For millenniums, Indigenous peoples have used clothing, textiles, jewellery and accessories to celebrate, commemorate, denote status and share stories. The styles and ceremonies varied across the many different ancient communities, but they all created deeply personal ancestral connections. Despite the horrors of residential schools banning these wearable works of art, those bonds were never broken. These Indigenous designers show that their people’s spirits are alive and well through fashion that’s more than a statement. Cree Nation model, actor and First Nations activist, Ashley Callingbull, brought her warm, stoic and globally recognized beauty to Enoch Cree land, to model these Indigenous creations in a way that only she can.
Through her beadwork, Catherine Blackburn emphasizes the deep respect for the land from which Indigenous adornments originate. “It’s a reciprocated existence of which the land is honoured through materials and intentions,” says Blackburn. Blackburn uses antique microbeads to create realistic portraits, animals and flowers, which can take months to create. She hopes infusing material history and authentic Indigenous representation in her work empowers anyone who wears her pieces. “My goal is to speak to my own contemporary presence and experience as a Dene woman. If Indigenous youth can look at the work we do and say ‘I want to do that’ or ‘I feel seen and represented,’ then that is the icing on the cake.”
With custom pieces crafted from materials like genuine leather and shearling, many of Angela DeMontigny’s offerings come with the promise of being truly one of a kind. The Cree-Métis designer also isn’t shy about the fact that she’s in the business of creating luxury fashion, with the quality — and price tags in the thousands — to match. “I’m trying to break down stereotypes and assumptions, show something different and educate people about what luxury actually means,” DeMontigny says. “Indigenous luxury means different things. It means sustainability. It means beautifully made. It means that you’re going to be able to wear it for decades, which is what I’ve done.”