October 6, 2009

True north style gets its due in HBC's Canadian Olympic team apparel

Call it, "hoser chic."

It came with a big a splash. The Hudson's Bay Company revealed its Team Canada clothes.

Canada's Olympians will be wearning retro black, grey, red and white gear at next year's Winter games.

And with some caveats, I have to say this is a pretty fine collection.

I love it because of what it does for an iconic retailer. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Hudson's
Bay Company has the best brand in Canada when it comes to evoking Canadiana. It has the history and heritage. Or, rather, it should.

Yes, over the years, HBC has forgotten this. Adopting the generic (non-Canadian specific) abbreviation was symptomatic of the tendency to leave the past behind. It was deplorable.

But with their recent Olympic campaign, on TV and through their Olympic apparel, they are putting the Hudson's and the Canada back in The Bay.

So, this is a major move on the part of the retailer to get its identity back.

For the longest time, Roots had taken the mantle, making their brand synonymous with Canadiana and Canadian style but I see HBC's long term plan to wrest the Olympic sponsorship from Roots is finally paying off (Turino's trapper hat was a hint of what was to come).

A perfect example of the synergy between red and white patriotism and corporate branding is the Team Canada Cowichan sweater.

This is a heavy, hand knit, made-in-Canada, zip-front wool sweater with a turn-down collar. It is entirely indigenous to Canadian design.

The Cowichan, originally made by the Cowichan First Nations on Vancouver Island, is as unique to Canada as tweed is unique to the River Tweed region of Scotland.

However, I couldn't confirm if the suppliers are Cowichan knitters. So, it's more accurate to describe it as a Cowichan-styled sweater.

Nevertheless, it plumbs the data bank of our national unconscious to put forth a pitch perfect image. Like a stubby beer bottle.

Is it all too "Hoser" or too "Bob and Doug Mackenzie"?

It is - but only a bit. Which is ironic after all Canada went through about presenting a backwoods, Rockie and Bullwinkle version of Canada during the closing ceremonies at the Turin Olympics.

I think the biggest weakness is the collection may need a bit of, let's say, urbanity.

For example, in recent Olympics, Armani provided Team Italy with cashmere long coats and Borsalino brimmed hats for their athletes and the French have been known to wear blazers and fedoras at summer games.

So, I hope to see more than good athletic and technical wear from HBC in the coming months.

For all the positives, there were a few negatives.

Yesterday, I bought one of the last Cowichan sweaters at The Bay Downtown. They've been a total hit. Even though they sell for $350. Nearly sold out, The Bay is taking people names and numbers and there is a wait list for the

But here's the important thing: when I bought the sweater, I found out they don't take anything but VISA
or cold hard cash. NO Mastercard? Not even DEBIT!


I was told by the store staff that VISA is the Olympic sponsor. The merchandise belongs to VANOC and guess what, it kind of feels like if you don't have VISA - they don't want you to buy it.

I was kind of choked about it and tracked down the store director of The Bay Downtown about this.

Her name is Dana Hall. She says they've had no negative feedback about the payment method limits. She also said, they've set up ATM machines in the store to accommodate cash purchases.

Unfortunately, they don't approve VISA cards on site but Hall says, "Nobody has walked away and said I'm not going to buy this."

A clarification from HBC further explained the reason for the restrictions:

The Olympic Superstore is an Olympic venue, and therefore it can only accept the Official Card of the Games: Visa.

At past Games, the Olympic Superstore was housed inside a temporary structure, like a tent, and again it would have only accepted Visa. This is the first time the Superstore is located inside an existing retailer, the Bay. As such, we still have to abide by the rules of an Olympic venue.

Still, I think it's really unfortunate. The payment limits puts HBC in a hard position. No retailer wants to say no to its customer but HBC didn't make the rules.

Nevertheless, it's a sour negative in what I think is a positive re-visioning of the Hudson's Bay Company and its reappropriation of its heritage (though acknowledging the First Nations in its TV campaign would be a good idea).

Final thought: What would I do to urbanize the look?

I think a duffle coat in the repertoire would be good. The Team Canada collection has parkas and quilted coats but I think a signature duffle with toggle buttons would really give a city look to a very rural outdoorsy collection so far. There's a Holden Caufield/Wes Anderson feel to it all, non?

In heather grey, please. You'll find samples in the company archives.
Final analysis: 9 out of 10 for artistry.

1 comment:

  1. I am a resident of the Cowichan Valley and those sweaters were not made by the Cowichan Knitters. They are annoyed.

    See Link:http://www2.canada.com/cowichanvalleycitizen/news/story.html?id=886783e5-00a2-4e37-8023-6a04406898b7