It’s the days leading up to Montréal Grand Prix and designer Caroline Constas is being fêted the by the luxury Canadian department store, Holt Renfrew, at their annual Grand Prix event.
She enters the party being held at the top floor of the Ritz Carlton, her statuesque framed draped in a long, white, strapless goddess-gown of her own design. Earlier in the day, she posted a photo of herself with her collection’s display at the store with a caption that read, “Dreams to come true.”
For Constas, this year’s Grand Prix event is not only a dream come true, but it’s also a homecoming of sorts. Being honored by the department store coincides with the Montréal native’s 5th of year in business at the helm of her namesake label.
“I’ve been dreaming of working with them [Holt Renfrew] for years and years because growing up in Montréal, that was the place you aspired to shop,” she says.
As a young fashion brand, to stay in business in a cutthroat industry after 5 years is, indeed, recognition-worthy. Constas, however, has done more than just stay in business—her brand is thriving, and the Holt Renfrew event is an acknowledgment of her success.
Her collection’s whimsical-yet-elegant vibe is directly inspired by Constas’ upbringing and globetrotting lifestyle, which is marked by life in New York, summers in Greece and inspiration trips to foreign countries.
“It started when I was 8 years old, and I was traveling to Greece every summer to visit family,” she says. She is the daughter of a Greek-Lebanese father and an American mother who, through these visits, exposed her to the world from a very young age.
During her childhood travels, she found herself sketching the clothes she wanted to wear on her holidays, and over time she became aware of the keen eye she possessed for spotting trends that crossed borders.
“I was always very focused and aware of fashion and how fashion differed, and how it was similar across different cultures. I was able to see what was overlapping between different countries,” she says.
A key factor to her success is that Constas herself is the ultimate muse for her brand—she knows her customer because she is her customer. “I start each season with the question: What do I want to wear that isn’t in the market?” she says, admitting she is designing for herself first and foremost, knowing that women like herself will gravitate to what she’s offering.
In addition, Constas is regularly featured on her company’s social media in her designs and also posts pictures and musings from her personal travels. Images of her wearing her label bring the clothes to life in a way only she can, and the content, as a result, is a physical embodiment of the Caroline Constas brand story. She is undoubtedly one of her company’s biggest assets.
In the beginning days of her label, it was this idea of creating clothes for her own personal lifestyle led to the creation of the Lou top, the design that put her name on the map.
Constas had always been searching for cotton shirting in feminine shapes and came up with an off the shoulder silhouette in a blue striped fabric traditionally used for dress shirts. An editor came in to view the collection, snapped a pic of the shirt and posted it to social media, which then led to Oprah’s stylist pulling the shirt for a shoot. The next thing she knew, the Lou top was on the cover of O Magazine. “It was absolutely surreal,” the designer says of the experience.
After the appearance on the cover, the online retailer Shopbop quickly placed an order for the top, which then sold out on its first day on the site. “That’s how I figured out that I had something,” she says.
Her brand caught the eye of more and more buyers and editors, landing her clothes in top magazines and retail stores. She works these relationships to her business’ advantage, releasing numerous collaborations or capsule collections with the world’s most well-known retailers each year. To date, she has collaborated with everyone from Intermix to Net-a-Porter, and, most recently, with iconic New York City department store, Bergdorf-Goodman.
As a small brand, these capsules and collaborations have proven to be a big part of her growth strategy as these regularly-occurring retail alignments (most fashion brands only do these sorts of collaborations from time to time), allow her to reach new consumers and provide them with touch points into the Caroline Constas brand story.
Fashion wasn’t always the plan for the Canadian designer, though. She was preparing for medical school when her father, who was a doctor, recognized she was torn about her future career path. He suggested she take a year off to work in the fashion industry as that seemed to be her passion, and almost immediately Constas got a job on the sales side of the business.
“I didn’t think sales was going to be my thing but it was a blessing in disguise because it taught me about the business,” she recalls. This position led her to want to understand every facet of the industry before deciding which aspect of the business was right for her.
“I worked for one showroom after another and I created contacts with buyers all over the world,” she says. “I attended Parsons on nights and weekends studying fashion design and all its elements like pattern making, draping, and fashion history.” After 7 years of on-the-ground training, she decided to go for it and start her own label.
Since then, she’s seen nothing but exponential growth.
Caroline Constas is carried in all the top boutiques, online retailers and department stores around the world. The cosmopolitan, cool and chic flock to her label for its unique, feminine silhouettes and bold patterns, colors and prints laced with international flair. Year after year, she is seeing significant growth, sometimes in the double and triple digits, and she’s done all of this with only $10,000 seed money and without outside investment.
She intends to stay independent and continue to grow the business organically by expanding product categories instead of her account list. For example, Constas’ swim line (which launched two years ago) has grown to have the same number of retailers as the collection. “It has been the most successful swim season we’ve ever had,” she says about her 2019 sales. “All of our online partners have all increased their buys drastically.”
After a whirlwind two days of festivities in Montréal, it’s back to New York to reunite with her team for market week, a time when buyers and editors come in to view the collections and make decisions regarding their buys and editorials. As the face of her company, she spends one-on-one time with every appointment, reasserting herself as the brand’s founder, ambassador, and muse at once.
While she makes it look ever so easy, behind the scenes she deals with all the challenges, ups, and downs that any business owner would face. For example, finding the right talent for her company is a constant struggle, and so she prefers to work with a small, but committed, team which is supplemented by a stable of freelancers. “Having that amazing power team, that was definitely challenging at the beginning, but I feel it’s something that I’ve mastered,” she says.
It’s the bottom line, however, that matters the most to Constas. “Really making sure your margins are what they are, at the end of the day, this is what is sustaining your business,” she says. “Figuring out what should we keep and cut, looking at that and being super conscious of margins goes hand in hand in running the right team.”
Her desire to keep pushing forward is insatiable, but in the world where one day you’re in and the next you’re out, it’s this grit that keeps her in the game and ahead of the pack.
“This is my character,” she says of her tenacity. “It’s been exciting for me as a woman, to move to New York, not know anyone, and fight through all of this with a lot of drive and aggression.”