The inaugural Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week kicked off at Larwill Park (688 Cambie Street) last night (July 26) as part of the city's Canada 150+ the Drum Is Calling Festival, where hundreds of Indigenous persons and settlers gathered to celebrate First Nations artistry, music, and fashion.
The evening spotlighted designers from unceded Coast Salish territories and Sto:lo Nation: Tyler Jacobs, Michelle George, Loraine Guss, and Pam Baker. Many of the collections emphasized the use of natural materials and traditional handicraft methods as a way to honour the land in which the artists and their ancestors have called home for years—though with their own contemporary flair.
Jacobs, for example, presented a mix of edgy streetwear and frocks that highlighted his knack for intricate beadworking and fondness of Indigenous motifs (“This collection represents what it means to be Two Spirit,” described emcee JB the First Lady), while Guss employed luxe fabrics like velvet and lace to produce a selection of jewel-tone jumpsuits and dresses.
George, for her part, sent a gorgeous multi-hued knit paired with a feather-adorned cap down the runway, while Baker, a pioneer in the local Aboriginal fashion scene, closed the show with a line of lust-worthy gowns, duster blazers, and shawls replete with metallic details, snakeskin textures, and fringe. Standouts included a high-contrast tiered dress that paid tribute to the symbol of the Raven and a two-piece set splashed with the words “Idle No More”.
From the opening words by Tsleil-Waututh First Nation representative Rueben George to the spoken poetry by artist Ronnie Dean Harris (a moving piece on the signifance of Aboriginal style titled “Indigenous Acts of Sovereign Solidarity and Fashion”), one theme was certain: that Indigenous people have inhabited this land for centuries—and yes, they’re still here.
“You know, it’s funny, we celebrated Canada’s 150 years. But we’ve been here a long time, haven’t we? We’ve been here for thousands of years, haven’t we?” Rueben asked the crowd to a chorus of cheers at the start of the showcase.
The event featured primarily Indigenous models, many of whom were formerly in foster care and are participants of the Pacific Association of First Nations Women’s youth camps. VIFW organizer Joleen Mitton founded the event as a way to engage the young women creatively while offering them a group of positive mentors.
It also works to challenge the cultural appropriation of Aboriginal ideas that are often commercialized in fashion and popular culture. “People who culturally appropriate our fashions,” noted JB the First Lady, “we’re reclaiming that on our stage tonight.”
Check out the images below for a recap of VIFW’s first night. Subsequent events take place daily until Saturday (July 27 to 29) at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre atrium. Shows happen at 6 p.m. each night with doors at 5 p.m. Tickets are free, though RSVP is suggested. An archived livestream of opening night is also available on the Canada 150+ Facebook page.