Catherine Blackburn’s collection ‘New Age Warriors’ stole the show when they hit the runway at Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto. Her vibrant beadwork and stunning accessories dazzled audiences as the futuristic regalia made its way down the catwalk.
Not bad at all for a first-timer. “I am predominantly a visual artist and jeweller, this is my first time creating garment-wear for runway and it brought me great satisfaction to be able to showcase wearable non-conventional garment design.”
According to Blackburn, her collection is “a celebration of garment making and adorning through a fusion of traditional design and contemporary futuristic flare.” Catherine’s work speaks to more than just an incredible tradition of design. As Catherine herself describes, through her pieces, she is “honoring diversity and innovation of Indigenous design as well as celebrating and recognizing the functionality of utilitarian ancient Indigenous couture.”
The most impressive look by far was Blackburn’s finale piece, a coat inspired by her late grandmother. “She was and continues to be a major inspiration in my art practice and life,” shares Blackburn. “I wanted to include her portrait as a way of recognizing her strength and showcasing what resiliency looks like.”
“The coat was initially inspired by the gifted blankets found in Indigenous culture as a sign of respect, and adding the Chief visor on a female was a reference to Matriarchy with 3D-like designing that pushed it into the contemporary. This work as a whole is deeply matriarchal.” Blackburn took the photograph of her grandmother a few years ago for a painting she did, which won a Governor General's History Award. “This coat or shawl was created with Sioux color schemes in mind, mixed with my grandma’s geometric patterning often found in her own work. I wanted the designing to directly reflect her larger-than-life strength and also celebrate her life,” says Blackburn.
Other notable pieces in the collection include a blue lattice-like chest piece and a green beaded backpack, for which Blackburn used neon fabrics, LED visors, and graffiti inspired beadwork patterns. “The pattern design of this chest piece is inspired by Tessa Sayers of Soul Curiosity from her design called “My Calling is Culture”. I wanted the work in this collection to be inclusive of the diversity of our nations. Collaborating with other contemporary Indigenous designers was one way to achieve this sense of community within the work while still showcasing the individuality of our voices and stories. The earrings for this look were made by Melanie Parsons of Savage Rose.”
“This look was inspired by the nomadic traditional lifestyles of many First Nations cultures. By contemporizing the idea of a cradle board (used to carry babies), the outcome was this almost jetpack looking contraption, representing our ever evolving forms and function of clothing while also honouring the innate ingenuity of Indigenous people to adapt and live in sync with the land. This special relationship to land is reflected through garment making and adornment. The cradleboard reads “my mother” in Cree syllabics.”
Blackburn is inspired by other artists, and by the strength and resilience of Indigenous cultures. “The strength in survival is what speaks to me most, but along with that the richness of our cultures; richness in design, color, stories and language,” she explains.
The designer also served as a facilitator for the one-day Applied Beading Workshop offered at IFWTO. Participants learned the 2 thread applied beading technique along with finishing details. “I had an unreal group of beaders who were eager to learn and were so patient. Friendships were created among our little beading community as the participants began to relax and open up. It was the perfect way to end an extremely rewarding and empowering week.”
Events like IFWTO are the perfect platform for designers and artists to showcase what contemporary Indigenous fashion is, and Blackburn hopes it continues. “It is extremely important for authentic Indigenous fashion to be presented. Through reclamation; our truths, histories and stories become reconnected and understood rather than inaccurately circulated. I look forward to the day when the cultural appropriation conversation is a thing of the past.”
To shop Catherine Blackburn, visit: www.catherineblackburn.com