Canada has long had a branding problem. We’re the land of ice, snow and poutine but few would consider us “cool.”
That label has traditionally been reserved for countries like France, Italy and even our southern neighbours, the United States. However, quietly and slowly, something is changing. Canada is getting the world’s attention and becoming covetable.
Friday night saw the fourth annual Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) hosted at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York. The night honoured some of our country’s top design talent, including Jenny Bird, Erdem, Beaufille, The Feral and David Dixon. The night has evolved into the de facto Oscars of Canadian fashion. Canadians aren’t exactly known for their giant, flowing ball gowns and avant-garde design, but that’s exactly what was showcased on the red carpet.
Even The New York Times took notice, saying our homegrown industry is “reaching for its spot in the sun.”
Canadian fashion isn’t just parkas and Toronto-themed baseball caps. It’s being worn by the likes of Kate Middleton and Lady Gaga and reaching top editors at Paris Fashion Week and Milan Fashion Week. The made-in-Canada black tie looks crafted by labels like Greta Constantine, Stephan Caras, Mikael D, Narces and Mikhael Kale at CAFA were worthy of the pages of Vogue. Canadian fashion has arrived. It’s elegant, it’s original and it’s finally stepping into the international spotlight.
It’s not just our fashion scene that’s had a branding problem. Canadian food hasn’t done much better over the years. I was surprised to find on a recent trip to Dubai that Canada was the new cool kid in town. Toronto restaurants Weslodge and Byblos both have outposts there and are some of the hottest seats in town. Craig Wong, who owns Patois and Jackpot Chicken Rice locally, runs Ting Irie – Dubai’s first modern Jamaican restaurant. Reggae legend Beenie Man launched his new album there this month. There’s even an uber swanky Tim Hortons.
Dubai also has a burgeoning, vibrant food truck scene.
One of the leaders of the pack is TruckersDXB, a roaming food truck jam featuring everything from shrimp tacos to pasta cooked in a giant parmesan wheel. The man behind it all is a Canadian from Montreal.
In a city as forward-facing and competitive as Dubai, having Canadian influence on the scene is no small feat. Our cool status there is a true testament to how far our image has come over the last couple years.
I’m writing this column from Washington, D.C., where just about every Uber driver, bartender and political aide I run into has unsolicited high praise for Canada. They envy our diversity. They have crushes on Justin Trudeau. They’re planning vacations to Toronto and Montreal, citing them as bucket-list destinations.
As Canadians, we have a tendency to underestimate ourselves. We’re selfdeprecating to a fault. Sometimes this makes us look modest and sweet, but it also leads to a risk-averse culture that fails to shoot for the stars.
Based on our recent success, we need to keep aiming high and wear the Canadian label proudly.