Sunday December 18, 2016

Fashion designer Dorothy Grant has been sharing Haida legends for 30 years

Fashion designer Dorothy Grant has been sharing Haida legends for 30 years 0:55

She was the first fashion designer to combine haute couture with her Haida culture and 30 years later, Dorothy Grant is still sharing her unique style with the world.

In 1987 Grant pursued formal training at the Helen Lefeaux School of Fashion Design in Vancouver and said it was always her intention to put her culture on her clothes.

"I think what a lot of people don't know is that I was a traditional fabric artist," she explained. "Haida weaving, spruce basketry and hats and button blanket making. I made a lot of regalia for dance groups. It sort of evolved into this idea of applying Haida art onto clothing and that's basically the roots of it."

She has put her graceful Haida art of ravens, hummingbirds and Orcas on wool and cashmere scarves, suits and silk gowns and even purses.

Dorothy Grant 8 x 10

Haida designer Dorothy Grant. (Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works)

"It always goes back to that sharing of culture and there's just a real great appreciation for Haida art and lots of various Indigenous art, but to apply it to garments is a different skill. It's about conveying that idea of transformation which is what really Haida art legend is about," she said.

Grant debuted her first collection in 1989 with 55 pieces and said reaction was very positive.

"It had a big impact because nobody was doing it at the time," she recalled. "I just remember being so busy for several months after that with people coming and wanting to order things."

Grant didn't forget her community. She took her fashion show to Skidegate in Haida Gwaii the following year, using Haida people as models.

"[It was] incredibly welcoming and proud and people saying that they were so happy that I had really made the launch. So it was very very positive."

Over her three decades long career, Grant has received numerous awards, and her work is featured in 13 museum collections across Canada, United States, and the United Kingdom. She also received the Order of Canada for her contributions to Canada's fashion industry and for mentoring youth.

She said one of the highlights of her career was when actor Duane Howard wore her design to the Oscars after she reached out to The Revenant star on social media.

Dorothy Grant eagle gala

This Eagle Gala dress is from Dorothy Grant's DG Gold Label line. (

"At that point he had not been invited to the Oscars and I said 'well why aren't there any brown people represented?' and he says 'I don't know but I'm going to do some asking.'"

Howard got his invitation and Grant got to work, she had less than a week to design and make the suit.

"Really we worked 24/7 on getting him outfitted and to look the way he did. It was the shining  moment for him, for me and for a lot of First Nations people," she said.