THE IT: Meet Ezra Constantine

Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong, the designers of Greta Constantine and Ezra Constantine, the menswear line which had its official launch party last week. Writer Paul Aguirre-Livingston turned what seemed like a missed opportunity into an exclusive interview. Photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

“I think you missed it,” said Samantha Beckerman, of the Beckermans fashion line, as I rushed into a historical Annex home for the preview of Ezra Constantine’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection. Turns out that the 9 p.m. showing of the new menswear line was cancelled because, on the busiest August night for Toronto’s media, the people had simply come, seen, loved and left.

“It had this military subtext to it,” Fashion Television’s Christopher Sherman commented, “but still very classic Ezra.” What an odd way of putting it, I thought. A collection that is still so in its infancy (not even a year old) already had a look, a “classic” style. And that’s why it mattered that I missed it.

Having shown Ezra’s first collection alongside big sister Greta Constantine last October, designers Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong celebrated the second collection with a coming out party all its own. From the pictures circling through the interwebs (read: Twitpics) of the show, the comments seemed to centre around the “Ooh, hot male models” variety.

Therein lies the problem with serious menswear: How do you create buzz behind a collection and not use sexuality as a way of selling clothes? I get it (I really do), but is it necessary to throw a shirt, unbuttoned, on a chiseled-by-lack-of-muscle man and send it down the runway? It may make some girls swoon, but I assure you it makes the male followers, editors or not, yawn.

But Ezra is different. The men were tattooed, they were real, and so was the clothing. Circling back to Chris Sherman’s point: What is “classic” Ezra? In short: raw, comfortable and full of drapery, punctuated—at least in this incarnation—with safety pins. Cut-off sleeves in light fabrics that make sense for summer, and badass drop-crotch trousers and short shorts with fishnets gave the “hot, shirtless male models” (in the swimwear part of the collection) the kind of edge not seen in Canada since Juma or Denis Gagnon.

So, with DJ Vaneska spinning by the pool, and the glitterati migrating around her and the multi-million dollar home behind us, I couldn’t let this missed fashion show be my formal introduction to Monsieur Ezra. When all else fails, you have to go straight to the source: The designer. Thus, I stole Stephen Wong (one-half of Ezra) for an impromptu interview on everything from muses to the brand’s menswear mission.

Why menswear? Was it always part of the plan?

“It’s always been the plan, but there wasn’t a time stamp on it. We just thought it was the right time. We were right—it’s the very beginning of an exciting time in menswear. Men are open to more avant-garde looks, even in Toronto, which is pretty conservative.”

Painfully conservative!

“Exactly. Even though Ezra is a menswear collection, it’s taken off because women have been wearing it, and they look amazing.”

Who is the Ezra customer?

“Definitely cool, doesn’t like to be conventional. Kirk and I never wear suits, but we often attend black-tie events and a certain way of dressing is required. We’re changing and twisting the rules to make it for palpable to us.”

What was the inspiration behind this collection?

“We wanted to focus on the classics. Everything starts out as a classic piece and then we either change the fabric or tailoring on it a bit. For example, with our trench—the lapel on one side was huge and we blew it up, with the other side all the way to the ground. It’s new and it’s fresh, but it seems feels familiar: It’s still that classic trench.”

What were the main fabrics you used?

“A lot of technical fabrics: coated linen, which we used in a brown fabric so it looks like butcher paper. We’ve also done some tensel, which is a wood fault fibre, a green fabric. Cotton twills, the basics—what a spring-summer collection should be.”

Yolanda Jackson, your stylist, told me that there was a story behind the collection and the presentation.

“The home belongs to Michael Cooper and Krystal Koo. Krystal is a client of ours, and a dear friend, and they offered their historical place to us. We were actually looking for a location and it just happened to work.”

Favourite fashion memory?

“This is easy. It’s about a dear friend of mine, Suzanne Boyd [the editor-in-chief of Zoomer magazine]. Before Suede, before New York, before all that, she was the editor-in-chief of Flare magazine. I’ve looked up to her since forever and I’m fortunate enough to be able to call her a friend.

At this place I worked at long ago, Suzanne used to come in to have things made or altered. One time, she came in with this amazing, amazing, Valentine Couture ostrich feather coat that had black and white feathers—she needed some work done on it. The most wonderful thing is that you get to see how these garments are made from the inside-out. We made a white gown for her, she paired it with the coat, and it was incredible. When I think of fashion—like drop-dead-jaw-dropping, like fierceness—I think of Suzanne Boyd in that outfit.”

I remember hearing Suzanne talk a few years back about the beginning of fashion in Toronto, and it seemed like she did her own thing, and was able to make things happen through sheer hard work.

“It was a fabulous time; I was around then. We maybe weren’t friends then, but I always knew of her. Even when she didn’t have money, she always had Chanel lipstick. She was always fabulous in that way—somebody you have to admire and look up to. She’s definitely a muse, and she’s inspiring more than one or two outfits in the upcoming spring Greta collection.”

What do you think about the Canadian scene as a whole? Do you think we’ll have a strong menswear scene? I don’t find fashion accessible to the Canadian man.

“It is accessible, but we don’t have the market the U.S. does. Even our own brand—it’s very niche, and it’s not a mass-marketed type of line. I wouldn’t want to see our collections in a lot of stores because I don’t think a lot of people would get it. Maybe I’m wrong, I hope I’m wrong. But it’s special in that way.”

Other menswear designers you admire?

“I love Damir Doma, and Julius and June Jay is amazing.”

Favourite male celeb style. Who’s doing it right?

“That’s not an easy thing to answer. So many people have stylists, so you can’t really tell it apart anymore.”

Are you doing bags yet?

“Not yet, but we are in the works with a collaboration that is pretty exciting, and will allow us to do things we wouldn’t normally do, or be able to do. Accessories, but not shoes.” [Despite my efforts, Stephen won't spill any further]

You just came back from a New York agent-scouting trip. What was the reaction to the lines?

“The reaction was really great. We didn’t really sign with anyone, maybe we’re a little overprotective about it, but we want to make sure we’re with the right agent, and the right PR, and the right reps. It’s very personal.”

Ezra: What’s the future?

“The line is particularly dear to me, they both are—Greta is named after my mother and Ezra after my father—but I’m particularly fond of the menswear. I identify with it a lot more.”

What can we expect from Greta this year?

“We haven’t ironed it all out yet into a story or a theme, but we’ve been working on pieces and need to tie it in.With Greta, you know you’ll always find a great jersey dress, so that’s a given.”

Check out our party pics from the Ezra Constantine party, and the Spring 2011 collection here.

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