Hampton named her collection Eighteen Seventy Six, after the year the Indian Act was introduced by the Canadian government, and has underlined her Indigenous roots by incorporating traditional methods, like beadwork, into the garments. She collaborated with Indigenous brands to style the collection, including Iskwew Rising, which created brooches and necklaces, and Helen Oro Designs, which made headpieces.
“I wanted to bring an Indigenous-inspired and themed collection to a mainstream fashion week like Toronto Fashion Week, and really show what present-day Indigenous fashion could be authentically by an Indigenous designer,” says Hampton. A cast of Indigenous models was a “super important" part of telling the story of the collection, which will be more colourful than Hampton’s previous lines, with big hits of poppy red, and feature asymmetrical details and sharp tailoring.
Since launching her self-titled ready-to-wear womenswear line in 2016, the 24-year-old Hampton has made it her mission to promote diversity and inclusivity in her runway presentations. Her spring/summer 2017 show at Vancouver Fashion Week earned praise from Kim Kardashian when Adrianne Haslet, a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing and an amputee, modelled in her show wearing a dress that showed off her prosthetic leg. Beyond the runway, Hampton’s online lookbooks feature women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities modelling her modern evening wear as well as her diffusion line ROBUST, which lends her size-inclusive approach to athleisure.
Assembling the cast of more than a dozen Indigenous models, a group of women sizes 2 to 16 that Hampton refers to as the “wolfpack,” for her upcoming show was no small feat. “Depending on the agency, they maybe had one or two Indigenous models,” says Hampton. “We had to street-cast other people within media, like actors and dancers, because there is a lack of Indigenous models in the industry.” Hampton approached women herself through Instagram, email, and her own social circle.
Still, the fashion industry has come a long way from primarily white models on catwalks, with the latest report from The Fashion Spot naming the spring 2019 runways as the most racially diverse, size diverse, and gender-inclusive ever. New York Fashion Week has been praised for having made the most progress of the four main fashion weeks, but size-inclusivity is still noted as lagging in the industry, and many European shows still fall behind in all aspects of diversity.
Hampton’s upcoming show “sends a very clear message that in Canada our understanding of fashion is inclusive,” says Ben Barry, the chair of Ryerson University’s School of Fashion and director of its Centre for Fashion Diversity & Social Change.
“Using a cast of all-Indigenous models is going to be critical to bringing perspective to the runway and to create impact,” says Barry. “So often in this conversation about diversity in fashion, the media and the industry hasn’t centered the experiences and the representation of Indigenous models and designers.”
Ellyn Jade, one of the models in Hampton’s upcoming show, says that walking among a cast of Indigenous women has “always been a dream.”
“The one word that comes to mind is 'unconquered,'” says Jade, a full-time model and actor. “[This show is] a reclamation of taking space and making space for ourselves in a light that is positive. Our story is being told by us, and each one of us is individually representing themselves, as well as their own backgrounds,” she says.
“Whether the entertainment and fashion industries are ready for it or not, it’s going to be a beautiful and exciting time ahead.”
Toronto Fashion Week runs February 5–7. Lesley Hampton’s collection will be shown at the Gardiner Museum on February 6 at 7 p.m.