Designers Kirk & Stephen of Greta Constantine
Both originally from Jamaica, Kirk Pickersgill (left) and Stephen Wong (right) are the designers behind the Canadian brand Greta Constantine. As a child Kirk dreamed of becoming an art teacher while Stephen had his mind set on entering either architecture or jewelry. The world of fashion lucked out when both discovered their love of it, moved to Canada, met each other and eventually launched the iconic brand Greta Constantine.
The duo took part in this #stmINTERVIEWED Q&A in December after receiving thunderous applause for their latest collection’s runway show.
Q. – STM -What originally led each of you into the world of fashion?
A. – Kirk – It would have to be a cover of American Vogue with either Shari Belafonte or Brooke Shields. My aunt Sonia was a flight attendant that would always carry fashion magazines from whichever fabulous destination she had just returned from. She would talk about flying to Paris and Rome and back again. Indeed, at the time, flight attendants looked like models and she was no different – tall, beautiful, slender. I was in awe of her glamorous, jet set lifestyle, with her designer clothes and accessories. In particular, I remember she had a colourful Oscar de la Renta dress that was unlike anything I had seen before. She would wear the dress with such pride and in a way, she’d transform into this daring, bold, empowered woman. And I also loved the fact that she would call the dress “my Oscar”. This led me into fashion and helped me realize womenswear would be my calling.
A. – Stephen –I’ve always had close ties to fashion. When you love something, you are drawn to those who share that love. From very early on, I’ve had friends who worked in the fashion industry in a variety of roles from models, stylists, make-up artists and hair stylists, to editors, photographers, and designers.
Q. – STM – Why do people call you the Jersey Boys of Toronto?
A. – Stephen – We started out by producing collections focused around jersey dresses. Our design approach was to use jersey in such a way so as to create forgiving, architectural silhouettes rather than the norm at the time of bodycon styles. We then became known for our draped jersey dresses.
A. – Kirk – Come to think of it, I think it all started with an interview for the Toronto Star with Derick Chetty when he informed us that our tag within the industry was “the Jersey Boys.”
Q. – STM – I understand the name Greta Constantine comes from a combination of names of family members. How did you pick these and what is the significance of each?
A. – Stephen – The name Greta Constantine came about because we wanted the brand to have the name of a person, but also have it represent the both of us. I thought we should each choose a name that is dear to each of us and put them together. Greta is my mother’s name and Constantine is the name of Kirk’s grandfather.
My parents raised me to be curious about the world, and develop my own ideas/opinions. This way of thinking often influences my work as I’m always playing with ideas to well, innovate. After all, that really is the expectation of a creative.
A. – Kirk – Constantine was my mother’s father’s name. He passed away when she was sixteen, and while I never had the opportunity to meet him, I was often told I resembled him very much. When Stephen and I were coming up with a name for our label, we decided to each pick a name of a person we loved. Although I love all of my family dearly, I thought that I would love to pay homage to my grandfather and his name.
Q. – STM -When it comes to designing a collection, where do you get your inspiration? What influences you most? How do you come to a conclusion when the two of you disagree over something design related?
A. – Kirk – Stephen and I share the same aesthetic and when it comes to designing the collection we’re both inspired by rather different things. I am inspired by conversation; I love learning and listening. I ask a million questions and with every answer you inherit a new idea. Growth influences me as I hate being stuck and bored. We hardly ever disagree especially because, at its root, our concept is to design for every woman. Each woman has a style of her own and there are many, many women out there!
A. – Stephen – Inspiration comes from all places; I often play with the fabrics to see what works best. It may sound trite, but it’s the fabric that tells you what it wants to be. Beyond that, we are friends with many of our clients. We know their lives and their needs. We always have them in mind when designing. Indeed, we rarely have disagreements over design related things as the collection is big enough to accommodate both of our ideas!
Q. – STM – Tell me about one of your biggest learning moments you experienced in the early years of your business. What did you learn and what do you do differently now because of this?
A. – Kirk – You must learn how to change, grow, stay relevant, and listen to your clientele. Hard to pinpoint just one situation, as so many things happen at once. We went into business without any startup capital, no business plan, just a sewing machine and a passion and love for fashion. The joy of it is the fact that everyday, every meeting, every discussion we’re still learning. The day I stop learning, is the day I know I have to retire.
Q. – STM – What is one thing about you that people always assume and are completely wrong about?
A. – Stephen – This didn’t occur to me until recently, but I’ve been told that people sometimes think we fly around in private jets and are millionaires.
A. – Kirk – That we spend every waking moment together.
Q. – STM – What is the one thing you each love about fashion the most? What is the one thing you would change about the business of fashion within Canada and globally?
A. – Stephen – Fashion is about fantasy and it’s also aspirational. It not only says who you are, but also who you want to be. You can come across in very different ways depending on how you dress. The Canadian fashion industry is relatively quite young. Globally, I do think the fashion industry needs to slow down. There used to be two seasons: spring/summer and fall/winter. Now there’s also resort and pre-fall. Delivery dates are also much tighter. People want the clothes on their backs as they’re shown. While fashion is not meant to be forever, it’s also not meant to be as disposable as it’s become.
A. – Kirk – For me, it’s the privilege of doing what I love. We have a platform to not only be heard but also to influence. It’s hard to mention just one thing, but I do love the word “change.”
Q. – STM -What is the one piece of advice you were each given over the years that you will remember forever?
A. – Stephen – “If you’re going to be in fashion, you have to be prepared to live and breathe it” -Ron Catahan. This was told to me when we started our business. It’s turned out to be very true! We’ve had to have our business take priority in our lives and have fashion permeate every waking hour!
A. – Kirk – After my experiences with some of the most successful, influential individuals in the industry, I’ve learned so much. Above all, and what I share with the many people that I continue to work with today is: Sometimes you need to just sit down, shut up, and learn.
Q. – STM – Please each find pictures of your favourite Great Constantine looks. Why did you choose these as your favourites?
A. – Kirk – (above left photo) – I live in the present and pay homage to the past, so I’ve chosen a look from our most recent collection. To me it shows a progression without being too great a departure from who the Greta Constantine woman is.
A. – Stephen – (above right photo) – The seatbelt pieces we created for fall 2009 were unlike anything people had seen before. Inspired by armour, these second-layer styles generated immense buzz and effectively placed Greta Constantine on the tongue of many fashion editors and insiders. Later, when Coco Rocha opted to wear the piece shortly after its runway unveiling, it was foreshadowing of what was to come.
Q. – STM -Tell me about your current collection. What elements have carried over from your past collections into your latest? What is new and different? What brought about these new elements to the collection?
A. – Kirk – The latest collection exemplifies who we’ve become over the years and how we’ve grown. Our newness stems from fabrication and silhouette. Fabrication is so important to both Stephen and I. We love to experiment with it and importantly, find inspiration from it. The fabric speaks to us and always insists on doing what it wants at the end of the day.
Make sure to follow Greta Constantine on Twitter (@gretconstantine) and Instagram (@gretaconstantine) to stay up to date with their latest happenings and click over to www.gretaconstantine.com to view collections and find a retailer near you.
Photos courtesy of Greta Constantine