Indigenous

Anishinaabe fashion writer says his mother inspired his love of culture, and couture

Although Christian Allaire is now based in New York City, thousands of kilometres away from his home base of Nipissing First Nation, he says he wouldn't be where he is without the influence of his mother. 

'My mother is a force to be reckoned with,' says Christian Allaire

Christian and Nancy Allaire. (Submitted by Christian Allaire)

Although Christian Allaire is now based in New York City, thousands of kilometres away from his home base of Nipissing First Nation, he says he wouldn't be where he is without the influence of his mother. 

Allaire, a fashion and style writer for American Vogue, credits his mother Nancy Allaire with playing an integral role in shaping his worldview and appreciation for their Anishinaabe heritage. 

Allaire said his mother instilled a strong work ethic in him and the importance of having a mission in life. 

"My mother is a force to be reckoned with," he said. 

"She's always worked in education, so I've always known her as a real workhorse."

She spent many years as a principal and is now the education director for Nipissing First Nation, about 320 kilometres north of Toronto. 

Allaire remembers her working late, sometimes missing dinners, but she was a pillar in the community attending events, working in kitchens and being present at powwows. 

"I think she really learned that from her mother, my grandmother, Leda," said Allaire.

His mother also taught him about their culture. The powwow is one of the only times she embraces colourful clothing, as she wears black head to toe most days. 

Growing up attending powwows, Allaire said he was always surrounded by beautiful items and regalia.

Christian's sister Alysha Allaire and his mother Nancy Allaire, in their regalia. (Submitted by Christian Allaire)

"I think I really got interested in fashion because of that, something I didn't really realize until later in life, by being exposed to all this beauty and dresses made from scratch. Like it's basically couture," he said.

Attending powwows also taught Allaire the power of transformation through fashion, seeing his mother morph into the proud traditional matriarch she always was.

Allaire says she has dozens of ribbon skirts and takes time to educate people who ask her about them.

"She was really trying to show me as a kid that you should really embrace your culture and you can wear fashion, and that can be a way to be proud and to share your story with others," he said. 

Allaire said he's always had an interest in fashion and writing but taking a more cultural lens and celebrating his culture through his work has definitely been influenced by his mother. 

"She's been nothing but a cheerleader for our culture and she's never really tried to shove it down my throat," he said.

"I think she's been organic with teaching me things, and if I wanted to learn more, she'll tell me."

Now as a fashion and style writer for Vogue, Allaire has the chance to share his cultural knowledge every day with thousands, if not millions of people. 

"She definitely inspired me," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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