A 4000 years old tradition
Traditional Inuit clothing was designed out of necessity — to survive the harsh climate that was a stark reality for the Inuit people. The women, knowing it was essential to keep their community warm and protected from the elements made coats, trousers, mittens and boots. These articles were made mostly from caribou, seal and marine birds and were sewn with needles made from bird bone and sinew (animal tissue used like thread). The winter apparel consisted of two layers, one layer with fur facing inward, the other with fur facing outward. This design kept the warm air trapped between these layers and provided incredible insulation. On top of this, caribou skin actually has hollow hair follicles that contain air bubbles which also insulate, proving that caribou was extremely important to the Inuit people. Summer was much easier to accommodate, and most apparel was made from seal skin, which proved to be more light weight and water resistant. Once fall came along, the women would know to begin creating the important winter garbs.
The footwear (or kamiks) were also made from caribou and/or sealskin. The upper and instep were made of seal skin, they were then usually paired with a seal skin slipper inside of it, and/or a stocking made of caribou.
Mittens were most often made of caribou, but would also be made of seal skin when appropriate. For example; seal skin would be better in wet working conditions, of course, due to the water repellant nature of seal skin.
It made sense for the men’s coats to be roomy in the shoulders to allow for easy movement and nimbleness while hunting. In juxtaposition, the women’s coats were usually made with an amaut, or a baby pouch, and often have two apron flaps in front and in back.
Inuit traditional clothing also included personal adornments. Accessories including earrings, necklaces, bracelets, headbands and belts among them. They believed these charms or adornments protected them from danger and helped with the hunt.
To this day, many prefer the traditional clothing over manufactured clothing. Traditionally made Inuit clothing not only offers the best protection from the climate but it also, and most importantly, connects them to their culture and keeps Inuit values, knowledge and heritage alive.
Inuit fashion designers of the twenty-first century continue to get inspiration from their ancestors and utilize the same raw materials and techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation. Let’s now take a look at some of today’s talented Inuit fashion designers.
Victoria Kakuktinniq – Icon in Contemporary Inuit Fashion
Inuit Fashion Designer Bringing Seal Skin to the International Runways
How beautiful it is to see work being done by young Inuit designer that incorporates tradition with modern fashion. One of the designers that has excelled in this field is Victoria Kakuktinniq. Kakuktinniq is considered an icon in contemporary Inuit fashion, and for good reason. Victoria has taken her designs to the runways at both Paris Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week and she has been highly acclaimed in fashion magazines such as Elle Canada and Flare.
Calling on Tradition
Victoria, born in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut credits her grandmother as the main inspiration in her designs. As a young girl she learned to sew traditional garments and the skill of beading. The love of her Inuit culture and fashion continued as she went on to study fashion design. Her goal is to create modern fashion pieces that also incorporate Inuit culture and tradition. The cultural influence includes fashion designs that feature seal skin, embroidery, beading, and fur. She is best known for her form fitting seal skin parkas, featuring tie up bodices and beautiful thick, round fur hoods, accessorized with bold colours, blocked contrast hems and embroidery. Its scooped hem and large hood are inspired by the Amauti baby-carrying parkas worn by Inuit women. Victoria also designs seal skin headbands, cuffs and mitts.
Fashion Forward and Sustainable
Recently, she has been collaborating with other Inuit designers who add their jewelry or beadwork to her designs. Some of these collaborations were showcased at New York Fashion Week.
It is also important to Victoria that her customers are aware that her parkas are made locally and she strives to provide ethically sourced, environmentally sustainable fur and skin products for her designs. (vafashion.ca)
Victoria is owner of Victoria’s Arctic Fashion and her clothing line can be found in boutiques in many cities across Canada as well as in Greenland. Her fashion collection can be found at https://vafashion.ca
Inuk designer Melissa Attagutsiak– Sealskin and Formalwear, a new trend
I met Melissa just after she had her designs showcased at Paris Fashion Week. We were on our way to Norway with other Inuit designers to participate in the Riddu Riddu Festival. I was eager to learn about her work and this once in a lifetime experience in Paris. She told me she is self taught and her focus is to bring together Inuit tradition with modern fashion. Her design line is called Nuvuja9 and primarily focuses on formal wear and custom jewelry. Her formal wear may include a combination of seal skin with satin or lace, off the shoulder tops, sealskin bodices, matched with polar bear claw earrings.
Melissa has a growing fanbase and her work has been seen worn by the singing group, Silla and Rise and actress Anna Lambe.
Like other Inuit designers, Melissa’s incorporation of Inuit culture in her designs is personally empowering and gives her the opportunity to share pride of her people to the world. Follow Melissa’s fashion line Nuvuga9 on www.instagram.com/nuvuja9/
Hovak Johnston – Revitalizing culture
Bringing back traditional tattooing and empowering Inuit Women
As she approached me in the Toronto airport, I could sense that Hovak Johnston was a person I needed to get to know better. It was the first time I had seen traditional Inuit tattoos. We were on our way to the Jokkmokk Market in Sweden to promote Canadian seal skin products created by designers from Canada’s North. On our journey across the Atlantic, I learned of Hovak’s deep connection to her culture and her story of how she revitalized the tradition of tattoos for Inuit women. She learned the traditional method of tattooing and created the Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project. For many women, having these traditional tattoos awakened something that was missing, they empowered them and connected them to their Inuit ancestors. Hovak explained to me the meaning of her face, wrist and finger tattoos, and how they represented people in her life and significant parts of her life story. Hovak went on to author the book, Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional which features the stories and photos of women who participated in the revitalization project.
Inuit Activist, Cultural Expert, Author and Seal skin Fashion Designer
Hovak is also an amazing crafter and fashion designer. The Jokkmokk Market consumers were in awe of her work, her seal skin mitts in natural or stunning shades of red, blue and green were gone before the market concluded.
Her creativity is unlimited, if you visit https://www.facebook.com/hovakscreations, you will see a wide variety of items featuring seal skin, including parkas, mittens, slippers earrings and more.
Hovak is a proud Inuk who grew up in Kitikmeot Region, Nunavut until she was sent away to school. She has lived in Canada’s north until she recently moved to Nova Scotia where she continues to share her knowledge of Inuit culture. Hovak is married and proud Mom to three sons who also have a strong connection to their culture.