Beavers, birch bark and transmission towers: oh, the visions of Canada. When Douglas Coupland, who christened a generation with his 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, sought motifs for his new product line, he threw out all traditional emblems of the true North, strong and free. “They all seemed kind of corny,” he told the Toronto Star’s David Livingstone. “Mounties and moose—we just can’t do that anymore. It’s over.”
Instead, his ‘Roots x Douglas Coupland’ collection focuses on the exciting Marshall McLuhan era of the 1960’s. In a pretentious video on the Roots website (advertised, naturally, on facebook, a phenomenon McLuhan would have loved), Coupland makes the dubious claim that the period was the “moment in Canadian history…when we were the only country that had electricity and communication systems… We didn’t have politics, there was no Communism, no Imperialism… everyone said, ‘Wow, look what this TV set can do!”
So, out with the nostalgic summer camp symbols beloved by Michael Budman and Don Green, the two Americans who created a luxury retail empire based on their fond memories of Algonquin Park, and in with colour bars, circuit boards and satellites. The famous beaver survived, but re-imagined as a 3D outline in neon green and black.
While Coupland’s call to take “the vision of the future forward” is intriguing, there is nothing particularly forward-thinking about the resulting items. We’ve seen T-shirts with colour bars and computer graphics since the 1990’s. An intricate motherboard pattern cannot rescue exhausted leggings or keffiyeh scarves, both trendy since 2005. Roots is a high-end store with matching prices, and one might hope that they would move beyond fashion’s lowest common denominator of T-shirts and sweat pants. “Summer isn’t really a silhouette-creating season,” Coupland says, by way of excuse.
Coupland has even allowed his curvy signature to be spattered across tops, pants and bracelets as a logo. The author, whose Generation X characters dismissed paid-for experiences as inauthentic, has literally turned his name into a brand.
He first “unveiled” (otherwise known as “promoted”) the line at ideaCity in June, while singing the praises of the Roots leather factory (“the cleanest, best factory I’ve ever been in”), essentially turning Moses Znaimer’s ‘Meeting of the Minds’ into an advertisement.
Despite making his reputation on his anti-commercialist writing, he now sees no conflict and argues that the new generation of artists uses retail as a “mode of creative expression.” One wonders what the Douglas Coupland of 1991 would say about that.
Let’s hope there’s more to Canada’s future than transmission towers and commercial cross-overs.