One thing’s for certain in the Canadian fashion arena: It’s high time our designers grabbed the attention they both need and deserve on the international stage. Now, with the vivacious and stylish Sophie Trudeau at our Prime Minister’s side, the stars may be finally aligning to give our talent the hefty platform they deserve. Consulting on the style choices Mrs. Trudeau makes is a coveted role and one not taken lightly by former Montrealer Jessica Mulroney. As the wife of CTV Etalk’s Ben Mulroney, the 36-year-old savvy fashionista not only has an innate sense of the kind of sartorial statements that work for the cameras, but she’s also a big proponent our country’s design scene. Juggling a family of three young kids and a multi-faceted fashion career, which includes PR and event-planning for bridal salon Kleinfeld Canada, Mulroney helped the Canadian luxury outerwear label “Sentaler” grab focus when she assisted Sophie Trudeau in choosing a white alpaca coat from the collection to wear for the PM’s swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall, and later, a camel Sentaler coat when the couple met the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
I recently spoke with Jessica Mulroney about her own work in the public eye, fashion beyond politics, and how she and Sophie Trudeau are on a mission to bolster awareness of Canadian design.
JEANNE BEKER: Tell me about this campaign you’re currently doing for LouLou Magazine, being featured on Instagram almost every day looking like a million bucks in every shot. Who knew that you were a model?
JESSICA MULRONEY: Smoke and mirrors, yeah. It’s kind of fun. I’m doing it for three months. Just a little social media campaign with LouLou Magazine, but really I got involved because it’s a great way to promote some Canadian designers and some interesting brands that I feel need a little attention. As sick as I am looking at myself everyday on social media, at least I’m doing some kind of good for some brands.
JB: When did you first really start falling in love with fashion?
JM: I think 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 gives me a little bit of a difference. I really enjoy the creativity of getting dressed, but not in a typical way. I try to mix things. I don’t just like 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. I just kind of I get myself dressed in the morning and if you saw normally what I wear everyday I think you’d be shocked!
JB: Well we all need a good dose of reality.
JM: I mean 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.
JB: Well, as you say, anyone who’s too obsessed with fashion and always concerned about turning up the volume on style—well that can get a little boring after a while.
JM: Boring and also time consuming. And time is not something I have these so much days, so if I were to take an hour to get ready before going to the hockey rink, I think that my life would not work very well.
JB: When you first moved to Toronto from Montreal about 8 years ago, you were involved with distributing a very upscale line of lingerie…
JM: When I moved here I wanted to find something to do but I was really trying to get to know the city and Ben. I was pregnant with the twins within a year of us being married and I’m really somebody that needs to be busy in a lot of ways. A career is very important to me and I was trying to find something to do. I met with the people from Cosabella and La Perla and I started this import business with my sister, distributing different brands of lingerie. It was a fun business dressing women in sexy lingerie. We didn’t only get praise from the women, but from their husbands and boyfriends.
JB: How did you get to be the face of Kleinfeld Canada?
JM: I met with Bonnie Brooks (then CEO of The Bay) to talk specifically about lingerie, because they were opening Kleinfeld in Hudson’s Bay and they had just licensed the brand. 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 from the lingerie business, I jumped into the bridal business.
JB: There are rumblings of another project you’re involved in–advising Sophie Trudeau on what to wear. Are you acting as a kind of stylist for her?
JM: I haven’t really talked about it so much. People have assumed a lot of things, but I’m not really her stylist. Sophie is a friend of mine 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 this Sentaler coat.
JB: And she certainly helped put that brand on the map!
JM: 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. So we knew we had something interesting and we’re just working together to make sure that we can make that kind of a difference for a lot of Canadian designers. 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.
JB: In sense then, I guess you’d be her style advisor?
JM: A fashion strategist maybe. But we’re really just working together to make sure that we can make a difference in Canadian fashion and hopefully give a bigger stage to these designers.
JB: I imagine that all these designers must be wanting your attention now, trying to get their clothes on Sophie’s back. I remember having a discussion with Michelle Obama about how so many different designers were offering to dress her and sending their wares over to the White House. I imagine that’s pretty much what’s going to be happening now with you and Sophie…
JM: 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. There are just so many talented designers and I just hope that we can try to represent all of them at one point. do
JB: What kind of a style tone would you say Sophie’s after and that you’re collaborating on? How would you ultimately like to see the wife of our Prime Minister dressing?
JM: Well, she’s got incredible style and I think that she knows what she likes and she has a great sense of style. She looks amazing in clothes. I just want to make sure that we represent all brands, and different price points of course. At this point it’s so early to tell. I am just hoping that the Canadian public receives it well as opposed to criticizes.
JB: How ironic…or perhaps charming… is it to see a Mulroney dressing a Trudeau?
JM: 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. (Sophie Gregoire, as she was then known, was a reporter on etalk for 5 years) The relationship has been there for a long time in terms of a friendship.
JB: Now let’s talk about your balancing—or juggling—act. It’s something that a lot of young women aspire to, and something that a lot of young women become a little skeptical of. Is it really possible to have it all? You’ve got the great husband, the fabulous kids, a cozy home life from where we sit—yet you’re yet you’re adamant about cultivating and maintaining this multifaceted career for yourself. How do you do it?
JM: You just try your best. A career is very important to me. I’m a driven person. But my family always comes first. What people see it’s not exactly the true story. We all know that. But I just try my best and some days I don’t feel like the best mom, or the best coworker. Some days I don’t feel like I do anything right. But I learn and everyday I try my best and I think that that’s all that you can do. I certainly look at other mothers that stay at home and sometimes I’m envious of them and how much time they have with their kids and what they’re doing is so difficult. And then I look at other mothers that have these careers and you can’t really win. But you certainly can try to succeed and that’s really all I’m trying to do.
JB: 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, the pros and cons of being in the public eye?
JM: Well 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 just follow my passion. That’s all that really matters.
JM: 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 work that I’m doing with 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.