British Columbia·Photos

Urban Regalia fashion exhibit inspired by Audrey Hepburn and Indigenous culture

Gitxan fashion designer Sug-ii-t Lukxs (Yolonda Skelton) says her art is inspired by her grandmother's oral stories and the style of movie star Audrey Hepburn. She says the clothing in her exhibit, Urban Regalia, is a way to pass down Indigenous culture in an urban environment.

Yolonda Skelton says her designs are influenced by Indigenous culture and the movie Breakfast at TIffany's

The designs of Yolonda Skelton were part of an Indigenous show in the Eiffel Tower at Paris Fashion week. (CBC/Peter Jensen)

Gitxan fashion designer Sug-ii-t Lukxs (Yolonda Skelton) grew up learning her Indigenous culture from her relations in Haida Gwaii. Now, her designs have taken her to the runways of Paris and Vancouver. 

Her new show, Urban Regalia, was inspired by the oral stories recounted by her maternal grandmother and the styles worn by Audrey Hepburn in  the movie, Breakfast at Tiffany's. 

She says her journey as a designer started with creating traditional regalia for her family but wanting to share the culture and designs in a more accessible way. 

"I started to make different things, because you can't wear your regalia out," Skelton said. 

"It's [the regalia] for the feast. It is for special ceremonial purposes, things like that. You don't walk around town wearing it. So, I start to think, OK well, I need to start to make things that can show who I am and where I come from." 

A Yolonda Skelton designed octopus shrug. (CBC/Jean Paetkau)

Skelton bases many of her designs on traditional stories, including a purple octopus shrug that was inspired by a Haida legend. 

She says the shrug is also a way of expressing thanks for the Haida people for letting her live on their territory. 

A Chilkat wrap by Yolonda Skelton (CBC/Jean Paetkau)

Skelton also draws inspiration from traditional clothing designs, including the Chilkat robe. She designed her own Chilkat wrap for her grandmother. 

"She was a chief, and I wanted to make her something that she could wear anywhere. And she passed before I could give it to her."

An Audrey Hepburn inspired dress by Yolonda Skelton. (CBC/Jean Paetkau)

However, Skelton does not just take her inspiration from traditional Indigenous arts, she is also influenced by pop culture. 

A dress inspired by Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's includes gloves and pearls and a thunderbird motif. 

"Every single time a model, no matter where we are, when they put it on, they embody Audrey. And they embody their culture."

The Rainbow Warrior shawl by Yolonda Skelton, centre. (CBC/Jean Paetkau)

The most colourful piece in the Urban Regalia exhibit is the Rainbow Warrior shawl.

"This piece is one of my most precious pieces because it represents all people, all nations. I call them the rainbow warriors because of what's going on right now in the world with our environment."

Skelton adds her designs are part of reconciliation. 

"They empower the person who wears them to tell the story," Skelton said.

"To have the strength to be able to share our cultural knowledge with other people so that we don't have those prejudices and things happening. If we understand each other's cultures, then it's so much easier for things to come together."

Urban Regalia

3 years ago
Duration 0:39
The designs of Gitxan couturier Yolonda Skelton, have appeared on runways during Paris Fashion Week.

Skelton describes being part of Paris Fashion week as "incredible." 

She says her designs were part of an event on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. 

"You can see out through the windows that you're in the tower and it's is just beautiful."

The Urban Regalia exhibit runs until Dec. 21 at the Legacy Gallery in Victoria. The exhibit was curated by associate professor Carolyn Butler-Palmer of UVic's art history and visual studies department, in consultation with Skelton.

Skelton's fashions will also be part of Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week in November.