Urban Regalia exhibition showcases Indigenous and Audrey Hepburn-inspired pieces by Gitxsan designer

Culture Fashion Uncategorized Visual Arts

I walked around the silent art gallery looking for the specially curated fashion exhibit, and soon caught sight of the blurred glass door labelled “Urban Regalia” in bold, blue letters. As soon as I opened the door, a rush of light runway music emitted from the television across the room. Around the small room, mannequins in haute attire stood displayed on a runway.

Since Sept. 28, the Legacy Art Gallery, in the heart of downtown Victoria, has been showing the Urban Regalia exhibition. This exhibition was curated by Dr. Carolyn Butler-Palmer, the Legacy Chair in modern and contemporary arts of the Pacific Northwest and Associate Professor of art and visual studies at UVic.

The small space had no furniture aside from the television and one picture frame on the wall. The lack of furnishing felt purposeful: once I entered the room, my attention went straight to the mannequins.

There were seven mannequins, each wearing a piece designed by Gitxsan textile artist and fashion designer, Sug-ii-t Lukxs (Yolonda Skelton). The looks were inspired by her late grandmother, Na-gwa (Lily Jackson), and the traditional tales she told Skelton. Along with the historic inspiration from her grandmother, there is an apparent Hollywood style to the designs. 

Audrey Hepburn, a well-known Hollywood actress that starred in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, has been one of Skelton’s main inspirations as well. 

“Every single time a model, no matter where we are, when they put it on, they embody Audrey. And they embody their culture,” said Skelton in an interview with the CBC.

All of the top pieces on the mannequins have a classic wrap style, with intricate Indigenous designs. The pieces of clothing are all colour-coordinated, and did not have a vast array of colour, other than one of the outerwear pieces on one mannequin. This particular piece is named the Rainbow Warrior shawl. The mannequin wearing it has on a yellow turtleneck dress under the colourful shawl, and the yellow colour was well-coordinated to the yellow design apparent on the outerwear. Most of the mannequins have bold necklaces that match the outfits, but do not take attention away from the pieces of clothing. In simple words, I would describe the pieces as a collaboration of Indigenous culture and vintage Hollywood.

Skelton told the CBC that she sees her designs as a way to share her cultural background with others to help eliminate prejudice.

“If we understand each other’s cultures, then it’s so much easier for things to come together,” she said.

The exhibition’s second part opens in January 2020. This showing will be curated by Butler-Palmer’s students and include button blankets by Skelton’s students at the Colwood campus of the Westshore Centre for Learning and Training. 

Urban Regalia continues at the Legacy Art Gallery until Dec. 21. More information can be found at http://uvac.uvic.ca/.