thursday, as modelled by both Mrs Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Mrs Michelle Obama, the American First Lady.

Mrs Trudeau wore a royal purple gown with a train and orange detailing on the bodice by RomanianCanadian designer Lucian Matis, a regular at Toronto Fashion Week (yes, there is one and it ends tomorrow). Mrs Obama wore a strapless navy blue floral jacquard dress by Taiwanese-Canadian Jason Wu, a designer who shows during New York Fashion Week and also made both her inaugural gowns. The dress was notably more relaxed than the formal ballgown-like styles by Carolina Herrera and Vera Wang that Mrs Obama wore to the state dinners for France and China, perhaps reflecting the relative youth and relaxed attitude of the Trudeaus.

Still, it was consistent with her approach to state dinner dressing, given that she has made something of a speciality out of wearing cross- border design names to these events, including Japanese-American Tadashi Shoji to the Japan state dinner in April last year, Chinese- American Wang to the China dinner in September and Indian-American Naeem Khan to the India state dinner in 2009.

And it was indicative of another current fashion reality, which is that many Canadian designers feel it is necessary to leave Canada to achieve international recognition.

At the state dinner in the White House  Mrs Sophie Gregoire Trudeau wore a purple gown by RomanianCanadian designer Lucian Matis while Mrs Michelle Obama was in a jacquard number by Taiwanese- Canadian Jason Wu.

Earlier on Thursday, Mrs Obama wore a dress by Tanya Taylor, a young Canadian designer who now works in New York, for the arrival ceremony on the South Lawn.

Other famous Canadian design names not currently associated with Canada - at least in the public mind - include Erdem Moralioglu, who grew up in Montreal, but now shows as part of London Fashion Week and is based in London, and Thomas Tait, who grew up outside Montreal, but is now also based in London and recently held a presentation in Paris.

If Mrs Trudeau, 40, has anything to do with it, however, that may all be about to change. Her stylist, Jessica Mulroney, the daughter- in-law of a former Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney, has said that Mrs Trudeau is committed to using her new position - the New York Post called her the "hottest first lady in the world" and she already has the requisite blog dedicated to her style, Sophie Gregoire Fashions - to increase the profile of Canadian designers on the global stage.

To that end, her local industry boosterism did not stop at the state dinner. Mrs Trudeau also wore a white trouser suit by Vietnamese- Canadian Duy Nguyen when she stepped off the plane with her family at Andrews Air Force Base; a floral jacket by Ellie Mae Studios for the Canada 2020 reception; a red and pink floral sheath by Matis (again) for the Let Girls Learn event with Mrs Obama; and, along with her gown, Zvelle shoes designed by Elle AyoubZadeh, an IranianCanadian, and an Ela bag by Ela Kowalewska to the state dinner.

Needless to say, the designers were pretty excited.

At the arrival ceremony Mrs Trudeau wore another Lucian Matis design while Mrs Obama was in a dress by Canadian designer Tanya Taylor. PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

"Sophie Trudeau wearing Lucian Matis twice in one day!" Matis posted on Facebook (well, he posted a lot, but this sums it up).

"Honoured to be a small part of this historic occasion," Zvelle wrote on its Instagram feed.

Pointedly, many of the clothes Mrs Trudeau selected emphasise Canada's growing profile as a melting pot of nationalities, ideas and aesthetics, which could be a coincidence, but is probably not.

When it comes to fashion and politics, clothes are never just clothes. They are a strategic tool.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Spotlight on Canadian designers'. Print Edition | Subscribe