Canada’s favourite designer duo, Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong, just unveiled their latest collection for Greta Constantine at their New York Fashion Week presentation. However, only a few weeks before, we gathered in the Lenny Kravitz Suite at Toronto’s BISHA Hotel to get an exclusive first glance at their magical SS19 designs as a talented cast of creatives rallied together to produce this season’s lookbook. To bring the spectacular array of designs from the popular line to life, and embody the coveted role of the Greta Girl, GC chose one of the most exquisite, elegant and accomplished models in the industry: Debra Shaw.

An American model now based in Paris, Shaw has graced the runways of McQueen and Galliano, starred in campaigns for big designers like Mugler, and most recently graced the cover of Vogue Portugal. Despite having a successful 20+ year career as a supermodel, she chooses to describe herself as an artist.

“I don’t see myself as a title model. For me, I’m an artist because that comes into many categories because I do a lot of things. I don’t always showcase what I do, but Artist, I believe, or Performing Artist, is the best title that fits me. I feel comfortable in that title. I don’t feel comfortable to say I’m a model.” She tells me, as we sit out on the suite’s terrace as lunch was wrapping up. “[Work] is a collaboration, and it is something coming together. I am inspired by the energy I am receiving, the clothes I am wearing, from hair to makeup. With that, it changes each time. So, to give it one title, I think it’s not fair or accurate.”

Energy is something that seems incredibly important to Shaw. As we were settling into our conversation, she mentioned that “the energy [she gives] for the interview is totally different from shooting.” Shaw’s energy both on and off camera was infectious: she upholds a sense of grace and regality that commands the attention and adoration of everyone around her.

While shooting each look, it was mesmerizing to watch Shaw as she moved and embodied the Greta Girl. Her poses were fluid, seamlessly shifting her body from one posture to another. The entire time, she spoke candidly to those off-camera to ensure that each part of her body was placed to perfection. The constant communication between the crew – consisting of the incredible stylist and DTK fashion editor Randy Smith, photographer Peter Tamlin, Greta Constantine designers Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong, and many talented others – was similar to that of a professional sports team: a machine-like operation that ensures everyone understands what is happening and contributes to collective success.

The Philadelphia-born model has been working in the industry for over 20 years. Her longevity in an industry that constantly turns over talent after two or three years sprints comes as a surprise. “It’s like an out-of-body experience looking at someone else’s career.  I’m only aware of it when it’s brought to my attention. Because it doesn’t feel like 20 years, it feels like 2 or 5 sometimes. I just keep going, literally. I don’t get stuck in it, I don’t celebrate it enough – I should celebrate some of these moments that happen – I guess I’m afraid to jinx it somehow, so I just keep going, and I keep looking for the next. Like here’s a new designer, I like what he’s doing, how do I meet him. Or okay, this is what’s happening and through the students – it’s like I’m learning from them as much as I am giving them things – they have their own style or their own way of looking at things. I’m always wanting to know what is happening.”

Shaw is an extremely passionate individual. She has been a long-time supporter of Life Ball AIDS charity in Vienna, Austria, and Orange Babies AIDS charity in Amsterdam, Holland. These two foundations are near and dear to her heart; however, she is a widespread supporter of all AIDS-related charities. “Every now and then I’ll do something like L’Oréal against AIDS or something along that line, because that’s very passionate for me because I came in at a time where I lost a lot of people to this illness and we did not have the information that we have today.”

Another passion of hers is music. “I have an EP that’s out you can find it on Spotify and iTunes, it came out in 2015. It is an art form, the way it is self-produced. It is spoken word with live musicians that is jazz/funk based with a little bit of singing. I am happy to be able to extend that part of my career with that too, because it is something I always did growing up, singing as a child.”

She continues to reveal that she is getting back into the studio soon. “I’m working with my partner, it is called Debra’s Dream, so it’s me and an Italian composer, and we have musicians from all different genres that come together. We performed it at a jazz café in London and we’ve done festivals before as well.”

In terms of fashion, she loves to support up-and-coming designers. “A lot of designers I’ve been wearing recently are African American designers that have not been heard but have really good ideas… Whenever I can make a statement through my clothing, I do. It’s not in your face – you will never see me wearing something with a name label on it, that’s just not me. I’m more discreet. I am definitely always conscious of what I’m wearing and making a statement with that. Whether it’s received worldwide or not, I know in my heart I know I’m making a difference by supporting the younger artists who need that and who just don’t have that platform.”

Shaw wants to change the fashion industry for the better and is a mentor for young models to help them prepare for the harsh reality of the job. She is also an advocate for diversity, not just in skin colour but in age, shape, and size. She doesn’t stray away from clients who haven’t been so kind to diversity in the past. “I don’t choose people based on their diversity, because a lot of times I am you know their first one, or the only one…I have to keep pushing that envelope and representing women. It’s not whether I want to be a leader or not, it’s just my duty as a human being to bring awareness to these things because when I was growing up, I saw women who looked like me, so it wasn’t so rare to see that. If I have to be the only one, then at least I can make a difference.”

Social media is a great tool for spreading her message, and as the world shifts more and more emphasis on social media, she finds that her career has to focus on expanding her personal brand online as well. “I’m able to talk to people that follow me. I’m finally hearing how I inspire someone, that they like what I’m doing, because I didn’t know it in the ’90s, if I was in a magazine or things like that. You’d just buy the magazine and be like, ‘Oh, there’s a picture of me from a show!’, but now you get to hear it right away.”

As we wrap up our chat, Shaw reinforces how important it is that she uses her position as a public figure to leave a positive impact on the world. “We need to be conscious in all areas, and what we are wanting to say to the listeners. Because they are listening, and we too have a huge influence on people. We’re now at this time [where] we have to be really impeccable in the angle of our message, because this world is not pretty out there, with what is happening. We have to get out and show love and share. You can never receive too much love, in the end. Just smile at someone, be nice to someone.”

Like Shaw, the Greta Constantine SS19 radiates a timeless and effervescent beauty. The collection features an array of liquid-like fabrics draped in louche silhouettes and night-into-day hues. Pickersgill and Wong reworked night-time staples through the use of metallic fabrics that act like a second skin, evoking a post-disco, don’t-care-but-I-most-definitely-do mentality. In a nod to ’80s ambition, excess, and empowerment, the designs transcend beyond Carrington and Colby into a modern reflection on diversity and power by way of voice and image. Silhouettes of bold shoulders and accentuated waists are less focused on recreating a decade synonymous with Madonna and more aligned with shedding light on the women who weren’t seen, weren’t heard, and existed outside the mainstream, but were proud and driven nonetheless. For the designer pair, the ’80s were important for their understanding of design, glamour, and femininity. The collection celebrates the era where being different was enough of a reason to celebrate, and that strength and power lies within a person’s character, not in their notoriety.

#GRETAGIRL
@GRETACONSTANTINE
WWW.GRETACONSTANTINE.COM

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Jane Bradshaw

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