Fashion Nation 2006 - Native Designers

Fresh-faced fashionistas were perhaps a tad surprised at the opening show of Toronto Fashion Week. Then again, the Red Spirit Singers, representing the Ojibway, Cree and Mohawk Nations, are not exactly a barbershop quartet.

This collective outing showcased the best in First Nations fashion. Denise Brillion Hill kicked off the show with punchy Native design that has commercial promise. The high-waisted green muslin skirt has a raw edge, something that contrasts strongly with some of the more stylized pieces. The felted summer vests for both men and women, despite their boxiness, have pleasingly stark motifs. Obi-wraps and caftans in popping crimson and turquoise round out the first showing by this talented designer.

The coolest detail, however, is invisible. The labels on Hill’s designs read “Made in Kanata / Canada”.

Bill Helin unveiled a more symbolic, traditional look that featured fur-lined capes and hand-stenciling. Aside from a felted white jacket with hand painted motifs that bleed like watercolours, many of the other creations seem simply to act like canvases for the exaggerated aboriginal designs.

The highlight of the show were the designs of Ronald Everett, an accomplished artist whose traditional blanket work adorns the walls of resorts and hotels in Canada, the United States and Europe.

Using newly-trained Native models, Everett got the cameras flashing with traditional bat-wing capes and blinding peacock blue. The pieces are ceremonial yet transcendent, a perfect example of this being the red-feather black silk evening gown. It’s as elegant and memorable as anything you’ll see on a Canadian runway this season.

Daniel Cox, Fashion Editor
Marek Wlazlo, Photographer