It's high time Canadian fashion designers grabbed the attention they both need and deserve on the international stage. Now, with the vivacious Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau at our Prime Minister's side, our talent may get the lofty platform they merit. Consulting on Mrs. Trudeau's style choices is a coveted role and one not taken lightly by former Montrealer Jessica Mulroney. As the wife of Ben Mulroney, host of CTV's etalk, the 36-year-old not only has an innate sense of which sartorial statements will work for the cameras, but she's also a big proponent of our country's design scene.
Juggling a family with three young kids and a multi-faceted fashion career, which includes public relations for bridal salon Kleinfeld Canada, Mulroney helped Canadian luxury outerwear label Sentaler grab attention when she and Trudeau chose a white alpaca coat from its collection for the PM's swearing-in ceremony, and later, a camel Sentaler coat when the couple met the Queen at Buckingham Palace. I spoke with Mulroney about her own work, fashion beyond politics, and how she and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau are on a mission to bolster awareness of Canadian design.
When did you first start falling in love with fashion?
If you ask my mom, probably at the age of six. I was very specific, that's for sure. I'm not obsessed with fashion though, and I think that that's what makes me a little bit different. I really enjoy the creativity of getting dressed, but not in a typical way. I try to mix things. I don't just go to one place and buy a bunch of expensive clothing; I shop vintage. I take some of my mom's things from the seventies and mix that with something current. I like the creativity of putting things together in an interesting way but I don't try. If you saw what I wear every day I think you'd be shocked!
Well, we all need a good dose of reality.
Normally I'm a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl. I enjoy dressing up when I go to work and when I go to events, and I definitely have a great time doing that, but if you saw me on a regular weekend with three kids, I'm not sure you'd recognize me.
As you say, anyone who's too obsessed with fashion and always concerned about turning up the volume on style – that can get a little boring after a while.
Boring and also time-consuming. And time is not something I have so much of these days, so if I were to take an hour to get ready to go to the hockey rink, I think that my life would not work very well.
How did you get to be the face of Kleinfeld Canada?
I met with Bonnie Brooks [then CEO of Hudson's Bay] to talk specifically about lingerie, because they were opening Kleinfeld in The Bay. Originally the conversation was going to be for me to open up some kind of lingerie section for brides. But I got so excited about the idea of this bridal salon.
There was nothing like that in Canada. So quickly, I jumped into the bridal business.
There are rumblings of another project you're involved in – advising Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau on what to wear. Are you acting as a stylist for her?
I haven't talked about it much. People have assumed a lot of things, but I'm not really her stylist. Sophie is a friend and she looks great in clothes, so there's not really much for a stylist to do with her because she's got great style on her own. But she's very excited about being able to make some changes in Canada, and one of her big mandates is to work with Canadian design. We have such a wealth of talent in Canada, and it's a shame that sometimes these designers don't get the opportunity to have an international stage. When Justin was elected, Sophie needed a few Canadian items and I sent a few things to her, like the Sentaler coat.
And she certainly helped put that brand on the map!
And whether Sophie wants to be known for the clothes that she wears or not, she has the power to make some changes for all kinds of Canadian designers. So it was very impactful and [Belgrade-born, Toronto-based] Bojana Sentaler, who runs the label, can definitely say that it's totally changed her business for the better. I'm not Sophie's stylist but we're working together to make sure that we can represent Canadian designers so that everybody gets a chance.
In a sense then, I guess you'd be her style advisor?
A fashion strategist, maybe.
I imagine that these designers must be wanting your attention, trying to get their clothes on Sophie's back. I remember having a discussion with Michelle Obama about how so many designers were offering to dress her and sending their wares over to the White House.
I think that it's an exciting time for these designers and, going back to what had happened with Sentaler, we just want to be able to work with everybody and hopefully we'll get a chance.
How ironic – or perhaps charming – is it to see a Mulroney dressing a Trudeau?
I'm sure that people find it funny. But this has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with helping these designers, and really trying to make a difference in that way. Hopefully people see that. Ben has been friends with Justin for a long time and I met Sophie through Ben when they were working together on etalk. The relationship has been there for a long time in terms of a friendship.
As the wife of a high-profile Canadian broadcaster, you're also out there a lot. What has your husband taught you about the ups and downs of being in the public eye?
Ben and his family have been in the public eye for so long. I admire the way that he is kind of desensitized to it all. He never reads anything about himself. He's very confident when he goes out and just speaks his mind. If people don't like it, they don't like it. If they do, they do. From the beginning that's really something that I always greatly admired, because I think I'm a bit more sensitive than he is. But as long as you're true to yourself and true to who you want to be, that's the only thing that you should care about. He's definitely taught me that and to just be strong about what I want to do and follow my passion. That's all that really matters.
It seems to me that you're building your own kind of "Jessica Mulroney" brand.
Maybe people look at it as building a brand, and I can't disagree with that, but I'm enjoying all the work that I'm doing, whether it's The Shoebox Project, a charity I started with my sisters-in-law, which is one of my greatest accomplishments, or my work behind the camera, or in front of the camera. What my end game is I don't really know at this point. I'm just really enjoying the ride and the people I'm working with and hopefully making a difference.
This interview has been condensed and edited.