By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor
First Nations fashion is a lot more than feathers and fringes.
A new exhibit at Woodland Cultural Centre, which showcases the work of four native designers, opens Wednesday. FashionNative is a wearable art exhibit the celebrates both traditional and contemporary First Nations fashion, said Janis Monture, executive director at Woodland.
“This visual art exhibit and fashion show highlights the impact of Aboriginal fashion designers and attempts to de-mystify the idea of First Nations fashion.”
Moving beyond buckskin has been Ancaster designer Angela DeMontigny's goal since she launched her first line of original leather and suede garments in specialty boutiques in North America and Europe in 1995.
“I wanted to change the perception of what native fashion is,” said DeMontigny, whose designs are part of the Woodland exhibit. “Many people thought it was still buckskin, fringe and feathers. Sophistication and elegance wasn't part of that visual.”
Change has been very slow, said DeMontigny, in part because other designers, some of them very famous, haven't been showing “culturally appropriate stuff.”
Late last year, Chanel created controversy when it staged a Texas-centric fashion show for its pre-fall collection, which included Native American headdresses to accompany the “cowboys and Indians” theme.
A native American-style headdress in the 2012 Victoria's Secret Fashion show caused the lingerie company to issue an apology.
“(Companies) continually portray us in a way that's not relevant to us now,” said DeMontigny. “These are images from a few hundred years ago.”
Monture said she began thinking about a First Nations fashion exhibit in 2012 when a Six Nations woman approached her with a request. The woman was working for a local retailer that was selling a line of t-shirts and jogging pants emblazoned with tribal chiefs' headdresses and other native images she found inappropriate.
“She asked me to write a letter to the store's head office,” said Monture. “They replied saying they'd reconsider some of their lines.”
FashioNative highlights the significance of traditional fashion, as well as contemporary clothing being created by First Nations designers.
“Our goal is to educate the community to the uniqueness, history and proper usage of First Nations design. “It gives First Nations fashion designers the opportunity to display their work to the wider public.”
DeMontigny incorporates her Chippewa-Cree-Metis background into all her creations, which combine elegance and edginess. She said the native components are often inconspicuous.
“It could be in the shape of the garment or in the rough edges of the leathers and suedes. It's usually quite subtle. I want the clothes to be wearable for many different people.”
Also featured at FashioNative is emerging designer Sage Paul, Chessa Syrette, who has created a new line specifically for the show, and Tracy Toulouse, who is known for her modern fashion lines as well as her creation of elaborate and intricate custom regalia for clients.
“We wanted to have designers who are Ontario-based and at different points in their careers,” said Monture. “People should come out if they really want to see what First Nations fashion designers are doing.”
At a glance
What: FashioNative, an exhibit at Woodland Cultural Centre featuring the clothing and drawings of four First Nations designers, Angela DeMontigny, Sage Paul, Chessa Syrette and Tracy Toulouse.
When: A grand opening fashion show will be held on Monday at 7 p.m. in Woodland's gallery. The exhibit will be on display from Wednesday until April 18.
Where: Woodland Cultural Centre, 184 Mohawk St.
Cost: Tickets for the fashion show are $10 and can be purchased at www.woodland-centre.on.ca or at Woodland.