Is a silver medal too generous?
The 2010 Canadian Olympic Team apparel unveiled by Hudson's Bay Company yesterday borrows from all the clichés that have come to define Canadian style: buffalo check, parkas, Cowichan sweaters, trapper hats and the all-important tuque.
This isn't necessarily a criticism, especially given that the hoser-meets-heritage look is having a moment in mainstream fashion. But it's certainly a safer and more obvious direction than the cross-cultural mess that made the Beijing clothing such an embarrassment.
These are items that have been designed to sell; even if some Canadians are left cold by the nostalgic knitwear, foreigners will likely regard the pieces as quaint and worth buying as stylish souvenirs.
Where the apparel comes up short is originality. The 2010 Olympics are happening on home turf; the world will be watching. Surely there could have been a bit more splash. Something unexpected, less derivative.
"When you look at Canadian style, we're not over the top," said Suzanne Timmins, fashion director for Hudson's Bay Company by phone from Vancouver, just shortly after the launch. "It's about comfort, ease, [and it's]usually relaxed."
She's right. Except that this type of comment would never come from someone striving for gold.
Tyler Brûlé, the Canadian-born, itinerant culture influencer, has long bemoaned this country as land of the fleece. What was his take? "It's a perfect snapshot of the nation," wrote the founder of Monocle magazine in an e-mail from St. Moritz. "Bravo to the designers and selection committee for neither raising [nor]lowering the bar."
Online feedback yesterday suggested a mildly positive reaction to the collection, especially compared to the Summer 2008 clothes, which were largely unwearable. Most sticking points were centred around the disproportionate amount of black, which Ms. Timmins attributed to styling decisions (many of the outerwear pieces will also be manufactured in white and red) and the love-it-or-hate-it stag sweater (one person mused that the heads looked more like hands cupping breasts).
Impossible to ignore has been the overwhelming chorus of people wishing for a return to the days of Salt Lake City and Nagano when Roots injected fresh energy into Olympic apparel. Roots co-founders Michael Budman and Don Green were up in Algonquin Park yesterday and unavailable for comment. Incidentally, Tu Ly, a former designer for Roots, is among the creative team at Hudson's Bay Company.
He has a good eye (Adrian Aitcheson and Pablo Mozo round out the team). The quilted jacket channels a style sported by well-dressed men throughout Italy. As Ms. Timmins pointed out, it's a perfect layering piece. The question is whether it's cutting edge enough. But even if the answer is no, there is something to be said for supporting this apparel in a show of Canadian pride.
For starters, it's a shout-out to our athletes. They receive a range of approximately 40 pieces which, for the record, are made entirely in Canada (the replicas sold at Hudson's Bay stores are 25-per-cent Canadian-made with the rest manufactured offshore). Also, the collection is priced reasonably; a $15 dual-sided scarf for kids bearing the stylized Canada wordmark (meant to evoke the mountain ranges of British Columbia) or a $40 fleece will hardly break the bank. Only one of the sweaters costs considerably more ($350) and that's because it's hand-knit.
Sarah Bancroft, editor-in-chief of Vitamindaily.com, an online lifestyle portal, was at the launch yesterday and applauds the collection for being so accessible. "I thought these guys lucked out in terms of what's happening in fall fashion," she said from Vancouver, noting that she was already wearing a buffalo-check scarf given to the media. "It ends up looking quite forward and fashiony without even having to try that hard."
Let's hope others feel the same. There is much riding on the outfits worn for the opening ceremony in February. Ms. Timmins said they will not be hugely different from what the public saw yesterday. It would be a shame, though, if the ensembles appear as more of the same. The Olympics, after all, are about pushing the limits.