I was thrilled when I heard Hudson's Bay would stock Canadian-born, New York-based designer Christopher Lee Sauvé's satirical T-shirts that poke and prod the fashion industry in all the right places. No target is too big for him to skewer with his signature pop art portrayals: American Apparel; Anna Wintour; Terry Richardson; waifish model Kate Moss's infamous "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" remark quoted in a 2009 Women's Wear Daily interview and since adopted by the thinspiration community.
It's that last one that got Sauvé in trouble.
While its been wildly successful in New York, Sauvé's "skinny" T, which resembles a nutrition label bearing Moss's words, was apparently too much for Canadian shoppers to handle. It became the outrage du jour on Twitter last week, where some claimed it promotes eating disorders. The Bay backed down almost immediately, releasing a statement via Twitter that the store "respects the designer's art" but the shirt would be removed from its online catalogue and stores "due to the overwhelming response and the sensitivity of the matter."
"Hudson's Bay is committed to providing an enjoyable shopping experience for our customers," read the statement. "We always take into consideration what our customers want and need in our offerings and constantly evaluate the products we provide."
It's this sort of move that sends a powerful message to designers here: Don't take risks, because one of the biggest players in Canadian fashion won't have your back. Creativity is bad for business.
"Like all of my designs, it's a glorified warning, an ode to the farcicality of the fashion industry." Christopher Lee Sauvé
Sauvé responded with his own statement saying the T-shirt is in no way "celebrating the severity of eating and body disorders.
"As an artist, I got my start by making a mockery of the fashion industry as a whole.... Like all of my designs, it's a glorified warning, an ode to the farcicality of the fashion industry and the obsessives that surround it."
Rather than support Sauvé as an artist, Hudson's Bay chose to cater to the lowest common denominator and protect its very fat bottom line.
But Sauvé's isn't the only Canadian line Hudson's Bay has backed off on in recent months.
Lazypants, a local brand known for its comfy sweats, got an unpleasant surprise when it decided to move its production back to Toronto from Istanbul.
The move was an ethically responsible choice that created numerous local jobs, but it also caused a small delay in deliveries. Nevertheless, all of Lazypants's retailers stuck by the company - except one. The Bay stopped carrying Lazypants, presumably because the inconvenience of the delay outweighed its desire to support a thriving local business just trying to do the right thing. At least that's the version offered by a PR rep for Lazypants before she parted ways with the company.
Lazypants owner Adam Bledin tells NOW that Hudson's Bay held off on its order for different reasons. The Bay, meanwhile, asserts there was never an order to begin with.
The Lazypants and Sauvé cases are indicative of the hurdles Canadian designers face. Without retailers and shoppers who appreciate risk and crave the avant-garde, our designers have little hope of joining the ranks of the fashion elite. And we wonder why our most promising fashion talents feel they have to leave the country to "make it."
In the absence of a thriving Canadian fashion community, we are losing more than just pretty apparel; we also give up the chance to grow our culture and a vehicle for free expression.
More and more of them are taking refuge online. Says local shoe designer George Sully: "The internet is our tool; there you can pioneer your own path, turn your Facebook friends into focus groups, post new products at a moment's notice and test your campaigns freely at no cost."
Also announced last week was a new Toronto Men's Fashion Week. A nice initiative, but without the support of industry players like Hudson's Bay, what good is another runway leading nowhere?
I spoke to Canadian designer and Project Runway Canada winner Evan Biddell earlier this year for a piece about the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards, whose organizers hope to help design talent stay in Canada. Biddell's take: "I did the whole ‘I believe' thing in Toronto for a long time; I tried to push new ideas and I tried to give people something else to look at in terms of what fashion could be, but it was never met with any sort of ‘Can I buy that from you?' So I had to leave," said Biddell. He now works in New York City, which is great for him and a shame for Canada.