Designer offers runway exposure to First Nations girls

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TORONTO - Beneath the shadow of the world's largest television, six models
from an Albertan fashion company received their proverbial 15 minutes of
fame.

Toronto's SkyDome provided the venue for an evening fashion show during the
11th annual Canadian Aboriginal Festival on Nov. 27. Traveling 2,000 miles
to expose its product was Northern Styles, an Edmonton-based cooperative
promoting Native arts and artists in a variety of medium including clothing
design.

Operating director Charmaine Logan believed the trip was worth her
company's efforts, even when sharing the runway with other designers.
Attending for her eighth year, the exposure received over the two-day show,
which includes a booth with tens of thousands of spectators passing through
the trade show, is effective marketing she said.

Logan displayed some of her finer works from the past five years during the
quarter-hour, three-change set. Specializing in glamorous women's wear,
Logan promotes modern clothing with traditional patterns. "To bring some of
our cultural concepts into wearable fashions," is her creative goal.

Incorporating Cree designs such as bear paws, the fashion combines elegance
while honoring ancestry. Crushed velvet, chiffon, satin and even pleather
are complimented with beading, a skill she learned from her Kokum Betty and
hopes to promote this talent for other ladies.

"I try to revive what she taught me because there were only two of us
taught," Logan said. "That's the only thing left from my traditional
culture and now I'm trying to make it contemporary."

On this evening the focus was practicing how to perform on the catwalk.
Three of the six models were younger than 18 and two of them had never
modeled before.

For Kindy Vogel, 16, and Michelle Laboucan, 14, this was their first
exposure under the bright lights of the big city. Hailing from Burwyn and
Cadotte Lake, two villages in northern Alberta each with a population below
1,000, their performances while strutting their stuff looked polished, as
if they were regularly plying their trade in Milan and Paris.

Not bad for two girls who, until a week before the festival, didn't know
they would be participating.

"There was lots of practice put into this and thanks to Roberta [Calliou],
we got our hair, make-up and choreography [done] in one day," said Vogel
after the show.

Both she and Laboucan were chosen by their band, the Woodland Cree Nation,
to attend. Located six hours northwest from Edmonton, it's there, among
other rural areas, where Northern Styles has spent several sessions as
coordinators of an image enhancement program.

In addition to operating her fashion business, Logan is trained as a
facilitator specializing in goal setting, time management and other
personal affairs issues. Getting into the smaller communities, using her
commerce and designing skills as tools, Northern Styles offers a different
perspective for reaching out to teenagers, especially females.

Roberta Calliou is the model manager for the cooperative and also
accompanies Logan on these trips to rural reserves. Clothing and make-up
strike a chord with the girls in the isolated areas, many of whom rarely
get the chance to get to a larger city.

"Image enhancement for the youth is to take care of themselves and feel
better for themselves and to show them how to do things," Calliou said.

As teenagers receive the benefits of professional designers visiting their
villages and sharing their talents, the reciprocity is shared for Northern
Styles. That's why Logan has no hesitation when having rookie models
display her clothing under the company name.

"I always love bringing in new people because it not only builds
friendships but it is a cultural exchange," the owner said. "Nobody is from
the same tribe plus some are from rural areas, others are urban."