22-Aug, 04:13

22:57, November 30 196 0

2016-11-30 22:57:19
Critical Shopper: Where Enthusiasts of the Freeze Go for a Winter Coat

Late on a temperate weekday afternoon last month, about 20 people lined up outside the new Canada Goose store in SoHo behind a metal barrier, separating them — us — from the main meat of the street. The block was, apart from this cluster, empty. The store was, comparatively, empty. There were more potential customers on the street than in the store and, while we’re counting, more employees in the store than customers.

This is a curious state of affairs. Sales is an offense game. Canada Goose is playing defense.

Perhaps a discussion of the barriers is in order. The wait behind them can be long enough that you may decide not to wait at all and instead walk around the neighborhood. Perhaps you’ll encounter one of the signs that have been pasted about, ones that feature a photo of a man wearing a Canada Goose parka, what appear to be dead coyotes, the Canada Goose logo with blood dropping from it, and loud tag lines: “Proudly Torturing Animals Since 1957” or “Fur Trim Kills.”

PETA protested at the opening of this store last month and at a recent store opening in Toronto. The company has insisted that its relationship to animals is ethical.

What this means for the shopping experience is an excess of hand-holding, verging on babysitting. Two security guards at the door were controlling entry via stern mien and green button. Inside, I was greeted by what amounted to a personal shopper. No one was left alone to wander the store. Everybody was supervised, lest someone attempt to effect an in-store protest or to rearrange coats out of their color groups.

There are so, so many coats here, and yet, not that many coats. Canada Goose has a large range of silhouettes, but from a distance, it may be difficult to tell. The jackets, by and large, prioritize functionality over elegance — be careful or you may tip over.

With most of these coats, you’ll be made from a block away, which is why I preferred the Maitland parka ($800), the slimmest of the bulky, and the Pritchard ($950), thin, quilted and with a fur hood. By the time I tried the Lodge ($550), I was working on identifying the store’s slimmest item. By Canada Goose standards, this was basically a windbreaker. (The jacket was available in ice-cool blue for an additional $50, with the difference going to polar bear research.)

Here, a quick detour to discuss how gender intersects with fashion. Canada Goose makes jackets on a one to five scale of warmth. I asked if there were any fives and was pointed to a goofy-huge red number designed specially for a man who was reaching the summit of Mount Everest. I asked if any women’s coats were a five, and was told a story about how Rebecca Romijn needed a warm coat while she was filming her role as Mystique in the “X-Men” films, and so one was designed for her. Around 400 women have been to the top of Everest. Just thought that should be pointed out.

Most customers here did not appear to be at risk of climbing a mountain any time in the near future. Rather, they craved the luxury associated with knowing just which brand would be the right one should such a circumstance arise.

Seeing all that down, ethically sourced or not, go to waste felt gloomy, so I left and walked a couple of blocks to the New York flagship for another Canadian technical brand, Arc’teryx. Unlike Canada Goose, which felt like a car dealership, here was a store designed for bright-eyed enthusiasts.

Arc’teryx offers a wide range of styles: some for the general customer, some for the fashion-inclined, some for serious climbers or snowboarders or other enthusiasts of the freeze. Here I found the sort of somewhat-slim winter coat I’d been seeking: the Fission SV ($650), which contoured to the body rather than approximating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Were I inclined to take my need for streamlining even further, there’s Arc’teryx Veilance, the company’s style-first collection (which is also the focus of a pop-up a couple of blocks away, in which everything is a shade of gray, like a caricature of serious fashion).

I enjoyed some of the sly functionality of the Veilance line, but Arc’teryx’s performance pieces inspired more enthusiasm, more curiosity, more imagination. Those quilted, walled-off pockets that hold the down in your jacket? They’re called baffles. I learned that the small tab of fabric that typically covers a zipper so that it doesn’t catch on anything is called a zipper garage. And I learned that in the most advanced models, the company has figured out how to do away with it altogether.

I engaged with a salesman long enough that he started describing the meek, weak jackets you could get from competitors, and it didn’t feel like hyperbole. For this ride, there was no line.