The New Arctic Cool 5 Designers to Watch
Designers from the global Arctic make their mark.
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