Cold-weather style machine: Why outerwear is Canada's hottest fashion export

If what public figures wear can be taken as a barometer of success for designers, Canada already has a well-established place in the fashion industry worldwide.

Canadian fashion is hot right now, but our cold-weather style industry has always been cool

Mackage is known as one of North America's most prestigious contemporary outerwear brands — and its designers don't think it's a coincidence that they, and so many other segment leaders are all from the great white North. (George Pimmentel/Getty Images)

Canadian fashion is hot right now, eh?

The New York Times thinks so. The Washington Post thinks so. Heck, even Vogue thinks so — or, at least they did for a few minutes earlier this month, thanks to Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau and Michelle Obama.

Clad in gowns by Canadian designers Lucian Matis and Jason Wu respectively, the high-profile political wives attracted torrents of international praise for "putting Canadian designers on the map" when they arrived at the March 10 state dinner in D.C. with their husbands.

Grégoire-Trudeau made such an impact with her wardrobe over three days, in fact, that Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan seems to have had a revelation: "Yes, Canada has fashion designers."

Who knew? ( News screenshot)

Homegrown fashionistas were still basking in the glow of this spotlight when Toronto Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2016 kicked off last Monday, making the (digital) cries of "Wear Canadian!" coming from David Pecault Square this season even louder than usual.

Designers both fresh, like Ellie Mae, and established, like Greta Constantine, saw the "Sophie effect" boost hype for their brands online ahead of and at TFW (which, as New York Times fashion director Vanessa Friedman points out, actually exists) — as did Canadian talents who didn't even show at the tents this year, like Lucian Matis.

It's hard to say whether or not this recent spate of international attention will translate into more sales of gowns worn by the PM's wife – chiefly because most people can't get their hands on them yet.

Most Canadians aren't willing or able to shell out thousands of dollars for one dress, anyway (which isn't to detract from the well-deserved the praise our country's luxury ready-to-wear womenswear designers have been receiving as of late.)

What they will invest in are stylish, snow-ready coats — which is why the most expensive (and sometimes stylish) garments you'll see on people heading into the tents at Toronto Fashion Week are their jackets.

That, and the fact that it always seems to be freezing outside when our fashion weeks hit.

Canadian fashion is already cool

If what public figures wear can be taken as a barometer of success for designers, Canada already has a well-established place in the fashion industry worldwide.

"Internationally, people recognize that Canadians just do good outerwear," says Eran Elfassy, one half of the Montreal-based design duo behind Mackage. "We know about winter. We know what it is to wear something that long. I would say most places don't wear their coats as often as we do."

Elfassy and his design partner, Elisa Dahan, launched their company in 1999 "to make coats that people are proud to wear," according to Dahan.

"When we were kids, we used to have to wear, like, really ugly coats to keep us warm," she told CBC News ahead of the company's Fall/Winter 2016 show in Toronto last week. "Our goal is to make something that's part of an outfit. It's not just something to keep you warm."

Today, Mackage is known as one of North America's most prestigious contemporary outerwear brands — and its designers don't think it's a coincidence they and so many other segment stars (Canada Goose, Sentaler, Rudsak, TNA, and Moose Knuckles, to name a few) are from the great white North.

"Canadians are really getting more and more known in the outwear segment," says Elfassy, noting that our country's designers are known for their "focus on quality." 

"Who knows it better than Canadians that spend most of their time in the cold, right?"

Indeed. Some Canadian coat manufacturers are even using our country's association with great outerwear as a marketing tool.

From product names (like the "Calgary" jacket by Rudsak) to ads that highlight Canada's most beautiful places, our home and native land is an asset in this particular segment of the fashion industry — not something to apologize for.

And yet, while this industry is already strong on its own, the Sophie effect comes into play for fashionable Canadian outerwear as well.

To wit: a white, $1,800 Sentaler coat the PM's wife was spotted in at her husband's swearing-in ceremony sold out within days, and her appearance in a plaid Moose Knuckles jacket sparked a similar surge in sales for the Montreal-based brand shortly thereafter.

Her youngest son, Hadrien, also charmed in a tiny Canada Goose snowsuit at Quebec's Winter Carnival in February.

Our country may not need him yet, but it's good to know there's another budding fashion icon in the Trudeau family, either way.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds his son Hadrian as his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau feeds him maple taffy on Saturday, February 13, 2016 at the Quebec Winter Carnival in Quebec City. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot)


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