The New Arc­tic Cool 5 De­sign­ers to Watch

De­sign­ers from the global Arc­tic make their mark.

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS -

Over the past decade, fash­ions from the world’s cold­est places have been turn­ing up the heat, from award show red car­pets to the most pres­ti­gious run­ways in New York and Paris. Here, we con­vene five emerg­ing de­sign­ers from the global North whose de­signs are shak­ing up fash­ion weeks, carv­ing new paths in the in­dus­try and re­defin­ing con­tem­po­rary In­dige­nous fash­ion.

Bibi Chem­nitz Est. 2006 Copen­hagen, DK, and Nuuk, GL —

“The story of our brand is Bibi’s heritage, her Green­landic heritage,” says David Røgilds, Bibi Chem­nitz’s de­sign and life part­ner, over the phone from Copen­hagen. “We take el­e­ments from the Arc­tic land­scape and Inuit cul­ture and bring it into a main­stream streetwear fash­ion space. We wanted to com­pete in­ter­na­tion­ally, and needed a brand that peo­ple could de­code very fast, and no one had ever done this be­fore.” The speci­ficity and bold­ness of Bibi Chem­nitz’s de­sign voice has led to a decade of show­ings at Paris, Florence and Tokyo’s sea­sonal fash­ion shows. Af­ter re­lo­cat­ing from Nuuk, Green­land to Den­mark when she was 13, learn­ing to live be­tween two cul­tures has pro­foundly in­flu­enced her de­sign prac­tice and phi­los­o­phy—and her cloth­ing line at­tempts to bridge th­ese two worlds. Inuit iconog­ra­phy, such as tra­di­tional tat­toos and avit­tat pat­terns, dis­tin­guish her streetwear de­signs, and much of her work in­ter­ro­gates tra­di­tional Inuit forms, in­tro­duc­ing them to a wider world: “We have a strong Inuit in­flu­ence, but we have al­ways tried to be a non-tourist brand. Our clothes are for every­body, and they have to work in Nuuk, they have to work in Tokyo, in Copen­hagen, in Paris.”

For Bibi Chem­nitz and David Røgilds, th­ese trans­la­tions run both ways and they have been fo­cus­ing re­cently on build­ing a line that com­bines the sleek­ness of streetwear with ma­te­ri­als suit­able for out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in Green­land. “Most peo­ple liv­ing in Green­land have a close con­nec­tion with na­ture. They go fish­ing and hunt­ing, so we try to make clothes for those sit­u­a­tions.” They re­cently out­fit­ted Team Green­land at the 2018 Arc­tic Win­ter Games in ath­letic gear and will be out­fit­ting teams at Avan­naata Qimusser­sua, Green­land’s Na­tional Dogsled Cham­pi­onships, this spring.

Though head­quar­tered in Copen­hagen, Bibi Chem­nitz is a trail­blazer among con­tem­po­rary de­sign­ers in Green­land. Re­turn­ing home of­ten, she runs work­shops for schoolaged chil­dren on fash­ion de­sign, try­ing to cul­ti­vate an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit and in­still the confidence to pur­sue a cre­ative life. – Michael Stevens, Manag­ing Edi­tor

Nu­vuja9 Est. 2016 Iqaluit, NU —

Melissa At­tagut­siak was never one for a stan­dard 9 to 5. In 2015, the young de­signer be­gan to teach her­self to bead and sew and just four years later she was show­ing her col­lec­tion be­neath the Eif­fel Tower in Paris, France, for World In­dige­nous Fash­ion Week in March 2019. Her brand Nu­vuja9 (mean­ing Cloud 9 in Inuk­ti­tut) com­prises ev­ery­thing from tai­lored seal­skin bodices, ele­gant for­mal and semi-for­mal gowns, jew­ellery and be­yond. Af­ter ini­tially launch­ing and de­vel­op­ing her brand in Ot­tawa, ON, At­tagut­siak moved home to Iqaluit, NU, where she con­tin­ues to work and de­velop new orig­i­nal de­signs on an on­go­ing ba­sis.

De­spite be­ing in the early stages of her ca­reer, At­tagut­siak al­ready has a sig­nif­i­cant cus­tomer and fan base that in­cludes big names in the Inuit world such as mu­si­cal duo Silla and Rise and The Griz­zlies ac­tress Anna Lambe. An­other cus­tomer, col­lab­o­ra­tor and close per­sonal friend of At­tagut­siak’s was the late Junonom­i­nated pop singer Kelly Fraser, who fre­quently at­tended shows and events wear­ing her cre­ations.

Dur­ing her time in Paris, At­tagut­siak met fel­low de­signer Vic­to­ria Kakuk­tin­niq of Vic­to­ria’s Arc­tic Fash­ion where the two be­gan to col­lab­o­rate on the Upin­gak­saaq Fash­ion Show in Iqaluit, NU, in April 2019. A dis­tinctly com­mu­nity af­fair, At­tagut­siak re­calls a packed house and an en­thu­si­as­tic re­cep­tion from the au­di­ence.

“Most of the time peo­ple watch­ing [fash­ion shows] are just qui­etly ob­serv­ing. But dur­ing this one, ev­ery­one started scream­ing at the top of their lungs as soon as the first model came out and it went on like that un­til the end. It was re­ally cool.” – Emily Hen­der­son, Pro­files Edi­tor

Vic­to­ria’s Arc­tic Fash­ion Est. 2013 Kangiqlini­q (Rankin In­let), NU, and Win­nipeg, MB —

An icon in con­tem­po­rary Inuit fash­ion, Vic­to­ria’s Arc­tic Fash­ion founder and de­signer Vic­to­ria Kakuk­tin­niq is no stranger to the global stage. Her sig­na­ture de­signs hit the run­way of the Fe­bru­ary 2019 Paris Fash­ion Week, with a fea­ture in the worl­drenowned New York Fash­ion Week fol­low­ing a year later in Fe­bru­ary 2020.

Orig­i­nally from Kangiqlini­q, NU, and a fash­ion de­sign grad­u­ate from MC Col­lege in Win­nipeg, MB, Kakuk­tin­niq has made a name for her­self with her form-fit­ting seal­skin parkas, tie-up bodices and asym­met­ri­cal zip­pers in seal­skin, seal leather and com­man­der ma­te­ri­als. Her sig­na­ture de­signs ex­pertly marry tra­di­tional Inuit style with mod­ern cou­ture; they are fresh re­minders of the dis­tinc­tive Ki­valliq tra­di­tional cloth­ing worn by Inuit for cen­turies, with thick round fur hoods, colour-blocked con­trast hems and sleeves and of­ten em­bel­lished with her dis­tinc­tive em­broi­dery. Kakuk­tin­niq also de­signs enor­mously pop­u­lar seal­skin head­bands, cuffs and mitts, and has worked with other Inuit de­sign­ers and mak­ers to in­cor­po­rate jew­ellery and bead­ing into her work.

Some of the stand­out de­signs that have helped Kakuk­tin­niq make an in­ter­na­tional name for her­self in­clude tun­niit-in­spired chevron de­signs, amauti-style hem­lines with a mod­ern curve and ex­pertly crafted seal leather and seal­skin de­signer blaz­ers and parkas. Kakuk­tin­niq’s con­tem­po­rary aes­thetic, com­bined with her thor­ough knowl­edge of dis­tinctly Inuit pat­terns, make for the wildly suc­cess­ful and dis­tinc­tive cloth­ing line which can be found in stores rang­ing from bou­tiques in New­found­land, Man­i­toba, and Nu­navut to high-end shops in Nuuk, Green­land. – Napatsi Folger, Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor

Hi­naani De­signs Est. 2016 Arviat, NU —

“Inuit have al­ways made their own cloth­ing, and those clothes evolved with dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als and sewing tech­niques, but have mainly stuck to kamiit and out­er­wear, so we thought it would be cool to have t-shirts and caps that were Inuk as well,” says Nooks Lin­dell of Hi­naani De­signs, over the phone. Hi­naani is a streetwear and ath­leisure fash­ion de­sign col­lec­tive of four mem­bers from across the Ki­valliq Re­gion of Nu­navut, in­clud­ing Lin­dell head­ing up the de­sign team, as well as Paula Iku­u­taq Rum­bolt, Lori Ta­goona and Emma Kreuger. “Inuit weren’t al­lowed to brag—we’re usu­ally a very hum­ble peo­ple—so you showed your hunt­ing and sewing ca­pa­bil­i­ties in how you dressed,” ex­plains Lin­dell. He hopes that his cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories can come to sig­nify cul­tural rich­ness for those who wear them in a sim­i­lar vein: “We should have ev­ery­day, ac­ces­si­ble items to show your Inuk pride.”

While Lin­dell sees the Hi­naani brand as fos­ter­ing cul­tural and local pride, he has come to view the process of mak­ing the gar­ments as cul­tur­ally restora­tive in it­self. Hi­naani in­cor­po­rates Inuit sym­bols and pat­terns, like kakin­niit and printed uluit, to re­mind cus­tomers that Inuit tra­di­tions weren’t just nearly for­got­ten. “There were rules set in place to make sure they were for­got­ten,” he stresses, “To make sure that tra­di­tions— like tat­too­ing, drum danc­ing even—were erad­i­cated.” Mak­ing th­ese clothes for Inuit clien­tele has opened up the Hi­naani de­sign­ers to talk­ing to elders and fam­ily about th­ese tra­di­tions, and Lin­dell has come to see their clothes as a means for con­ti­nu­ity. “Ev­ery de­sign we make is an­other op­por­tu­nity to show our love, where we can get cre­ative and en­joy it and learn more of our cul­ture.”

Hi­naani’s t-shirts, skirts, hats and ath­leisure wear have quickly earned a re­cep­tive and ea­ger fol­low­ing since their first re­lease of screen printed shirts, pro­duced at the Jessie Oonark Cen­tre in Qa­mani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU. They’re carv­ing a new path in the bur­geon­ing in­dus­try and de­buted a run­way line along­side fel­low Inuit fash­ion house Vic­to­ria’s Arc­tic Fash­ion at New York Fash­ion Week ear­lier this spring.

– Michael Stevens, Manag­ing Edi­tor and

John Geoghe­gan, Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor

Okpik De­signs Est. 2019 Quaq­taq, QC, and Mon­treal, QC —

Orig­i­nally hail­ing from Quaq­taq, Nu­navik, QC and now based in Mon­treal, QC, de­signer Vic­to­ria Okpik has been cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful gar­ments for over two decades. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from LaSalle Col­lege’s fash­ion de­sign pro­gram in 1999, Okpik went on to spend 19 years as a head de­signer and seam­stress for the Makivik Cor­po­ra­tion owned and op­er­ated com­pany, Nu­navik De­signs, un­til its clo­sure in 2017. In the years fol­low­ing, Okpik con­tin­ued to pro­duce her own in­de­pen­dent de­signs and formed her own brand, Okpik De­signs, in 2019.

Prior to de­but­ing her la­bel, Okpik con­tin­ued to be a sought-af­ter de­signer, earn­ing wide­spread no­to­ri­ety for de­sign­ing a seal­skin bracelet that ac­com­pa­nied as­tro­naut David Saint-Jac­ques on a De­cem­ber 2018 mission to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion. Less than a year later, she was com­mis­sioned by Mon­treal-based singer Elis­apie to cre­ate a stun­ning sheer red amauti-in­spired out­fit for the artist’s gala per­for­mance dur­ing the Po­laris Prize award night in Septem­ber 2019.

As her brand con­tin­ues to grow, Okpik has fo­cused pri­mar­ily on de­vel­op­ing parkas, purses and pualuuks, of­ten trimmed in fox fur and seal­skin. De­spite over two decades of ex­pe­ri­ence, she re­mains clear on the ev­ere­volv­ing chal­lenge of her work and the ded­i­ca­tion re­quired to bring her vi­sions to re­al­iza­tion.

“All I can say is that if you want to do this sort of de­sign, it takes a lot of work,” she says. “For a parka there’s over 25 pieces [of ma­te­rial] that have to be cut. I do all my own sam­ples and if I don’t like it, I have to change it again. It typ­i­cally takes a cou­ple tri­als un­til fi­nally I get it where I want it.” – Emily Hen­der­son, Pro­files Edi­tor

BE­LOW Tat­too Tur tle­neck Jer­sey Dress, Blue Glit­ter Inuit Col­lar Dress and Snow Mo­hair Arch Turtle­neck ALL COUR­TESY BIBI CHEM­NITZ

LEFT Model wear­ing seal­skin off­shoul­der top and po­lar bear claw ear­rings at Paris In­dige­nous Fash­ion Show PHOTO BAZHNIBAH PHOTOGRAPH­Y

BE­LOW Seal­skin and leather jacket with beaded em­broi­dery EAR­RINGS BY UGLY FISH DE­SIGN ALL PHO­TOS MAR­I­ANA B. GUARDADO

ABOVE Retro Qi­hik, Tuktu Camo, Black Ulu, Piruqsiat, Pur­ple Pana, Ukkuhikhaq Tun­niit and Mid­night Tun­niit leg­gings

BE­LOW Kamiik leg­gings

BE­LOW Elis­apie wear­ing a red amauti-in­spired out­fit at the Po­laris Mu­sic Prize awards night in 2019 COUR­TESY DUSTIN RABIN / PO­LARIS MU­SIC PRIZE

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