2014 is already shaping up to be a stimulating year for Juneau residents interested in fashion design — particularly in terms of fashion that carries a strong sense of place.
In January, the Alaska Design Forum kicked off its 2014 lecture series “Bling” with a presentation by Steinunn Sigurðardóttir, an internationally acclaimed fashion designer from Reykjavik, Iceland. Sigurðardóttir spoke to a capacity crowd at the Silverbow about the many ways she has interpreted the dramatic natural landscape of her home country into clothes and knitwear.
Photos of lava fields and ice patterns were shown side by side with the clothing those images inspired, as Sigurðardóttir explained how she translated the shapes and textures into textiles. Other designs draw on elements of traditional Icelandic clothing, pulling in the history of her culture as well as geographic characteristics unique to the land.
Sigurðardóttir said she was on the front lines of a field that barely existed when she got started, but now Icelandic design is recognized all over the world.
The concept of drawing on the natural world and on cultural history to inform clothing design was also prominently featured in a fashion show this past weekend as part of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Tináa Art Auction. But in this case, the natural world was represented not only in imagery, but in the materials the artists used to create their pieces. The artists’ links to their cultural history and identity were much more explicit in this venue, collectively reflecting a pride in Alaska’s indigenous cultures.
Joel Isaak, an Athabascan artist from Soldotna, showed his modern garments made of fish skin, an idea which is also being explored in Iceland (read more here: http://juneauempire.com/local/2014-01-31/fish-are-food-and-fashion#.UvKy...). Tlingit artist Louise Kadinger, of Hoonah, showed her sea otter outwear, and Juneau’s Shaadoo’tlaa Gunaaxoo’Kwaan shared her seal skin bracelets and collars.
Those using traditional materials included Brenda Lee Asp, a Tahltan/Tutchone/Tlingit designer from Whitehorse, who works primarily in leather. During Saturday’s runway show her designs included a hooded jumpsuit and leather and silk bustier, both of which bore distinctive formline patterns on the silk in blue and white.
Juneau artist Ricky Tagaban’s piece was an even more direct reflection of Northwest Coast tradition, expressed in a modern way. He showed a Chilkat-woven halter top, topped with fur. (See sidebar at right for more on this local artist.)
A very different kind of place-based fashion will be on view this weekend at the Wearable Arts Extravaganza at Centennial Hall. This show is more about whimsy and spontaneous creativity — and often involves using unusual materials — but in the past traditional techniques have also been showcased in works such as button blankets and Ravenstail weavings. Other designs have reflected the artists’ Southeast location in their choice of materials. For example, last year’s winner Jenna Gonzales Smith created her piece out of old man’s beard, roots, grass and sticks from local forests. And 2012's second place winner, Kathy Kartchner, used mussel shells gathered from our beaches to create the dramatic “Lady Blue.”
Who knows what the designers have come up with for this year’s Wearable Art show, which will be held Saturday and Sunday at Centennial Hall — or what will appear next on Juneau’s runways. With so much rich imagery and history to draw from, local designers aren’t likely to suffer from a lack of inspiration.