Channelling Bob and Doug McKenzie -

Channelling Bob and Doug McKenzie

HBC’s clothing line for the Vancouver Games is better than the disaster it pushed in Beijing. But it’s still a bore—and there’s the whole logo fiasco.


091002_conolympicsWhen you’re accused of borrowing design mojo from the Conservative Party of Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces, you know you have a problem, stylistically speaking. So it went for the Hudson’s Bay Company yesterday, just hours after it unveiled its homage to Bob and Doug McKenzie’s sartorial stylings via its clothing collection for the 2010 Winter Olympics. All the hoser clichés have been covered: Toques? Check. Cowichan sweaters with reindeer? Check. Quilted parkas? Check. Red and black buffalo check? Check. Flap-eared hunting caps? Check. All that’s missing is the ear muffs, which would have actually been a good idea.

Liberal MP Hedy Fry surveyed the line of red, white, black and grey clothing and a partisan conspiracy, comparing the HBC’s official Olympic logo, which was approved by the Canadian Olympic Committee (a black ‘C’ with a red maple leaf in the centre) to the logo for the Conservative Party (a slanted blue ‘C’ with a red maple leaf in the middle). Then came the inevitable comparisons to the Royal Canadian Air Force’s logo—a red maple leaf inside a black ‘C.’ Turns out, the HBC was sensitive enough to the similarity between its new logo and the military logo that it called in its lawyers for a meeting to determine that they were in fact different “enough,” the Hudson Bay’s fashion director Suzanne Timmins told Canadian Press. “When you’re dealing with the maple leaf, red, white, black, you’re going to come across a lot of different logos that are very close to other people’s logos.”

How true. When you’re working with the unoriginal ingredients of a ‘C’ and a maple leaf, there’s an obvious design solution. But the derivative logo underscores the fundamental problem with the collection: it’s predictable, it’s safe, it’s conservative—small-‘c’ conservative, that is. And that’s not the bold signal the beleaguered Hudson’s Bay Company, in turnaround mode under new president Bonnie Brooks, wants to be sending right now. Brooks, a respected retailer with a great sense of style, is determined to transform the dowdy chain into a fashion destination. The company, owned by American private equity firm NRDC Equity Partners, has also recently expressed interest in taking the company public in Canada in 2011.

The Olympic line, which ranges in price from $10 for mittens to $350 for the hand-knit sweater and which will be sold at its Zellers and The Bay stores, is an important public salvo. The HBC signed a $100-million deal in 2005 to supply Olympic-related consumer attire and athletes uniforms from 2006 to 2012, outbidding former supplier Roots. (They also hired Roots designer Tu Ly to head their design team.) So far, it has yet to deliver bronze, let alone gold; last year’s offerings for the Beijing Summer Games were a garish disaster.

This year’s line, though banal, is at least wearable, and has some nice detail (the notable exception being the reindeer sweater, which in the press photo looks like hands are cupping the model’s breasts). The ‘Canada’ wordmark, which emphasizes the letter ‘A’, is fresh. Timmins has said they wanted its slight tilt to represent British Columbia’s peaks and slopes, and it does. But no item has the potential iconic appeal of Roots’ poor boy hat, which became a coveted item after snowboarder Ross Rebagliati wore it backwards at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. There’s a bold white and red ‘Canuck’ t-shirt in the new line, but it’s another example of not quite getting it bang-on: the overly fussy outline of a maple leaf diminishes its graphic punch.

With the Winter Games being held in Canada, the HBC has been handed a merchandiser’s dream scenario. The stuff should walk out of stores. That’s why they could have made a bolder statement, one that surprised and delighted, one that reaches imaginatively into the national history and psyche—something beyond an attempt to pander to the mass market and tourists who see the McKenzie brothers’ slacker couch-potato image as a Canadian archetype. It would also have been refreshing to see the company respond to the growing desire to “shop local.”  Yet 75 per cent of the consumer clothing will be manufactured overseas–in China among other countries. The actual athletes’ uniforms, yet to be revealed, will be made in Canada. Let’s hope they break some design barriers and excel. After all, isn’t that the point?


Channelling Bob and Doug McKenzie

  1. Sorry Ann (The writer)…but where did you say your fashion background is from? Do you fact checking… the Summer Games were a huge success in retail for HBC….Its really frustrating to see how Macleans..supposedly a reputable magazine.. just reports on hear say… and not facts! 80% of the retail offer from HBC was a massive success! Same as in Torino where they had to do a multi million dollar reorder just after a sold out christmas success!!

    Oh.. and in Beijing last summer Canada's uniforms were voted Most Coveted and Best Design by the athletes!

    Please fact check and if you going to do a style article hire someone with a track on the fashion industry! I

    • The company itself has admitted that the sales from the Summer Games collection were weak and fell far below expectations. Yesterday's Financial Post reports: "While sales of HBC's merchandise for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy outpaced internal expectations, the follow-up line for the 2008 games in Beijing failed to resonate with consumers and sales were disappointing" based on an interview with Patrick Dickinson, vice-president of marketing at the Bay who is quoted: "That [Beijing] was a very fashion-forward line we designed, and probably a little too youthful with the graphics. I think also summer apparel tends to be a little more short-lived in Canada, so from a sales standpoint there is just not as big of an opportunity."

  2. Well, I miss roots, we really needed something like what they pulled in Nagano, we need to stand out as the host country….I do like the line though, and hope it does well, and for the liberals GROW UP, bunch of crying babies… I hadn't thought about it until they mentioned…and still doesn't remind me of the Conservatives…

  3. Thank goodness for clarity. I fell in love with the new fashion outfits at first sight. Maybe 'cause they were such a sight for sore eyes in comparison to the last muckled effort, and maybe anything would look good in comparison? But also too my own eyes were riveted to the woolen portrayal of the reindeers antlers and I thought that was breathtakingly original…so speaking of which, I do now agree and concur that the mens "uniforms" leave a lot for the eye to long for.

    For all this talk about politics, I now cant help but be reminded of the famous saying: A nation without fashion is a nation in uniforms. So Im having second thoughts about how much I like these plain old Jane representations of little small 'c' conservatives-,-er-,…I mean Canadians. Sorry about that!!

  4. Dull and boring, you say? If I were not a rabid Canadian – the Maple Leaf forever, rah, rah, rah! – I might comment that the clothing is compatible with the country and the event. But being a rabid Canadian, I won't.

    Whoops – I just did! Oh well. It's done now, too late to turn back.

  5. I think the Cowichan sweater is not only great but is also an iconic Canadian item that could just as easily become the next poorboy cap. All it will take is for a celebrity to wear one, and you know that one will. If the gear is going to be marketable it has to be wearable and affordable by the masses. I believe the collection will be a winner.

    • I concur. Well put.

      • As do I.I love the sweaters.I am buying several

    • $350 for a hand-knit sweater? No thanks. I could buy a half-dozen sweaters for that amount, or buy the wool and make it myself for less.

  6. An idea…….. Why not the Maple Leaf with C inside

  7. I love the cowichan sweater and the flap-eared hunting cap! Very nicely Canadian. The big parka and the toque is pretty nice too.

  8. I love the clothes as they are fashionable and wearable. You can wear any piece on any day and they will still create a distinct Canadian statement at the Games. I went to a Bay store today to purchase a few pieces and judging by the swarms of people, I would say I'm not alone. There were also a lot of tourists in that crowd, and that's another important piece of the sales equation. I think HBC got it just right.

  9. Whatever, I like them.
    me and most of my friends are already arguing over who gets to buy that badass moose jacket (second from right).

    Anyhew, lets see how they sell. Personally, I think they're gonna fly off the shelves.

  10. I really think HBC did an outstanding job with the clothing. It's sharp, fashionable, and above all, one can wear one of these items a year from now as it will still be fashionable & functionable. Tell me Ms Kingston, have you seen any poor-boy Olympic hats from Roots lately? I haven't seen one since the Nagano Olympics! The 'quilted' jacket you refer to is quite fashionable, and is very much a European style. The use of black was quite smart, as it's functions will outlast the Olympics. The sweater itself is a piece, one would covet for years. I love the retro look of the maple leaf with the C, and I disagree that it looks anything like the Conservative party. Ms Kingston, you fell off the mark with your review. I expect better from Macleans. In anycase, I say "bravo" to HBC. I really think they got it right this time around. As for Ms Kingston, take you poor-boy hat and stick it wear the sun don't shine!

  11. What's wrong with Bob and Doug McKenzie anyways? They've stood the test of time quite well and were as an appropriate commentary on Canadians then – as are they are now. The looks are smart, friendly, and whimsical yet very wearable and therefore – VERY Canadian. Trust me – the first Athlete that finds a mouse trapped in a bottle of Moosehead while wearing one of the sweaters – will become famous and wealthy!!! I can't wait to pick up my toque….

  12. They seem to rely heavily on that brown and red. It's not bad but nothing special.