For designer Robyn McLeod, both the past and future are present in her designs. The Fort Providence born/Yukon-dwelling artist has released her latest collection titled, Dene Futurism, which is on display at Whitehorse’s Kwalin Dun Cultural Centre. The multi-disciplinary collection, funded by Canada Council and Culture Quest, features both digital art and clothing with futuristic themes.
“It’s playing around with that aspect of using your culture and the processes used for thousands of years and imagining Dene and Indigenous culture being practiced well into the future,” explains McLeod. “I want to imagine in a thousand years, I’d still be able to tan with caribou hides and use it as a form of self-expression.”
Among the collection is a dress dedicated to her Aunt Virginia, who passed away while McLeod was creating the piece. The Aunty Dress is a sleeveless gown with bold black and white stripes, along with strips of wolverine fur, which Elder Doris Bob helped McLeod sew on. Sandwiched in between the two furs is a set of colourful stripes.
Contrasting the futuristic holographic visor it’s paired with, the Aunty Dress’s full skirt and cinched-in waist is more akin to a 1950s silhouette. But it isn’t the first time McLeod has incorporated vintage styles into her designs.
About two years ago, while McLeod was studying at Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA), she designed a dress reminiscent of the Victorian era–but made entirely out of garbage.
“The underskirt is the plastic you use on the outside of the house, the back material is made of a mosquito screen…the top was made out of one of those mats you put under the carpet to stop from slipping, and the purple corset part was made out of Christmas decorations that I found,” says McLeod.
While she had previously studied fashion design in Vancouver and beaded earrings alongside her sister, Shawna McLeod, the artist had taken a hiatus from design to pursue other things. It’s that dress, however, that Robyn credits for getting her back into it.
“Everyone’s [positive] reaction to me making that in three weeks… that’s what started me back on clothing again.”
Historical designs have continued to play a role in her work–even now, as she prepares to create a dress similar to what settlers wore when they arrived in the North, during the 1920s.
“Indigenous women really loved that fabric and that was mostly Hudson’s Bay plaid, so I’m going to be doing one last dress based off that plaid.”
The work in her collection was a team effort between the McLeod sisters and others in the community, who helped with sewing and beading.
Although Robyn’s career as a designer is just beginning, her work so far has offered a promising start.
“It hasn’t been too long since I started making dresses and I think people are surprised I know how to do it so well,” says Robyn, laughing.
Robyn’s designs are on display in Whitehorse until December 2, 2020.