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After fashion-show debut, Alaska Native-inspired clothing hits the gallery

Trina Landlord
A selection of pieces from the "Water Collection," a water-inspired line of clothing designed by Alaska Native artists using traditional methods and materials. Loren Holmes photo

A group of Alaska Native designers will be featured for the First Friday Exhibit during the month of September at the Alaska Native Arts Foundation in downtown Anchorage. 

“The Water Collection” is a series of garments with origins tied to the water and its inspirational qualities that debuted at the 2013 Clare to Clare Fashion Show. Alaska Native Designers from far and wide were tasked with putting their skills to the test to create clothing for this one-of-a-kind collection. The Clare to Clare Fashion Show is a benefit for the Clare House, a 24-hour women’s and children’s emergency shelter.

Ten Alaska Native designers were invited to create wearable art for the fashion show, utilizing materials like sealskin, sea otter and fabrics and textures that signify their visions of the element of water.

Among the designers and their created pieces: Christine Alowa (St. Lawrence Island Yupik), who designed a sealskin jacket and bubble skirt; Joel Isaak (Athabascan) made an ombre -- the gradual changing of color over a garment -- salmon-skin couture dress and halibut-skin motorcycle jacket; and Ricky Tagaban (Tlingit), who made a chilkat-weaved halter top. Cutting-edge clothing, jewelry, accessory and footwear designs were showcased using traditional materials and technique.

“It was exciting and a privilege,” Designer Joel Isaak said of being part of the fashion show. “My work is closely tied to the water, most of it comes from the water. I felt a sense of camaraderie and unity through this theme. It was inspiring to see how each designer relates to water.  It was a privilege to share my work with a large audience.”

“I felt such a mix of emotions,” Isaak said about seeing his pieces finally go down the runway. “All the blood, sweat, and tears that went into it was completely worth it. It was a dream come true to have designed work for a fashion show. I look forward to designing new work in the future.”

The Water Collection was the collaborative vision of Tiffany Tutiakoff, President of Northwest Strategies, and myself. We have been friends since we were thirteen years old and have long dreamt of combining contemporary fashions utilizing traditional Native materials to see on the runways.

It was a dream come true to see our vision come to life. The intent was to use both Alaska Native and non-Native models to make a statement that the Water Collection can be worn by all cultures. It’s beyond boundaries, it’s cross-cultural.

“The Water Collection was an opportunity for me to get back into fashion and to collaborate on a project with my oldest and dearest friend," Tutiakoff said. "The confluence of all things I love created an emotional experience that further strengthened my purpose to foster cultural understanding through celebration and sharing, which is exactly what this collection was about. Incorporating non-Native models communicated to the audience that it really is okay to don a kuspuk or rock a sealskin skirt. And the combination of traditional and contemporary design is something a lot of people have never seen before. I felt blessed to have the opportunity to share the innovative work our Alaska Native artists are turning out with such quality and care.”

“I was overcome with emotion as the models sashayed down the runway with the video on screen and music in my ears," Tutiakoff went on to say. "I will never forget those 18 minutes of watching it all come together. I brought my daughter to the show, and she couldn't have been more proud to see the work of her people received with such a positive response. The models were incredible sports. Especially Amanda Combs, who wore the fur bikini we selected for her with zero complaints. She was brave!”

Visit the Alaska Native Arts Foundation in September to view the Water Collection exhibit.

Trina Landlord is the Executive Director of the Alaska Native Arts Foundation. Contact her at trina(at)alaskanativearts.org.