Getting hitched in hides
In just the last two years, Berna Beaulieu has managed to build a successful business out of designing traditional Dene animal-hide wedding dresses

by Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 13/98) - Here comes the bride, all dressed in hide -- at least she will be if Berna Beaulieu get to design the wedding dress.

In just the last two years, Beaulieu has managed to build a successful business out of designing traditional Dene animal-hide wedding dresses.

"For years and years I was so busy I didn't have time to advertise, it was just word of mouth," says Beaulieu, who was able to start up her new business, Creations by Berna, with the help of a grant from the territorial government.

In her first year, Beaulieu created 42 dresses and she says her sales increase every year.

"The more I would sew for people, the more I realized no one had a business like mine in the NWT, so I decided to go public because they're very much in demand," says Beaulieu, referring to the dresses she creates.

Using the white hides of caribou, lamb and pig, Beaulieu says her career began on a dare.

"A friend of mine dared me to do a wedding dress and I had always sewed for people, but just minor things. I said I'd do it if anyone ordered one and then my other friend asked me to do her wedding dress and her bridesmaid dress," says Beaulieu.

Her unique dresses cost up to $900 with an additional $400 to $600 tacked on for the price of materials. At a total of $1,500, that's still far below what most contemporary wedding dresses cost.

Beaulieu first learned to sew at a residential school in Fort Smith and taught herself design techniques by improvising.

"I amaze myself because people give me their measurements over the phone and there are no complaints -- everyone is complimenting me," says Beaulieu, 48.

Many of her clients are Dene folk who like dealing with another Dene person.

"I notice the older generation phones me because I can translate for them and they can tell me everything in Dogrib and I know exactly what they're talking about. The older generation would rather deal with someone who is Native and I found the traditional white hide wedding dress is coming back in style," says Beaulieu, who makes her big debut at the legislative assembly building on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Arctic Winter Fashion Showcase.

Organized by Cynthia Cardinal, the fashion show will highlight the work of 15 Dene, Inuit and Metis designers from 10 communities across the NWT.

With a total budget of $20,000, Cardinal says the show incorporates both traditional and contemporary clothing.

"They do the hides and the beads by request but just to do it is very expensive so most designers prefer to do orders for it," says Cardinal, who was asked by the cultural committee of the Arctic Winter Games to organize the event.

"Because the clothing is so much a part of the culture, they thought a good way to show the visiting athletes and participants a part of the culture would be through the clothing. It's all art, very specified art and a lot of work goes into the clothing."