It’s never that comfortable talking about intimate apparel in front of the opposite sex. But on this afternoon, Jessica Mulroney is more than happy to discuss lingerie with two handsome males present. “The boys,” as she calls them, are settled happily into their Exersaucer chairs. Seven-month-old twins Brian and John seem to enjoy this girl talk.
The former Jessica Brownstein, wife of TV personality Ben Mulroney and the daughter-in-law of former prime minister Brian Mulroney, has always been a player on the Canadian fashion scene, thanks to her natural beauty and unique style. But these days, working out of her house, her focus is on her new business, distributing high-end intimate apparel in Canada, while trying to spend as much time as possible with her twins.
Working with her younger sister, Elizabeth Brownstein, who lives in Montreal—where the business’s head office is located—the duo distribute La Perla and Cosabella, two of the best-known high-end brands of lingerie, to stores across Canada. “I have a laptop on every floor,” she laughs. “I can feed and type at the same time.”
Today, with no extra help, Mulroney doesn’t look like the harried mother of twins. She’s wearing skinny jeans, a white blouse, and a chunky long pearl necklace. Her hair is pulled back from her face, highlighting natural bee-stung lips, and her nails are painted silver. And, yes, she is wearing a bra from Cosabella, a top seller called the Sweetie Soft, which features soft stretch lace in a floral motif. “It has adjustable shoulder straps, sheer cup detail, wireless support, and it’s made in Italy,” says Mulroney, who takes a sample of the matching underwear from the coffee table to point out details. Who knew there was so much to look at when staring at a bra and underwear set?
“We’re looking to expand our distribution business,” says Mulroney, “but we are only interested in really good, quality brands.” Women, she adds, are starting to realize “construction and shape” matter when it comes to intimate apparel, and also that what they wear underneath their clothes can make or break an outfit. “Women know they can’t just fit into a small, medium or large. It’s not that simple when it comes to lingerie.”
One trend she sees is in “shape wear” like Spanx. Cosabella has a line, made out of bamboo. The company also has shape wear in thongs and playful colours like turquoise and pink. “It’s functional and it looks good. And if it’s going to be on your skin all day, then the material has to be comfortable and it has to be durable. And if you are getting undressed in front of a man, you won’t feel like you’re wearing your grandmother’s underwear,” she laughs.
Another trend, she says, is “layering” bras. Women are now wearing two different colours, in two styles, at the same time—a black bra, for example, underneath a purple lacy one. “It looks sexy,” she says, “especially if you can see the lace peak out of your shirt.”
What initially drew her to lingerie was a shopping trip when she was younger. “I didn’t fit into the normal shape. And it was awful. My mother took me to a made-to-measure store to get bras. Once I got a proper fitting and good bras, it changed everything for me.” It’s also true that her father owned a manufacturing company that dealt with intimate apparel. “My sister and I worked with my father—he trained us well to know what to look for.”
Now, Mulroney admits, it’s become “second nature” for her to stare at women at events to see if their lingerie is appropriate. “It astonishes me when women wear a beautiful designer dress, but their bras and underwear don’t fit right.”
Lingerie has become like an accessory, she says. “Bras are really playful now. For summer, neon is back. So you can wear the same black T-shirt but change your bras for a new look.”
Mulroney is also launching a women’s silk scarf line and sits on many charity boards. And, yes, she does find it slightly ironic that at home she’s surrounded by so many men while being in such a “girlie” business. “Ben loves when I talk to other people about lingerie,” she laughs. “But I’m sure he’d love it more if I focused more on my own drawers than everyone else’s.”