Haute couture with a Native voice

One beadwork design on an indigenous garment might take an artist 30 hours to complete. Really, the design is rooted much deeper, in lifetimes of storytelling and traditions passed from one generation to another.

Tlingit artists Lily Hope and Deanna Lampe, Hope’s aunt, know this to be true. The two women have been working hours on end to prepare for an upcoming Native Fashion Show, the first of its kind during the biennial Celebration in Juneau. The women said the event will put Native designs not just on a runway, but into mainstream couture.

“Using formline or indigenous materials, we are looking to create clothing that is versatile enough to be worn not only by Native people but by the general public,” Hope said. “It’s something they can feel proud and comfortable wearing while still honoring the maker and the art of this land.”

With her niece beside her completing a button design on a red wool skirt for the duo’s casual line, Lampe said their work will follow the customary rules of Native wear. Only general designs not specific to a clan or moiety will be used to embellish the garments. Lampe and Hope said they want their designs to be worn by everyone — Native and non-Native alike — but they don’t want to forgo cultural customs in place to make that vision a reality.

Lampe, while holding up a patch of beadwork featuring a ghost’s face that might be used to “bling out” a modern jean jacket, said it’s something anyone, with any background, can wear.

“I think a lot of indigenous people have a problem with non-indigenous people wearing clan crests,” Lampe said.

SHI President Rosita Worl said she agrees and understands this concern, which is why she thought it was time Celebration included a fashion show that highlighted this topic. People want to appreciate Native fashions, but they need some guidance on respecting tradition.

“We want Celebration to continue to grow and evolve and to meet the needs of our younger people,” Worl said. “We have always wanted to bring our Native culture into the contemporary work; this is just one more dimension or element that shows our tradition has applicability to our modern world in everyday life. That’s the important thing.”

While this fashion show is the first for Juneau’s Celebration, it is a continuation of similar events SHI participates in, such as the Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico and the institute’s 2014 Tináa Art Auction in Juneau. The event will feature nearly 20 designers — all Native, representing numerous cultures. The show’s lineup will include casual wear, business wear and high fashion.

Worl said if the fashion show is well-received it could become a regular feature at what is SHI’s largest gathering of Southeast Alaska Native peoples. She said she hopes designs that are signature marks of Southeast Alaska living will make their way around the world through this culturally-thoughtful avenue.

“If our culture is going to survive then the public has to have an appreciation of and understanding of it,” Worl said. “Our culture almost disappeared under the weight of a larger society not approving of our culture. We want to change that paradigm.”

Hope and Lampe would also like the opportunity to design clothes together again in two years. Hope regularly works on weavings and Lampe on beadwork, but this show has given them an opportunity to merge their crafts in a way neither of them has experimented with before. They said for decades they’ve commented on how they would design garments differently, whether they be dresses on the Oscar’s red carpet or in downtown stores, and now they’re putting those ideas to work.

“We want people to enjoy the art from the people of this place made by people of this place,” Hope said.

The fashion show will begin at 6 p.m. Friday in the clan house at the Walter Soboleff Building. Tickets are $10 and available through Sealaska Heritage and the Sealaska Heritage Store. Celebration attendees can also watch the fashion show on monitors at Centennial Hall.

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