Métis artist Christi Belcourt says she's seen top designers appropriating indigenous culture without permission, so she was pleasantly surprised when designers from the Rome-based House of Valentino contacted her a few months ago about her work.
Currently living and working in Espanola, west of Sudbury, Belcourt said she's not sure what provoked the designers to reach out to her. Belcourt's paintings channel the beadwork that Métis women are known for. Her canvasses incorporates plants and other motifs that hold meaning in her culture.
Her work has a big online presence, and she has been active with Walking with our Sisters, an art installation telling the stories of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls that has travelled North America.
Belcourt said she is pleased with the effort the designers are making to ensure their reproductions are faithful to her original paintings.
"You know, it's really lovely to work with designers who respect the artist's work so highly," she said. "It's not very often that they do, and do so in such a respectful way, and I think it's ... it's refreshing," she said.
Painstaking effort was made to match colours and shapes exactly from one of her paintings hanging in the National Gallery, Water Song, she said. The work is then printed and embroidered onto outfits, which vary from shorts and halter tops to full length dresses.
Her other consideration before saying yes to the collaboration, was the environmental record of the House of Valentino.
The fashion industry, said Belcourt, is known for its poor environmental practices. She didn't want her art linked to that aspect of it.
She learned, however, that Valentino gets much of its fabric in Italy, and tops Greenpeace's list of environmental consciousness in their industry
"I think that this is really important, especially since the piece itself is called Water Song," she said. "And we know that the industry itself — in terms of clothing manufacturing and things like that — use a lot of water and pollute water."
Belcourt said she hopes future designers will follow the lead of those at Valentino, both in preserving the environment and cultural appreciation.
There are nine outfits in Valentino's 2016 Resort line that feature Belcourt's work.