As retail competition heats up in this country, even the most venerable chains are pulling out all the stops to stand out from the crowd. Family-operated, publicly owned retailer Reitmans – founded in 1926, and one of the few large Canadian- run fashion chains remaining – has opted to woo women with some American star power. They've collaborated with Meghan Markle, who plays paralegal Rachel Zane on the hit series Suits, to create a new collection for theirs stores. Pronounced "Reetmans" by some and "Ritemans" by others, one thing is for certain: The brand, though respected, needed a face-lift, and Markle's effervescent personality and high profile stateside (she also does regular fashion segments on NBC's Today) could be just what the doctor ordered. Markle, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, is also a passionate philanthropist, having recently returned from a World Vision mission to Rwanda. I caught up with Markle at photographer Gabor Jurina's Toronto studio (where she was shooting a Reitmans campaign) to talk about her style sensibility and her new capsule collection.
Reitmans is a truly Canadian retailer, and there are fewer and fewer of them with each passing year. How did you first become aware of the chain?
When they reached out to me last year – it was an education for me. I think the reason they approached me is that they said Canadians had a perception of this 90-year-old company. When I mentioned Reitmans to people here locally, they'd say, "Oh, that's where my mom would buy her jeans in the eighties," or whatever they had stuck in their head. As an American, I had none of that attached to it because I didn't know the brand. I was able to look at what they had with really fresh eyes, and say, "There are pieces here that are so cool that if you're going to re-energize it, I'd be happy to be a part of that." What's been really neat is that then they said they wanted to start doing a capsule collection with me, and really expand my influence on the brand. I felt excited to be a part of that.
Was this a long-time fantasy for you, to have your own line?
No, it wasn't my dream to have a line or do a collaboration. That's not how I went into this. But as I started to work with them, I was reminded that, growing up, my mom had all these little piecemeal jobs, one of which was her own little clothing line. She made dresses, and I remember going with her to downtown L.A. to the fabric mart and visiting her pattern maker; she would sell these dresses on the side and I loved watching her do that. So launching this capsule collection of dresses feels serendipitous. This is something that I'm knowledgeable about and that I really enjoy. And because of Suits, people ask me all the time about what I'm wearing. But no one's going to go and buy a $5,000 Tom Ford skirt – as I wear as my character Rachel on the show – on any old Tuesday. So to be able to design pieces and say, "I wear that and it's 90 bucks and you can wear it, too," is the best response I can give, as opposed to breaking someone's heart with this crazy price point.
Do you actually help design the clothes or are you acting more as a stylist or editor?
This capsule has been crazy because it was much more hands-on in terms of the design process. I wanted the pieces to not feel like a collection per se. For me, it was dipping my toes in this, and thinking about what I want to say about how I dress, because everything is very jet set for me. I thought, well, if I have one carry-on bag and I have to throw four pieces in there to be ready for any event that I'm going to, what would I have? I'm a California girl, so I'd have a maxi dress and a perfect LBD, but one with a bit more structure and a pencil skirt-type silhouette. Very Rachel Zane inspired! And then a great-for-spring white dress, with some flounce. I think everyone needs that in their closet. And then there's a dress that's a little bit more fashion forward that has a great big bow detail that we saw on the Gucci runway.
How do you feel about being a spokesperson for a whole brand?
It's such an honour. It's super overwhelming. I don't think my parents fully understand what's happening up here because these billboards aren't in the States. For me, it's a huge moment especially because I feel like I've adopted Canada as much as it's adopted me in the past five years. This will be my sixth year living here, working on the show. And I'm here nine months out of the year. So I feel especially proud to be so connected to Reitmans, and to be embraced by Canada in a way that feels really special.
How do you deal with any pressure you may feel walking a red carpet?
Red carpets are daunting. I don't think they ever get comfortable, to be honest. I think that it's a very strange expectation, even though people assume that as an actor you would be comfortable modelling. Walking the red carpet is like being a model but the cameras are everywhere, so you don't even know exactly where to look and you can't protect your angle. And as women, we all have things that we're self-conscious about. I don't care how glamorous and perfect you think someone looks on the red carpet: I guarantee they're feeling nervous or insecure about some small thing. I think that's the part that's humanizing. So, for me, what's very important is that we all support each other and empower each other, and say, take the risk. Feel good.
This interview has been condensed and edited.