Red is the new black

Are we at risk of being “Canada-ed” out?


You’d probably never see Kiran Sharma in a Team Canada hockey jersey. But since the 2010 Games began, the saleswoman at Vancouver’s Bluebird tries to dress with some kind of red accent every day-red shoes, a red scarf, a red pin she made to put in her hair, or even just a dash of bright red lipstick. It’s about pride of country, she says, a way to show her support. Customers at the stylish downtown shop are the same way, snapping up red t-shirts and $39 red mufflers ordered in anticipation of the Olympics. Next door, at m0851, a purveyor of cool, minimalist leather goods, a salesman says items in scarlet, a colour they added to the line before the Olympics, are the most coveted.

It’s a phenomenon playing out across the city. There’s so much red here it’s the new black—or should that be the new beige, the tone that in the past best conveyed Canada’s mild-mannered international rep. Now red has morphed from Team Canada’s official colour into a mainstream fashion statement. It’s all over the lower-end: H&M has staged red “colour stories” in its Vancouver stores and plays it prominently in window displays. Its $34.99 red cotton dresses and red leggings are flying out the door. It’s percolating into fancy shops as well: Burberry has red in its window. And Holt Renfrew’s selling its $360 nylon Prada pouches twice as quickly in red as the usually more popular black version.

Much of course is marketing to the sudden surge in nationalist sentiment, even in Quebec, resulting from the Games, as this new poll reveals. On the ground here it’s palpable. “I’ve never seen this country express this sort of nationalism,” says Shayne McCallion, the manager at St. John boutique in the Fairmont Hotel.

It’ll be interesting to see if the sense of community embodied by everyone wrapped in scarlet can be sustained. (Much will depend on how much non-fashionable red ink will emerge in the Games’ aftermath.) Red is a complex colour, signifying heat and passion but also stop and danger. It’s stunning in small doses, fatiguing in larger ones. We’re already seeing signs of that here. “I think I’m Canada-ed out,” I heard a young man in a Team Canada jersey saying last Sunday in Yaletown. Then again, nobody says fashion isn’t fickle.

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Red is the new black

  1. My co-worker is wearing red every day during the Olympics – man, that girl has a lot of clothes!

    But as to the substance of the article, I'm highly surprised that even if Canadians are buying more red right now, that it would cause a blip in the merchandizing of large international chain stores. Then again, I don't even know if the stores mentioned are international chain stores–I just don't shop, for red or anything else.

  2. Right now, downtown Vancouver awash with the colour red (except for those who have been wearing the yellow rain ponchos the last couple of days.) After this week-end things will probably return to normal, but right now everyone seems to be having a good time and enjoying a little unabashed cheering for the home team.

    Post-Olympic red ink or not, I don't think Canadians who came here are going to regret having had the party.

  3. I thought people only do stuff they intend to do. But if anyone calls this a good fashion statement would really mean anything by now.

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