Canada Goose’s pricey down jackets have found a place in Hollywood, including in Kenneth Lonergan’s film “Manchester by the Sea,” shown here.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CLAIRE FOLGER / ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS / EVERETT
“Manchester by the Sea” is a film in which none of the characters seem to have on the right coat; they are always shivering in the New England chill. In one scene, Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck, dressed in a short cotton jacket, is having a loud argument with his teen age nephew in an icy parking lot, when a man played, in a Hitchcockian cameo, by the film’s director, Kenneth Lonergan strolls by. “Nice parenting,” he snorts.
Lonergan’s jacket, made by the label Canada Goose, is a subtle but effective sight gag: it is easy to feel superior in a thousand dollars’ worth of Hutterite goose down. From an anthropological perspective, Lonergan’s choice of parka is accurate; look around any major city with a chilly climate, and you will see an army of crisp marshmallows, their left shoulders emblazoned with the embroidered “Arctic Program” slogan, shuffling through the slush. The jackets are unusually expensive around a thousand dollars and yet, unlike slipping on, say, an asymmetrical Comme des Garons garment that also costs the equivalent of a week’s salary, the coat doesn’t aim to awaken one’s senses to new possibilities; rather, it exists as a kind of pillowy insurance against the outside environment. Canada Goose coats do, in fact, provide maximal protection against the wintry mix, but unlike less expensive models from L. L. Bean, or even mid level ones from Patagonia they don’t just make their wearers warm. Instead, they promise eternal warmth a lifetime guarantee that you will never feel cold again. Even if the wearer is only walking from the subway to the office, she is ready for freezing conditions and treacherous mountain passes. The coats offer the seductive trappings of practical preparedness, the idea that one has a no nonsense attitude to the wind; like zippable Thoreau’s cabins, each one emits a bat signal of self reliance. The model and actor Kate Upton wore Canada Goose (and not much else) on the cover of Sports Illustrated, in 2013. Rihanna has recently been cavorting around the world in a scarlet version that the brand made in partnership with the cheeky French label Vetements. Back then, Canada Goose pulled in only three million dollars per year, mostly by licensing its designs to other outdoorsy retailers. The company, which was founded, in 1957, by a Polish immigrant and factory worker named Sam Tick, was first called Metro Sportswear, and made heavy down parkas for workers whose jobs required them to brave frigid Canadian temperatures: park rangers, police officers, scientists exploring ice floes, snowmobile operators. The company sold designs to Eddie Bauer and L. L. Bean; in 1985, when David Reiss, Tick’s son in law, bought a majority stake, it started to release its own garments, under the name Snow Goose. Because there was already a Snow Goose registered in Europe, Reiss changed the name to Canada Goose, a patriotic move that proved to be crucial to the brand’s success. Canada, as an idea, has a cachet when it comes to outerwear: the country’s name conjures visions of grizzly bears, snowcaps, moose with antlers as big as tree trunks. When Dani Reiss started mass producing pricey coats, in the aughts, he kept all production in Winnipeg and Ontario, further building the brand’s national mystique. Europeans started buying them en masse. “Patagucci”). But, starting around 2010, Reiss did what every luxury retailer needs to do to push his brand into the American consciousness: he sent Canada Goose coats to celebrities. He began sponsoring cold weather film festivals where the Hollywood crowd, usually loath to don long sleeves, could cosplay for a week as snow bunnies. The coats popped up in Berlin (though that partnership ended this year), and then at Sundance, and then suddenly they were all over the place. Actresses buried themselves in their coyote fur hoods on film sets, and the paparazzi caught it on camera. In America, if there is one thing that sells more units than a dream of rugged individualism, it is the fantasy of feeling as comfortable in harsh conditions as a famous person seems to be.
In 2013, Reiss sold a majority stake of the company to Bain Capital, and, in November of last year, Canada Goose opened its first store in New York City, on Wooster Street. Despite several PETA protests about the opening animal rights activists have long protested Reiss’s use of coyote fur trim and the trapping of wild animals used to obtain it the line to get in snaked around the block for weeks, and security guards enforced a strict one in, one out policy. When I visited the four thousand square foot space, last week, a plucky saleswoman directed me to two racks of specialty coats that she said were doing particularly well in the urban market (the brand’s signature puffer, the nine hundred dollar Kensington, is a reliable international best seller). First, she showed me the Black Label Collection, which features slimmer, more streamlined styles and the signature patch in monochrome black. “It’s more subtle,” she said. “People seem to want something that says Canada Goose, but not so loudly as the color patches. New Yorkers love all black.”
She then showed me a far less subdued collection, a rack of the familiar bright blue parkas, which were designed to fend off polar bear attacks. Apparently, Arctic bears loathe intense blue tones almost as much as Yves Klein loved them, and so scientists heading North to study bergs wear the coats as doubly protective armor. According to the clerk, the coats from the Polar Bear International line consistently sell out in New York City, despite the lack of immediate threat from ursine predators (Gus, the Central Park Zoo’s notoriously neurotic and last remaining polar bear, died in 2013, and Tundra, at the Bronx Zoo, is far from lively). PBI Expedition Parkas (priced at a thousand and fifty dollars) have a “Thermal Experience Index” of five, the highest available on Canada Goose’s self invented warmth scale: five is for withstanding wind chill of up to negative twenty five degrees. According to the tag copy, the Expedition coats have been “field tested for the coldest places on earth.” “People just love blue,” the saleswoman said. “Plus, the patch on the sleeve has a bear on it. What’s not to like?”
When I put one on, I felt like Violet Beauregarde being rolled off to Wonka’s juicing room by Oompa Loompas, but I could also understand the appeal: the chunky, sturdy zipper and the slick outer material that feels like a mollusk’s shell; the coat’s tranquillizing weight, like the bib you wear to get dental X rays. The jacket was a smothering embrace, like a marsupial pouch I was born into and had no desire to crawl out of. Inside that down encasement, I understood the appeal of Canada Goose, which leads you to assume that the world will immediately recognize the superiority of your arm patch and, perhaps, your moral compass, too. I could well imagine a world in which, with nothing able to get inside my shell, the next step might be to stop poking my head out at all. Though there are no bears roaming through the city streets, there are plenty of people hibernating. 12, 2016