'I've never seen anything quite like this': Canadian designers basking in Meghan Markle effect
Pandemonium is the word that came to John Muscat's mind as the Toronto fashion designer described the day Meghan Markle wore his white wool LINE coat to announce her engagement to Prince Harry last November.
First, his cellphone started going crazy with notifications at 7 a.m. Then, the media started calling.
"It was crazy. The entire globe knew who we were in that moment and that's something that I think very few people ever get the opportunity to experience," said Muscat, who was surprised to see the American actor choose his coat, despite knowing she's a fan of the brand from her years spent working in Toronto.
LINE Knitwear's website briefly crashed as fashionistas frantically tried to buy the coat, now renamed "The Meghan," which sold out instantly.
Canadian fashion designers like Muscat are benefiting from the so-called Markle effect, the term used to describe an instant spike in demand for clothing, jewelry and other items Markle wears since she and Prince Harry announced their engagement on Nov. 27, 2017.
Muscat said Markle's fashion choice put a spotlight on his brand and that was like winning an Olympic gold medal.
"We've been doing this for a long time and I've never seen anything quite like this," Muscat said, despite the fact that other celebrities, such as Oprah and Sarah Jessica Parker, have worn LINE clothing on magazine covers and in films.
The coat worn by a smiling Markle is now on countless teaspoons, key chains and mugs in souvenir shops across Britain.
"I'm still toying with the idea of whether I want to order some," Muscat said, with a laugh.
'The best Christmas present'
Markle also made a splash wearing a different wool coat designed by another Canadian on Christmas Day when she broke with tradition to become the first royal-in-waiting to join the Windsors for Christmas service.
"It was the best Christmas present that I could get," said Toronto-based designer Bojana Sentaler, adding that the camel-coloured alpaca coat sold out right away and is currently on a second back order.
Sentaler also capitalized on the frenzy to book private meetings with potential customers during this month's London Fashion Week.
She said the Markle effect is having a big impact on her company.
"It's another stamp of approval for us," said Sentaler, whose coats have also been worn at public events by Kate Middleton and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. "Anything the royals wear are considered timeless."
Spreading the wealth
Markle has chosen a string of Canadian brands to highlight in appearances since the engagement, including Montreal-based Mackage and Toronto's SMYTHE, which quickly rushed to reissue the discontinued coat Markle wore in early January.
Fine jewelry brand Birks is also a favourite of hers. The company noticed a 400-per-cent increase in web traffic after people saw Markle wearing its opal earrings as she and Prince Harry announced their engagement.
"It wasn't just about one brand. It was about Canada as a whole," Muscat said, calling Markle's attention on Canadian brands "a gift."
"In a market that is so oversaturated with mega brands who have all the power just from their sheer size, to be able to get a moment like this helps shine a spotlight on your brand that you couldn't buy."
The economic impact on the fashion designers Markle chooses to wear is significant.
British firm Brand Finance estimates the royal wedding will inject one billion pounds ($1.77 billion Cdn) into the U.K. economy, with 150 million pounds ($265 million Cdn) of that going to fashion brands unofficially endorsed by Markle.
The company CEO David Haigh also believes there's "a significant chance" that the Meghan effect could be even greater than the Kate effect on fashion brands.
Attention across the Atlantic
The timing couldn't be better for the Canadian designers.
LINE Knitwear opened a showroom in London last fall and Birks jewelry became available for purchase in 12 U.K. locations, just a month before the engagement announcement.
The current spotlight on Canada's fashion industry also helped seal the deal to showcase nearly a dozen up-and-coming designers at an event during London Fashion Week, an opportunity Susan Langdon, executive director of Toronto Fashion Incubator, has been working on for a couple of years.
Langdon believes the Markle effect is simply the latest addition to a general change in perception about Canada, which starts at the top with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"When you have a leader of the country setting the mood, then people really start to see what else this country has to offer," she told CBC News. "People kind of go, 'Oh so it's not just snow and it's not just parkas and snow boots. There are other things there that are interesting.'"
With the royal wedding set for May 19, there is a hope that Markle will continue to wear Canadian brands despite the natural expectation to also highlight British designers.
"I think she's made it clear that she really wants to favour Commonwealth brands," Haigh said.
Fitting, then, that one of the front-runners rumoured to be designing Markle's wedding gown is Erdem, a London-based Canadian designer.
Muscat finds that idea delightful.
"It would be great if she continued to wear Canadian but I have no idea," Muscat said.
"She may do a blend. We'll see what happens."