“I’ve lived here my whole life.” says Isabel as she shows me how to carefully thread the tiny beads on to the wire needle. “You’ve never lived anywhere else?” “Never. I love it here. My front door, I’ve never locked it. Ever. I know everyone and everyone knows me. My mum is my neighbour. I see my dad every day. Any time I’m not working and I want to talk to someone, I just go outside.” I try and pick the beads onto the wire, I’m not deft as Isabel, my little beads flick off, ricocheting across the table. I apologise and she giggles. Isabel tells me about her sister who’s currently living in British Columbia for a short while on a work contract, her face changes as she talks of how much she misses her. “She’ll be back. I know, she’ll be back.” Continue reading →
Minus 26 degrees. So cold that when you breath your throat hurts. So cold that you suddenly realise that funny feeling in your nose is all the little hairs freezing. So very painfully cold that although the morning light as you crunch through the densely packed snow is breathtaking, and you want to take photo after photo, you can’t because your glove-less hand begin to hurt after about 20 seconds and after a minute it burns and aches until you have to admit defeat.
I’m from the UK and I’m completely unused to such frozen temperatures. Living in Brighton doesn’t prepare you for the harsh conditions of the great white north, so when I knew I was going to be travelling to the Yukon and Quebec, I had a small panic – what on earth would I wear?! I had snowpants and thermals but I knew my jacket simply wasn’t up to the job. So I asked a few Vancouverites and they all said the same thing: “Canada Goose”.
I did a bit of research and they do sound like the perfect fit for me on my quest to keep everything I do as Canadian as possible. I especially liked this quote from their web site about keeping their production in Canada: “Cold weather is part of our national identity… We’re proud to have Canadians rely on us for protection in unspeakably cold conditions. We stay in Canada because that’s who we are.” I just love the idea that yes, to be Canadian is to live, work and play in really cold weather… I’ve come around to the idea living in basically sub-aqua conditions in ultra-rainy Vancouver, that if I stay at home and wait for good weather I’ll never leave the house! So I put waterproofs on and go and have fun.
I contacted Canada Goose and explained that I wanted to do a spot of road-testing and they very kindly sent me a parka. When it arrived I realised that this was a SERIOUS coat. Canada Goose have a 5-point ‘Thermal Experience Index’ so you can work out if you need a light jacket or something for more hardcore arctic activities. My ‘Dawson‘ parka is in the ‘extreme’ category, good to -30 “field-tested for the coldest places on earth.” There is something awfully scary and exciting at the same time reading that. I slipped it on in my toasty-warm apartment, struggled with the zip (it took a few weeks to loosen up) and then looked at myself in the mirror. I liked it. I looked ready for all kinds of arctic action!
As it’s a SERIOUS coat, it’s packed with gizmos, I adore the genius addition of shoulder straps in the lining, so I can carry the coat on my back like a rucksack when I’m indoors so I don’t overheat and easily slip it on before I go outside. I got asked twice about this in the airport by curious women – it’s a really cool idea. As is the fleece in the chin guard, which if you snuggle, goes right up to your nose. I suspect I may still be finding pockets in this next year…
So – how did it cope? Well, when I arrived in the Yukon for the 1000-mile Yukon Quest race, I wasn’t the only one Goosed-up and I think that tells you everything you need to know. All the locals had Canada Goose jackets and the tour companies hire out scarlet jackets to visitors. My eyelashes may have iced up and my fingers felt like they’d snap, but the rest of me was cosy. I could play out in the snow all day long – even lying in it for two hours taking photos – and not feel cold. I’ve learned that it’s not about bad weather, it’s about having the right clothes – and for winter in Canada that means one thing: Canada Goose.
I realised a couple of weeks ago that what worked in Brighton absolutely did not work here in Vancouver. I’m talking about my boots. My lovely leather boots. Which I have happily stomped around in all weathers in England and been bone-dry — have failed at the first downpour here in the temperate rainforest climate of Vancouver. Wet socks. Cold feet. Urgh.
And Freddie the dog needs to be taken on a nice long walk at least once a day so I looked at what the locals were doing and realised I needed to put my reservations aside and get me a pair of rubber boots. Yup – the rubber boot is everywhere on the streets of Vancouver. From polka-dot cheapies from Walmart to designer block colour boots. They’re worn with jeans or dresses and it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re on the beach or striding downtown. Rubber boots are where it’s at for the Vancouverites.
Me, I haven’t worn a pair of wellies since I was a kid, but I cracked two weeks ago when a particularly vicious three-day monsoon-like bout of weather made me regretfully retire my beloved Brighton boots and head to West 4th street in Kitsilano to seek out anything that would keep me dry. The Vancouverites seem to love a Hunter boot – but I don’t see myself as either a Kate Moss or Middleton-type so I was looking for something else instead. And I found it.
Biker ankle boots which are made from rubber. I knew I had something right when I was stopped twice in one day by breathless women demanding to know where I got them from. This has never happened to me before. Maybe I just needed to wear rubber boots…
I’m not going to pretend to be some kind of fashionista. In fact, despite years of writing for women’s magazines I’d never even attended a fashion show before, but I was intrigued about the ethos of Vancouver’s Eco Fashion Week – taking the idea of reusing, recycling and repurposing clothes – so went along to see what it was all about.
Celebrating its fifth season, Vancouver’s eco fashion week is one of the world’s most exciting ethical style events, bringing together designers and fashion industry leaders. I went to watch the Value Village style challenge. Value Village is an international thrift store with branches in Canada, Australia and the USA. They partner with local charities and community organisations, and over the years have given millions to help those less well off. Three designers, Nicolette Lang-Anderson, Mimi Lauzon and Tony Vu had taken on the challenge of creating an entire show on a $500 budget each, to create and style 10-15 looks to send down the catwalk. A shocking 90 million lbs of clothing end up in landfill sites around the world each year, so I loved the idea behind this; making buying second-hand clothes cool again.
I managed to bag front row seats and have to confess that I felt a frisson of excitement as the room began to fill. The shout went out — standing room only — the lights lowered, music pulsed from the sound system and the first show began. I was surprised by how exciting it was, craning on the edge my seat to watch the willowy models stride down the catwalk to be met by a barrage of photographers at the other end, and then sashaying back to quick-change into something else. I came away inspired and a few days later, paid a visit to my local branch of Value Village and snapped up a gorgeous chain-design wrap dress for under $10. A bargain that literally did not cost the earth! Guilt-free shopping at last…
Vancouver just got a little bit more British and a whole lot more fabulous. The largest international Topshop and Topman, has opened its doors down on the bottom floor of The Bay (think a Canadian John Lewis) on Granville street and I got to take a sneak peek the day before it opened. With 33,000 sq foot of retail heaven to check out, it may not be as enormous as my beloved Oxford Circus branch, but it’s the second-largest in the world and until I return to the UK, to worship at the ‘Temple of Topshop’ I rather suspect The Bay will become a favourite stop-off.
The layout felt pleasingly familiar and I loved the funky dressing rooms with Vancouver-influenced art on the walls. Across the store, four main trends dominate this season: ‘Witching Hour’ – a gothic-influenced line with leather and lace themes running throughout. ‘Psychedelic Dandy’, all Paisley prints and clashing glitz. ‘Scandi-Girl’ which combines cool military khakis with lace detail, and ‘Factory Girl’ – a cavalcade of futuristic 60s Swinging London pieces with plenty of metallics.
I spoke to a few of the staff in the Personal Shopping section (a brilliant way to find an outfit for a special occasion – totally recommended) to get a sense of why Vancouverites were so excited about this particular British invasion, ‘The UK is so fashion forward. You just can’t find clothes like this anywhere!’ they told me. ‘West Coast fashion is so laid-back, but the UK is all about dressing up a cool outfit or taking individual pieces to dress a look down. We’re like kids in a candy store!’
So, did I manage to stick to my self-imposed ‘Just The Money In Your Purse’ budget and not totally spank my credit card?
Guilty confession: um… not thrifty.
But I got to waltz around the rest of The Bay swinging my well-stuffed Topshop bag, which drew excited comments from the friendly staff on the Elizabeth Arden counter, “Ooh! you went into Topshop! What’s it like? Is it amazing!?” and that soothed any pain. (Hey – no one said being over-excited about getting to go shopping first was anything but very shallow… But oh! So much fun). And if the day wasn’t perfect enough, I discovered one of my favourite food trucks, Soho Road, https://twitter.com/SohoRoad parked just across the street from the store with their superb spicy Butter Chicken. Cue moans of delight! Mmmmm…
Topshop are running a host of giveaways and contests to celebrate – so check out all the action on Twitter at @Topshop_Canada and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/topshopcanada