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Tradition shines at fashion show

Melanie Bell
Special to Northern News Services
Monday, August 6, 2007

INUVIK - Traditional and contemporary Northern clothing styles appeared on the runway at the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik this past month.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Sammy Lennie Jr. and Elizabeth Drescher model some ribbon-detailed shirts at the Great Northern Arts Festival fashion show July 28. - photo courtesy of Melanie Bell

On Saturday, July 28, the fashion show, set on a stage bedecked with furs and a polar bear skin, began to the traditional beat of the Inuvik Drummers and Dancers.

Emceed by Inuvialuit Regional Corporation communications advisor Peggy Jay, the show held true to Northern Time, beginning a good 15 minutes after its scheduled time of 8:30 p.m.

Sammy Lennie modelled for his third year in a row, coaxing chuckles from the crowd as he walked down the runway.

"I like clothing," he said, adding that the fashion shows are "lots of fun."

Lennie's favourite piece was a pair of polar bear pants, created by Edith Haogak, of Sachs Harbour. He owns these pants and puts them to use during the winter. However, such a modern use of traditional clothing is rare. "It's important to show people the clothes we used to wear," he said. "Even our own children see these and haven't seen them before."

The show began with a display of summer fashions from the Western Arctic Collection. Many of these were parka covers, referred to as Itigaluk. In addition to being cool for the summer weather, they protect against insects.

Models took the stage in ankle-wrapped moccasins, two Gwich'in wedding dresses of fringed white deer hide, and a moosehide vest by Judy Lafferty of Fort Good Hope, who has items displayed in Ottawa's Museum of Civilization. The fur gloves that accompanied the vest took 10 hours to complete.

The show featured a collection by Inuvik's own Billie Lennie, who acted as co-ordinator for the event. Of Gwich'in origin, she married into an Inuvialuit family. Her designs reflect the influences of both cultures, combined with the functionality necessary for a working woman.

Her designs included down ski pants, a caribou skin bustier, an evening gown and an Inukshuk-adorned silk top.

The inspiration for her design career began with her own family.

"I wanted to make clothes for my kids, to dress them properly to go out on the land," she said. "A friend got me into sewing."

Since then, Lennie graduated from Lethbridge Community College's Fashion Design and Merchandising program. She recently designed outfits for the Team NWT's Arctic Sports team to wear during the 2007 Canada Winter Games.

Another collection exhibited was on loan from the Pauktuutit: Inuit Women of Canada organization. The collection included parkas with fur sunbursts (amaraq), vests, ribbon shirts and a sealskin backpack.

The majority of its fashions were amoutis, a traditional form of women's clothing featuring swinging tails for warmth, a large loose shoulder for carrying a child, and a hood wide enough to cover both child and mother.

Although fabric is now used alongside traditional fur, the style and form of the amouti and other Arctic clothing has changed little over the centuries.

One elaborately-beaded piece was insured for $10,000 in order to be displayed in the show.

Amoutis like that one, which was fashioned from caribou hide and stroud, are worn for special occasions.

Luxurious fur coats, gloves and scarves from Dene Fur Clouds were also on display. All items made from seal and caribou skin were stored in the freezer between shows to prevent drying and ripping.