By Laura Goldstein
Christine Morton is turning back time. Reminiscing through stacks of photo albums in her 4,500-square-foot East Vancouver showroom and factory, we laugh at the exaggerated poses of pouting models with big hair from 1980’s magazine and newspaper ads for Christine Lingerie. “You know, it was a bit naughty advertising lingerie on real models back then,” admits Morton, “but I wasn’t afraid to take risks.”
Realizing there was an untapped niche for a brand of high-end lingerie manufactured in Canada, she began her business in the ‘70s from the basement of her West Vancouver home. As orders increased, so did her needs for production space, moving to three different studios over 35 years but always investing in the talent and loyalty of home seamstresses. “I had always collected antique lace from France and Switzerland, hand-made rosettes and loved the sumptuous feel of 100% silk on the body,” she explains, without a trace of a Scottish burr from her native Glasgow.
When femme fatales murmured “let me slip into something more comfortable” in many of the classic films during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Morton took note: “I was really inspired by the glamour of film stars like Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert and Lauren Bacall of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s,” she confides. Ironically, Bacall would later order the Coco Silk Pajamas from Christine Lingerie in the late ‘90s!
“It was still very early days in my business but I decided to take my small collection to New York. I walked in the back door of Henri Bendel and saw all these designers lined up because that day you could see the buyer- like an actors’ cattle-call. I just walked past everybody and the buyer loved my pieces, they even displayed them in the Bendel windows. The buyer thought they were ‘international and exotic’ coming from Canada!” she laughs. Morton was also instrumental in popularizing a comeback of the silk Teddy, the all-in-one camisole and knickers invented in the 1920’s and a precursor of the bodysuit.
When costume designers from television and film came calling – specifically for the leading ladies of hits like Dynasty and Dallas in the ‘80s, more celebrity clientele followed (and keep in mind, that was long before Facebook and Instagram could propel sales.)
We can thank Madonna for starting the trend of wearing lingerie as outerwear. As models floated down the runway recently at A Fashion Statement sponsored by Westbank and presented by Fairmont Pacific Rim and CAFA, (Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards,) many of Morton’s exquisite silk kimonos, caftans and chemises easily doubled as cocktail and evening wear.
Today, celebrity devotees of her brand include, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex who wears the silk crepe T-length gown in Pearl from the Gatsby Collection. The late Elizabeth Taylor, Debra Messing, Chrissy Teigen, Oprah, Jane Fonda, Catherine Zeta Jones and Gwyneth Paltrow are all enamoured with Christine Lingerie.
Morton adores colour and often juxtaposes tapestries of flora and fauna with intricate geometric borders on hems and sleeves. From the smouldering burgundy jewel-tones of her Fabergé Collection in silk and iridescent devoré (burnout) velvet to Spring 2019’s Camille Collection in sunset hues of pink, blue and purples that appear to melt into swirls of abstract florals, women can’t help feeling like walking works of art.
Morton does annual trade shows twice a year in New York, sells through Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom online and is already at work on designs for a new Spa Collection to be launched in 2020.
“Helping women feel beautiful at any age has always been the most important to me as a designer,” says Morton as she tosses swathes of billowy grey silk over a cutting room table. She points out the intricacies of matching the hand-painted, Asian-inspired tableaux of birds and tropical foliage for her Phoenix Kimono Collection.
The world refugee crisis is not new to Canada as thousands of “boat people” fled Southeast Asia in the ‘70s and ‘80s. “You know, my employees are like family to me, and several, like Alina Chang, arrived here from Laos in 1983 on a refugee boat. We sponsored people through my church,” Morton explains. “I discovered she was a skilled seamstress with a sharp eye for details 35 years ago and since then other members of her family have joined the company to build an amazing production team, that Alina now heads up.”
Morton has a deep commitment to five children she sponsors through Food For the Hungry, a Christian non-profit organization dedicated to end poverty in developing countries. Eight years ago, she met five refugee siblings from Rwanda who settled in Vancouver and her family has remained very close with them.
“Family is so important to me,” says the mother of three, now adults. “My involvement with these charities brings me so much joy and I learn so much – not just about different cultures but as human beings.”