Meet the young Indigenous designer making the accessory of the summer
Warren Steven Scott talks about his design hit and how it's helped him reclaim parts of his culture
It doesn't take a hardcore fashion follower to know by now that Warren Steven Scott has tapped into something special with his line of Coast Salish-inspired earrings. The Nlaka'pamux Nation designer, who made an impressive debut at 2018's Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto, was surprised when all of his earrings sold out at an intimate showcase hosted by his friends and Comrags employers, Judy Cornish and Joyce Gunhouse. He considered the earrings nothing more than were "a little takeaway" to pique interest. The response changed that for Scott.
"That kind of got my gears going," says Scott, from inside his Toronto studio in the city's west end. He immediately sprung into action, calling in makeup artists, photographers and models to create a lookbook and ecommerce site. Scott tells me he's sold more than 1,000 pairs of earrings worldwide in the last year.
Some people might recognize in his earrings such shapes as ovoids, crescents and trigons from carvings on totem poles or even contemporary paintings. Scott has described the ovoids as "the mother of Coast Salish designs, the building blocks that form the visual centres from which design patterns flow." Ovoids, having a similar shape to eggs, are often used to represent joints, eye sockets and other anatomical parts in art, but Scott was drawn to how these traditional shapes could stand on their own if given a graphic and exaggerated treatment.
"I grew up on Vancouver Island next to Duncan, which is the 'City of Totems,' so there are totem poles all throughout the city … These motifs and iconography are so present," he says. "I think earrings or [other] jewelry can actually exhibit art more readily than fashion can."
Scott designs each earring using Adobe Illustrator. Then the shape is laser cut from acrylic and hand-assembled in Scott's studio. His live/work space is filled with all the accoutrements of a working designer's life: a white pegboard holds scissors, yardsticks and jewelry pliers, while wooden prototypes of his earrings sit in a bowl. There are a few Mini Mirror earrings left, the ones he created as a gift with purchase to celebrate his recent first anniversary.
Even if Scott did not intend to design the accessory of the summer, it's helped him earn mentions in outlets like the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and on Vogue.com, to name a few, while building a devoted and vocal clientele. In fact, it was his clients who suggested he create smaller versions of the original runway earrings (now known as the Mini size), because some people prefer their statement earrings to be a bit less of a statement.
Now, Scott, whose first womenswear collection was inspired in part by Paul Seesequasis' beautiful Indigenous Archival Photo Project, is looking to focus on apparel again. And that means elements of the Sissy collection, first seen at IFWTO, with its high-collar prairie dresses that recalled everyday life on a 1950s reserve, may see the light of a sewing machine. From under his work table, Scott pulls a bolt of vintage floral fabric that will soon be featured in a limited-edition clothing drop.
"I'm thinking about bags in the near future, more necklaces and then also a way to drop clothing. Not do a whole collection and produce all these things, but buy a bolt of fabric, [say] 35 metres, and make 12 blouses, five dresses, a few skirts, and then see how that goes."
On the eve of National Indigenous Peoples Day, Scott reflected on the connection to his Indigenous heritage and to Indigenous communities that his designs have brought.
"The United Nations named  the year of Indigenous languages. My Indigenous language is Halkomelem. I don't know how to speak any of it," says Scott. "Many of my customers who come from these different Indigenous backgrounds, when they're sending me little notes and thank yous, everyone's giving me a 'thank you' in their Indigenous dialect. That's been so rewarding, because these earrings were kind of a form of reclamation for me to get back to my culture."
Follow Jacquelyn Francis on Twitter @jacquiefrancis.
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