With the rise of Trudeau, Canada is suddenly... hip?

Montreal-born film-maker and model Xavier Dolan (above), who directed the video for British singer Adele’s Hello, is the face of Louis Vuitton’s new advertising campaign.
Montreal-born film-maker and model Xavier Dolan (above), who directed the video for British singer Adele’s Hello, is the face of Louis Vuitton’s new advertising campaign.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau, with wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, has been called the JFK Jr. of Canada.
Canadian Prime minister Justin Trudeau, with wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, has been called the JFK Jr. of Canada.PHOTO: REUTERS
Toronto-born singer-songwriter The Weeknd’s hits include Can’t Feel My Face.
Toronto-born singer-songwriter The Weeknd’s hits include Can’t Feel My Face.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Ontario-born actress Rachel McAdams is best known for her roles in Mean Girls and The Notebook.
Ontario-born actress Rachel McAdams is best known for her roles in Mean Girls and The Notebook.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Canadian talents challenge the notion that the country is bereft of culture or style

NEW YORK • Last October, at the Louis Vuitton spring 2016 women's fashion show on the outskirts of Paris, a male beauty in a white T-shirt, white-and-black bomber jacket and black pants waded into a blizzard of flashbulbs and cries of "Xavier!"

As he took his seat between actresses Michelle Williams and Catherine Deneuve, fashion editors tilted their heads. Who was this man? Why was he in the front row?

A quick Internet search would have told them that he is film-maker Xavier Dolan, 26, a darling of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the star of a new advertising campaign for Louis Vuitton's Ombre collection who would go on to direct Adele's Hello video.

His obscurity may have something to do with the fact that he is Canadian, the country that gave the world ice hockey, maple syrup and the gentle sport of curling.

But the notion that Canada is a frozen cultural wasteland populated with hopelessly unstylish citizens is quickly becoming so outdated as to be almost offensive.

Two weeks after the Louis Vuitton show, Mr Justin Trudeau, the muscular, blue-eyed, social media- savvy son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was swept into power.

In the months since his election, Mr Trudeau, 44, the 1.88m selfdescribed feminist, who has been a television actor, snowboarding instructor and amateur boxer, has assumed the role of world leader with a heart.

In December, to the delight of the Twitterati, he welcomed a planeload of Syrian refugees with the phrase "You're safe at home now", while helping them into warm coats.

Vogue magazine wasted no time anointing him the "New Young Face of Canadian Politics", noting that "the new prime minister is dashing in his blue suit and jaunty brown shoes".

The New York Post could not resist running a 2006 photo of a louche Trudeau, in torn blue jeans and an unbuttoned black chemise, with the headline "Hunky Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Is The JFK Jr. Of Canada".

As Mr Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau (along with their three young children, Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien), create a Canadian Camelot, they are casting light on a wider eruption already in progress.

An expanse once stereotyped as the home to square-jawed Mounties and beer-swilling "hosers" has quietly morphed into a multicultural breeding ground that has given the world singer The Weeknd, who can't feel his face; director Sarah Polley, who makes films of subtle power; upstart fashion designer Tanya Taylor, whose creations have been worn by people such as United States First Lady Michelle Obama; and Rachel McAdams, who is best known for her roles in Mean Girls and The Notebook.

Rapper Drake, of Toronto, comes in for a little ribbing now and then, but none other than rapper Jay Z called him the Kobe Bryant of hip-hop.

And even the latest album from singer Justin Bieber, the pride of Stratford, Ontario (population 33,430), is - gulp! - pretty terrific.

It is all very exciting, eh?

But still... Canada? The land of hyper-politeness and constant apology?

"Even our national anthem sounds like a sigh: 'O Canada'," said writer and editor Sarah Nicole Prickett, who was born in London, Ontario, and has written for T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

"Drake, more than anyone, is the prophet who's changing that, because, unlike a lot of talented Canadians before him, he accepts embarrassment as a cost of making big art."

The niceness factor is something that may distinguish Canadian cultural producers.

"The first month I lived in Manhattan, in the spring of 2012, I heard that I was 'nice' from seven people," Ms Prickett said. "That's when I realised I was Canadian."

But like her confreres Grimes, Polley and The Weeknd, Prickett does not produce work that is meant to comfort.

True, Canada has delivered sultans of cool in the past.

There was the melancholy genius of Joni Mitchell. There is the alternately sensitive and raucous Neil Young. And there is the coolest cat in a hat, Leonard Cohen, still capable of multiple encores at 81.

Then there are the Canadian kings and queens of comedy such as David Steinberg, Lorne Michaels, Mike Myers, Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Andrea Martin and Catherine O'Hara, who started out as foils to mainstream American pop culture and ended up shaping it.

Mr Joe Zee, the Toronto-raised editor-in-chief of Yahoo Style, says that Canada has not become hip all at once, with the election of the media-genic Trudeau.

It is partly a dawning of self- recognition. "We've always had Frank Gehry," he said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'With the rise of Trudeau, Canada is suddenly... hip?'. Print Edition | Subscribe