Blame Canada for Douglas Coupland

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Published September 15, 2010

“Author” is not an occupation that often precedes the ubiquitous “slash designer” label. But Douglas Coupland, who wrote the era-defining Generation X, among other notable achievements, basically invented the 1990s slacker, so has some style cred. Coupland has just joined forces with friendly leather goods company Roots to design a line of T-shirts, leggings and bags, currently sold at Colette, Paris. Though it sounds like an unlikely pairing, the two parties are joined by their mutual passion for their Canadian identity–an under-defended cause if there ever was one. We talked to Coupland about delving into fashion, his country, and his upcoming book.

ALICE PFEIFFER: Why were you interested in collaborating with Roots?

DOUGLAS COUPLAND: This is one of those things that’s weird to explain to non-Canadians, but Canada is so young—still—that it works every day to locate its identity. We’re 100 years younger than the US.  We’re still establishing our myths, and also it’s a tiny country, in so many ways. So it’s almost inevitable Roots and I work together in a happy and uncynical way.  It’s been a great project.

PFEIFFER: Why were you interested in fashion-based project? COUPLAND: For me it’s about ideas. I knew that if I had solid ideas, it would show in the results. What kind of scares me is the Aberzombie cult result.  It’s so omnipresent and scary.

PFEIFFER: Was this project unusually challenging for you?

COUPLAND: Not at all.  I went to art school and have been deeply engaged in visual and pop culture since 1985. It’s a no-brainer.

PFEIFFER:What are you trying to convey about Canadian identity today?

COUPLAND: First that it exists, and second, that it seems to be getting more specific by the day.  You have to remember that growing up in the 1970s, and especially in the 1980s, it felt as if Canada was going to be absorbed by the US at any moment …and then around 2000, our countries began spiraling off into very very highly different directions. It’s never ever ever ever felt so different and specific to be Canadian as it does now.  This wasn’t something anybody predicted or expected.

PFIEFFER: What is the relationship between your writing and your designs?

COUPLAND: Well, writing takes place in time whereas art and design take place mostly in space. So they use different parts of the brain and soul.  I can’t imagine choosing one over the other. It’s like asking to choose between sound or vision.

PFIEFFER: How does the Douglas Coupland we know (Generation X, among others) translate onto clothes?

COUPLAND: Oh Alice… Generation X was 1991, and the world is such a different place since then. I don’t even think there’s a relationship.

PFIEFFER: Do you have a new book coming out? If so, what will it be about?

COUPLAND: Actually, I do. It’s called PlayerOne and it’s a meditation on the current cultural implosion and what it means, what caused it, and where it’s going.