Christi Belcourt brings traditional Métis beadwork to this artistic fashion collab
The artist on creating her exclusive pieces and appreciation vs appropriation.
When Christi Belcourt met Ela Aldorsson of Ela handbags, the idea of collaboration became a no-brainer. The connection between the Canadian luxury handbag designer and Belcourt was a natural one, according to the famed Métis artist, plus there was one other factor: "I've always wanted to have my work on purses," she says. "It's kind of like a secret little life goal, so, I felt really good doing it."
Aldorsson admits that in a way, the collaboration had been a long time coming. "I've been a big fan of Christi, even prior to the Valentino collaboration," she says. "When [Holt Renfrew Director, Brand & Creative Strategy] Alexandra Weston said she was working on H Project's Uncrate Canada program and she really wanted to get us involved, the first person I thought of was Christi."
H Project's ela x Christi Belcourt MILCK Clutch, $395, and Editor's Pouch, $50, Holt Renfrew stores
The two set out to apply Belcourt's intricate floral designs onto two of Aldorsson's most popular styles, the Editor's Pouch and the Mini MILCK Clutch, which are available exclusively at Holt Renfrew. What's more for Belcourt is the ability to support her community through her work. In past, she donated prize money to the Onaman Collective, which runs the Nimkii Aazhibikong camp for elders and youth, dedicated to revitalization and restoration of Indigenous ways. As part of this collaboration, $75 from each clutch and $10 from every pouch will be donated to the same collective.
Not unlike most artists, seeing people embrace her work is a source of pride for Belcourt. "I don't like it when my artwork is tucked away in a museum or in a vault," she says. "People can't see it, so what's the point of doing it?"
And it's clear that people who see it, love her artwork. Her pieces hang in the National Gallery of Canada, among other institutions, and in Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario, Belcourt's piece "The Wisdom of the Universe" was voted the number one "People's Choice" favourite.
Before an intimate lunch to celebrate the collection, Belcourt opened up about Valentino, appropriation and supporting her community.
On the topic of collaborations, what was it like working with Valentino?
"It was more difficult than collaborating with Ela handbags because of the proximity. It was a little bit more back and forth over email rather than in person. I was able to have one in-person meeting to view the fabrics, which was really great. Unfortunately, they went on to appropriate other Indigenous artists' work later on. It was unfortunate that it turned out like that at the end, but my experience with them was good all around, and they donated to the Onaman Collective."
You've been vocal on the subject of appreciation versus appropriation. Why is it so important in to distinguish between the two?
"In our culture, a lot the designs have personal meanings or family meanings or spiritual meanings and it's not proper to copy from someone without permission. It's very important to have that respectful approach for everything. Within the fashion industry, there is a huge learning curve that needs to happen especially around Indigenous items and cultural designs, which is not being respected right now. There are many fashion designers who are Indigenous and would be amazing to collaborate with, but it seems that some of the bigger fashion houses are not respecting that."
For you Christi, how does designing for fashion differ than painting?
"I don't think it's that far off in the sense that my artwork comes from the practice of wearing art. My people beaded all of our clothing, we beaded our shoes, we beaded our bags, we did quillwork, and so it was all this beautiful floral. Métis people were called at one time 'the flower beadwork people.' I was simply taking that practice and then I put it on the canvas, so now putting it back onto practical wearable items and clothing is completely natural."
As an artist, what does success mean to you?
"I think of things in terms of the work itself, so what's important to me is the work that I'm doing. Whether that gets out to the public or not is a kind of secondary thing. I don't consider success to be associated with my career, as others would see it. I see success associated with do I do good work, and am I happy with how I am moving myself along or pushing myself to change and develop."