$10,000 for Dene beaded gauntlets? Indigenous tailoring becomes ‘luxury fashion’, say designers

In the North, it will usually cost you hundreds of dollars for a pair of beaded cuff mittens sewn by native designers. But in the world of luxury couture — a direction some Indigenous fashions are headed in — they could fetch 10 times as much.

D’Arcy Moses, a Dene fashion designer from the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation in the Northwest Territories, says Indigenous tailoring is increasingly fitting into a luxury space because of the way items are unique – with original designs and hand sewn by artisans with decades of experience. experience.

He remembers asking a friend of his how much a pair of fully beaded Dene gauntlets would cost at a high-end Parisian fashion house like Lesage.

“He said, ‘Lesage would easily charge US$10,000. So, I mean, imagine what a pair of gauntlets from anywhere in the North is worth,” Moses said.

Demand is strong and growing for Indigenous clothing and jewelry, say fellow designers Suzan Marie and Lucy Yakeleya.

“I’ve noticed that everyone wants to get their hands on the earrings that people produce these days — they’re so cool,” Yakeleya said.

Marie makes padded caribou hair earrings—a haute couture item—with natural materials from animals and the earth.

“A long time ago, our employees didn’t get fair value for their product. So now we have this resurgence – we’re pricing, marketing our products at real value,” she said.

The three designers are part of the teachers of an Aboriginal haute couture program currently underway at the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity in Alberta.

They are two weeks into the program, with just one week left, and say they were struck by the creativity of the participants.

“It’s just amazing how their ideas are coming out,” Yakeleya said.

Lucy Yakeleya, pictured here leading a porcupine quillwork workshop in 2015, is one of the teachers in an Aboriginal high fashion program at the Banff Center in Alberta. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

Blend of traditional and modern sewing techniques

With the amount of resources at the Banff Centre, attendees have all sorts of options at their fingertips for designing clothing. They can choose different ways to dye or screen print their fabric; or different ways of cutting leather.

It’s a cross-cultural blend of traditional sewing techniques with modern technology, Moses said.

“What we’re doing here is revolutionary because we’re mixing very, very traditional techniques that our great-grandmothers and grandmothers used, and we’re mixing it with technology. And it’s embraced,” he said. he declares.

It also gives participants the opportunity to learn traditional sewing techniques that they may not have learned before.

Yakeleya cited the use of porcupine quills as an example – the traditional way of sewing them is to flatten them and sew them to the hide or material.

“They were all very excited to learn these traditional techniques,” she said.

Marie said that not only did the program give them the space to come together and collaborate, but the Banff Center also organized it with great compassion, taking care to address all the triggers that teachers and participants might have by being in an institutional setting.

“It just gives us room to create,” she said.

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