Supermodel Kate Upton is already known for her enormous … accomplishments, but her most impressive by far took place in December 2012. Wearing little more than boots and a bikini bottom, the 20-year-old Florida native posed for the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2013 Swimsuit Issue aboard the megayacht Le Boreal—in Antarctica. "It was freezing," the astute Upton later said of posing with ice floes and emperor penguins. "I was working so hard to keep warm."
What Upton failed to mention was that she had a little help. Covering her shoulders and various adjacent areas was a fur-lined Canada Goose jacket. The published photographs (which ran under the headline "Polar Bare") were a memorable event for men on many continents, but they were advertising gold for Canada Goose, which has suddenly become the hottest cold-weather coat in the world. Not long ago, "Canada Goose was primarily a purely functional, technical brand," observed retail consultancy J.C. Williams senior advisor Bruce Winder. "Somehow, they've become cool and prestigious."
Winder, whose office is in Toronto, can be forgiven his mild surprise. After all, Canada Goose is nothing new to Canadians. But the fact that the coat is quintessentially Canadian—made in Canada by people who understand a thing or two about freezing temperatures—helps explain its mythic status. At a time when every apparel brand on the market claims to be genuine and authentic, Canada Goose really is.
This brand of the moment has actually been around since 1957, initially going by the name Metro Sportswear. For three decades, the company made coats for cops and park rangers, and also (quietly) for labels like L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer. Only in 1993 did incoming CEO Dani Reiss make the pivotal decision to sell Canada Goose coats under their own name. Competition was stiff, but the brand had a key advantage: its reputation. "We've been in this business a long time, outfitting everyone from Arctic bush pilots to industrial workers in the coldest places on earth," Reiss said. "We don't need to make up stories about our product."
Which is not to say that Canada Goose hasn't done some very clever marketing. Its 2012 decision to sponsor the Sundance Film Festival put coats on the backs of 300 tastemakers, helping to establish a celebrity cult following that's grown to include Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper, Sarah Silverman and Daniel Craig.
And, of course, Kate Upton, who later joked that "the penguins kept me going" on that freezing photo shoot. Maybe so. But Canada Goose's $595 Chilliwack Bomber jacket probably helped.