- Words by Laura Goldstein Photography by Jamie Mann
Designer, entrepreneur and unabashed romantic, Christine Morton is reminiscing about her illustrious career in lingerie from her 4,500-square-foot showroom and workshop in East Vancouver.
When big hair and exaggerated poses of pouting models epitomized 1980s magazine spreads, “it was a bit naughty advertising lingerie on real models back then,” she laughs. “But, you know, I was never afraid to take risks.”
Risk-taking, an innate ability to reinterpret sensual beauty into sumptuous lingerie enjoyed by every age, as well as a dedicated, loyal workforce—more like family than employees—are the secrets to her success, as she enters her 50th-anniversary year.
“I call it slow fashion,” she adds, “with incredible attention to details amid this era of mass production.”
That’s an astounding feat for any business in these uncertain times.
Inspired by the films and fashions of femme fatales in the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema—like Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert and later Lauren Bacall—Christine took note when they murmured, “Let me slip into something more comfortable.”
(Ironically, she once received an order directly from Lauren Bacall for Coco Silk Pajamas in the ‘90s!)
Realizing there was an untapped niche for high-end lingerie made in Canada, Christine says, “I feel like my business has now come full circle. It started as a cottage industry in my home basement in West Vancouver in the ‘70s, and I still depend on many home seamstresses, some of whom have worked for me for almost 40 years.”
She adds, “Our managing director, Raymond Lee, has been with me for six years and is the key to the future of Christine Lingerie.”
Looking back on her 50 years in business, she recalls the early days of her career.
“I had always collected lace (now vintage) from France and Switzerland, hand-made rosettes, and loved the feel of 100 per cent silk on the body,” she says, without a trace of her once-Scottish burr.
“It was very early days in the ‘70s, but I decided to take my small collection of silk teddies and tap pants to New York. I walked in the back door of Henri Bendel and I saw all these designers lined up like a cattle call. I just walked past everybody, and the buyer had never seen anything like my pieces. He thought they were ‘exotic’ coming from Canada and even displayed them in the Bendel windows!” laughs Christine, who was instrumental in starting a comeback of those styles popularized in the 1920s and the precursor of the bodysuit.
We can thank Madonna for kick-starting the trend in the ‘80s of wearing lingerie as outerwear as early as her first starring role in the film Desperately Seeking Susan. That trend endures to this day, as Christine so cleverly cultivates. Her use of exquisite silk charmeuse (light in weight with a high sheen) drapes beautifully, and she uses it to create kimonos, caftans, pajama sets and slip dresses equally popular as glam cocktail, evening and resort wear. She has also had several brides wear her silk ensembles as wedding gowns.
It wasn’t long before film and TV costume designers came calling: from the casts of ‘70s mega hits, like Dynasty and Dallas, to the recent Netflix series Firefly Lane and Virgin River, both shot in BC, to name only a few. Celebrity devotees of the Christine Lingerie brand include Oprah, Jane Fonda, Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Lovato and Chrissy Teigen. Several Saudi Arabian princesses have apparently discovered Christine Lingerie online.
Christine adores colour and we watch as a pattern cutter unrolls undulating fabric to lay out swathes of silk.
Her 50th Anniversary Collection features 95 mix-and-match pieces in themed combinations that include: Geisha, a stunning silk kimono, robes and caftan printed in exquisite pastels and Japanese motifs; Sakura, a vibrant mixed floral and geometric print in Italian silk that can be paired with solid saffron-coloured silk crepe and French Calais stretch lace separates; and the enchanting Amelie Collection, including loungewear, robes and slip dresses in black polka-dots printed on pink stretch silk or silk chiffon with black Italian embroidered lace. Magnifique!
“But it’s time to spoil the men too,” says Morton emphatically.
The Morton For Men Tranquility & Spa Collection features mix-and-match loungewear, robes and boxers in 100 per cent silk waffle and silk charmeuse.
Christine still designs and sketches by hand and, in addition to her regular collections, also creates one-of-a-kind elegant pieces for department store Neiman Marcus in New York.
The world’s refugee problems and community charities in support of women have always been and remain a big part of Christine’s (and her late husband, David Farris’s) life. They sponsored several “boat people” escaping from Laos in 1983, and one of those people, Alina Chang—a skilled seamstress—currently heads up the production department at the company.
Says Christine, now a first-time grandmother: “I’ve been so blessed to love what I do and be able to sell it! Family, defined in so many ways, is what gives me the most joy and happiness in my life.”