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 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 was the 26-year-old filmmaker Xavier Dolan, a darling of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the star of a new advertising campaign for Louis Vuitton’s Ombré collection who would go on to direct Adele’s “Hello” video.
His obscurity may have something to do with the fact that he is from Canada, the country that gave the world ice hockey, the snow blower and Labatt beer.
But the notion that our neighbor to the north is a frozen cultural wasteland populated with hopelessly unstylish citizens is quickly becoming so outdated as to be almost offensive.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, Justin Trudeau, the muscular, blue-eyed, social-media-savvy son of the former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was swept into power, along with his Liberal Party, in a surprise win over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
In the months since his election, Mr. Trudeau, 44, the 6-foot-2 self-described 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 Mr. Trudeau the “New Young Face of Canadian Politics,” noting that “the new prime minister is dashing in his blue suit and jaunty brown shoes.” Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post could not resist running a 2006 photo of a louche Mr. Trudeau, in torn bluejeans and an unbuttoned black chemise, with the headline “Hunky Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Is the JFK Jr. of Canada.”
United States citizens grimacing over a political and cultural landscape riven by a brassy real estate kingpin, endlessly recycled superheroes and reality-show dopes may be forgiven for looking northward with yearning.
As Mr. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-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 us the Weeknd, who can’t feel his face; the director Sarah Polley, who makes films of subtle power; and the upstart fashion designer Tanya Taylor, whose creations have been worn by Michelle Obama.
The rapper Drake, of Toronto, comes in for a little ribbing now and then, but none other than Jay Z called him the Kobe Bryant of hip-hop. And even the latest album from Justin Bieber, the pride of Stratford, Ontario (population 33,430), is — gulp! — pretty terrific.
It’s all very exciting, eh? But still … Canada? The land of hyper-politeness and constant apology? The home of maple syrup, poutine, the gentle sport of curling and 10 percent of the world’s forests? The country that Spy magazine once said had “cultural Epstein-Barrness”?
As Joe Zee, 47, the Toronto-raised editor in chief of Yahoo Style, said: “There was always the feeling of being in the shadow of the U.S. For a treat we would take family trips to Niagara Falls, and I’d always want to cross the border and go to Buffalo, to go shopping! Buffalo, N.Y., was my rainbow growing up — it’s where the pot of gold was.”
“Even our national anthem sounds like a sigh: ‘O Canada,’” said the 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 realized I was Canadian.” But like her confreres Grimes, Ms. Polley and the Weeknd, Ms. Prickett does not produce work that is meant to comfort.
True, Canada has delivered sultans of cool in the past. Amid the polite folk rock of Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray, there was the melancholy genius of Joni Mitchell, who was hip enough to win the blessing of Charles Mingus. And we would be foolish to forget the alternately sensitive and raucous Neil Young, who never met an expectation he did not defy. (“Obviously people are delighted with the change that has taken place,” Mr. Young, a California resident, said after Mr. Trudeau’s election. “It’s very positive news.”)
And let us not ignore 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 like David Steinberg, Lorne Michaels, Mike Myers, Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara, who started out as foils to mainstream American pop culture and ended up shaping it.
Canadians have always been funny, according to the Toronto-born editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter. “S.J. Perelman used to think that Stephen Leacock was the funniest writer in the world,” Mr. Carter said, referring to the multifaceted author who moved to Canada from his native England at age 6. “And he was. The trouble is, the self-deprecation so regularly on display is often lost on Americans. Now Marty Short is the funniest person in the world — although he’s far too modest to admit it.”
Mr. Zee agrees that Canada has not become hip all at once, with the election of the mediagenic Mr. Trudeau. It is partly a dawning of self-recognition.
“We’ve always had Frank Gehry,” he said.