March 4, 2010

Article | First Nations Style Rocks It

(Among the edgy First Nations looks hitting the Evolve aboriginal fashion show catwalk at the Roundhouse was Vancouver-based Cedar & Berry’s bamboo jersey bandeau top with flowing silk chiffon, featuring hand-stitched wolf button design. Photo: Angela Fama)

Leather Bustiers To Hip Hoodies, Aboriginal Style Rocks It
By Sarah Rowland
Publish Date: March 4, 2010

Respected elders strutting down the runway to techno music? A skater hoodie made from a First Nations trading blanket? Tasselled rawhide aboriginal pieces paired with skinny jeans? Yup, the Evolve aboriginal fashion show on February 26 was definitely on a mission to break the stereotypes about First Nations clothing design, and for the most part it did just that.

Presented by Bee the Change Aboriginal Arts Society as part of the Talking Stick Festival, the show featured eight fashion designers from across the country showcasing their latest adaptable creations at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre. And while some designers left it up to the buyer’s imagination as to how to modernize individual pieces, a few fashion-forward thinkers took it upon themselves to illustrate how well traditionally inspired aboriginal clothing can mix with contemporary style.

In keeping with Bee the Change’s goal of providing opportunities for aboriginal artisans and performers, the show used only First Nations models, many of whom had never modelled before. This gave the show a DIY edge. Meanwhile, Chief Wayne Christian of the Shuswap Band added a touch of traditional prestige to the proceedings by sashaying down the runway alongside the young up-and-comers.

Emceed by local radio personality Suzette Amaya, host of ThinkNDN on 102.7 FM and Ab-original on CBC Radio 3, the show kicked off with Bruno Henry from the Ontario Turtle Clan. He brought a collection of custom-fit designs, including his Canadian-made velour halter dresses ($100), which had saucy side slits and embroidered footprint and feather patterns running diagonally across the bottom. The best part of his line, which you can order through his Web site, was his matching asymmetrical deerskin skirts ($500-plus) and vests (approximately $200). Hard to pull off together, yes. But take that skimpy one-of-a-kind tasselled vest and throw it over a T-shirt with some jeans, and you’ve got yourself an ensemble Kate Moss would pay thousands for.

Another standout during the first half of the show was Sho Sho Esquiro, a Vancouver-based designer with a healthy love of hip-hop. Her line of made-to-order bustiers, which you can buy by contacting her at, could be the next must-have thing. With a zip-up front, these leather one-offs ($300 and up) feature front-and-centre panels of traditional Pendleton woollen blankets. She paired these with skinny jeans and heels. Most of the models wore them solo for a sexier look, but you could just as easily wear them over a T-shirt or even a plain black dress.

Esquiro’s pièce de résistance was her contrasting hoodie ($200 and up). With houndstooth sleeves and mink embellishments on the hood, the body was made from brightly hued Pendleton fabric. It was an immediate favourite with many of those in attendance—though part of what made it so eye-catching was the fact that first-time model Lee John looked like he had just stepped out of the pages of Esquire. Somebody get that boy an agent!

Saskatchewan native Disa Tootoosis managed to turn some heads with her rugged, cowboy-style woollen vests ($85 and up) with powwow-inspired appliqués on the back and front. (You can buy from her directly at Again, John made this garment look like high-end, edgy denim wear with his skinny jeans and slip-on Vans.

Closing the show was Cedar & Berry, Gloria Cardinal’s Vancouver-based label specializing in organic two-piece swimsuits ($90 to $100 at Fearless models, who had by then found their groove, rocked the catwalk in boldly patterned ’70s-inspired boy shorts with matching halter tops. Like I said, it wasn’t your average First Nations fashion show.


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