Feb. 17, 2006. 07:37 AM
TURIN, ITALY—Shear madness, it is.
Eight years after that Roots newsboy hat became the fashion sensation of the Nagano Games, Canada has struck haberdashery gold again with the shearling trapper hats worn by our Olympians in the opening ceremonies.
They have — quite literally — flown off the shelves here.
At B.C. House — the rustic log cabin showcasing Vancouver 2010 and all things Canadian — the earflap hats can't be had, not for love nor euros, with pre-positioned warehouse stock already shipped in and sold out.
NBC wants to interview The Hat. Australian TV has asked if The Hat would be a guest in-studio. Yet only the faux shearling version remains, at 40 euros per, or half the price of the real sheep thing.
Simonetta Bella had just snapped up a couple of the hot hats, one for herself and one for 12-year-old son Giovanni, describing them as carino, which means pretty or lovely.
"A little bit expensive,'' Bella noted. "But they're both very stylish and warm. Also, I like that they say Canada on the front. Canada is a beautiful country with a great reputation around the world."
Canadian gear for sale at the HBC satellite store within B.C. House has been a magnet and a primary reason the queue for entry often stretches around the block with only a certain number of shoppers allowed inside at a time. The other night, it stayed open till midnight to accommodate eager patrons.
"We've replenished our stock twice already,'' said a frazzled Kristina Panko, a service manager for HBC in Sudbury brought to Turin to work the B.C. House branch. "The hat's so popular because it's such an obvious symbol of Canada. But even at home, when I called the other day, they told me the stores had sold out."
The trapper hat is the "it'' item of jock — and pseudo-jock — apparel in Turin.
"It's the trendy item of the Games,'' said Curtis Runions, a 27-year-old native of Kingston, Ont., who has come to town from England, where he's a high school teacher, to watch some hockey. "Maybe the fad will pass, like it did with the newsboy hats in Nagano, when everybody had one. But right now it's the thing to have.''
If disappointed at the unavailability of the trappers, most shoppers here appeared eager to purchase other stuff instead, from shell-jackets to Team Canada hockey jerseys to scarves and gloves and the signature Hudson Bay Company blankets.
Unfortunately, also out of stock — not even halfway through these Winter Games — are the goofy but endearing snowboard-influenced braided toques, with the hanging braided tie-ups, sort of like Hasidic side curls.
Gone. Gone. Gone.
Yesterday, an eagle-eyed customer pounced upon the one such toque — known as a "Bugsy'' — that was visible on the premises, only to discover it actually belonged to a staffer, who'd left the iconic item on a filing cabinet. Then the shopper very nearly refused to return the Bugsy to its rightful owner.
It's a clearance sale kind of environment except nothing's been marked down and most of it is rather pricey.
The craze for Canada togs is gratifying for Tu Ly, the Toronto designer chosen to head the creative garb group when HBC wrested the Canadian Olympic Association contract from Roots (which still dresses Team USA, and those uniforms are nothing to write home about).
Ly, who has boutiques in New York and Los Angeles, is in Turin to witness his handiwork on the Olympic stage. "The shearling hat is the hat of Turin,'' he said yesterday. "I think we hit the mark with this one."
Ly has been wandering around town, taking pictures of his clothes whenever he spots them being worn by non-Canadian athletes. Thus far, his fashion-photo gallery has included a chic woman in a mink coat and trapper hat and an Italian guy wearing it whilst riding a motorcycle.
"It's a wholesome Canadian look," said Ly.
The Olympic line, oxymoronically dubbed "Heritage Modern," was devised as "cognizant of the past and looking forward to the future," he said, borrowing richly from Canada's (and the Hudson Bay Company's) trapping, portaging history.
The Hat is a streamlined version of the classical trapper, crossed with snowboarding, earflaps trim to the scalp, pearl suede on the outside and warm wool pile on the inside. The "Bugsy" is also influenced by snowboarding, "but I've added some snap and pop so that it wouldn't look like Elmer Fudd."
Canada's outer coat, on display in the opening ceremonies, is made from a nylon fabric — also used in bullet-proof vests — which protects against chill and dampness, with a three-dimensional insert of maple leaves on the side panels.
Maple leaves could also be found inside the palm of the gloves Canada's athletes wore — and those are gone from these parts as well. The quasi-mukluks, known as trapper boots, have the word CANADA and a maple leaf on the sole tread, so that they leave those marks on the snow. (Well, if there were any snow in Turin.)
What's interesting is how many non-Canadians are snatching up all this gear at B.C. House, or placing orders to be filled later. Canada is cool, it would appear.
"I'm a big fan of Jeremy Wotherspoon, Cindy Klassen, Mike Ireland,'' said Sandra Vanosch, 34, as she scooped up some fleecy red sweaters. "But I'm from Holland and we're crazy about speedskating.
"Even if I wasn't a fan, though, I'd buy some of these Canadian clothes. I don't know, but ever since I was a little kid, I've loved your maple leaf symbol."
Similar sentiments have been scribbled into a guest book that hundreds of visitors have signed: "Bellissima!" "I love Canada!" "Passion lives in Canada!" "Fantastico!" "I want to live in Canada!"
At least as popular as the merchandise is the ceremonial-dress RCMP who's always on the premises as a promotional greeter and photo-op star.
"On weekends, I must get my picture taken with people maybe 2,000 times a day," said Constable Richard Couture, 44, who's with the RCMP detachment in Surrey, B.C. "Of course, they think that this is what we wear all the time and that we work on horseback."
An RCMP ceremonial detail is scheduled to carry the Maple Leaf flag into Stadio Olimpico at the closing ceremony, when Turin hands off to Vancouver.
That's when Canada Cool will really be in.