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Inuit designer showcases fashion on the world stage in New York

Three women standing on a stage, two in bright red and the other in light green.
April Allen is taking her Indigenous designs to New York Fashion Week 2024. (Submitted by April Allen/Alana Paterson)

A designer from Rigolet, Labrador has made her way to one of the biggest fashion events in the world and she’s bringing Inuit fashion and a team of models from Labrador with her.

New York Fashion Week is a semi-annual event taking place in September and February that brings designers from all over the world to Manhattan. April Allen will be showcasing her label, Stitched by April, at her show on Sunday night.

She’s also brought a team of models along with her, including five from Nunatsiavut. She said having Indigenous models was an important choice to her.

“Attending the New York Fashion Week is definitely a dream come true for me. And you know, it’s important to ensure authentic representation of Inuit and Indigenous models,” she told CBC News.

It not only validates her brand and adds to its authenticity, she said, but also provides opportunities for potential careers in modelling within her community.

“And it’s heartening to witness, you know, all the progress of Indigenous representation.”

Allen said she doesn’t work with professional models often, but one model in her show has previous experience and is helping the others on what to do and expect.

Listen: April Allen is in New York, preparing for her show at New York Fashion week, along with a team of models from Labrador.

Labrador Morning9:34From Labrador to New York fashion week, April Allen shows off her stitched by April creations

From Rigolet to New York City is a long haul, especially if you’re looking to make it in the world of high fashion. But April Allen is there, getting set for her show at New York Fashion week, along with a team of models from Labrador. April Allen and Raeann Brown speak to Labrador morning host Rhivu.

“We have time before the show. The show is not till the 11th, so we have time to go through it with the models from home and just ensure that they’re prepared,” she said.

One of those models is Raeann Brown, who said the opportunity came about around Christmas when her friend Allen said she was attending New York Fashion Week and asked her if Brown was interested in being a model.

Brown recalled being “taken back” by the offer and declined at the time. At the time she was busy with her own business but suggested her daughter Billie for the role.

“So we decided we’d do everything we could to get Billie there,” said Brown.

But recently, Brown decided to go with them and take part,  “I didn’t want to miss seeing her in New York Fashion Week.”

This will be Brown’s first time modelling, though she and Billie did a photoshoot for Allen a few weeks ago, which she called “the first taste of modelling.”

A woman takes a photo of a billboard in New York, depicting an Inuit model wearing a fashionable dress.
Allen sees her designs on a Times Square billboard in New York. ‘It feels good to see Indigenous representation, and that it’s going places,’ she said. (Submitted by April Allen/Alana Paterson)

New designs on display

On Saturday, February 10, Allen’s work was lit up, literally, with a Times Square billboard.

A couple of the designs she will be showing off on the world stage are from the recent Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week.

“I do all the sewing myself. A lot of it is by hand. So the timing between Vancouver and New York, it was so condensed. Like, it wasn’t hardly any time at all for the turnaround,” explained Allen.

Some of the designs at fashion week will be new ones, she added.

“I have a full sealskin dress. I have a couple of really detailed nice boots to put in there and a couple of leather dresses.”

She also designed a red carpet dress for the person hosting her fashion show.

“So we did a fitting with her yesterday and it’s a leather dress with sealskin and silver fox fur on there. And it looks really great,” said Allen.

Woman in red dress and fur, from the back, walking on a stage.
April Allen says she doesn’t work with professional models often and for New York Fashion Week she’s brought people with her. (Submitted by April Allen/Alana Paterson)

To be ready for New York Fashion Week, Allen said she worked all through Christmas and that included making a pair of boots for actress Kali Reis, which were meant for the red carpet premiere of the HBO series True Detective.

“The boots didn’t make it in time. They got held up in customs, so that was a little bit of a downer. But they did eventually make it to her, and they ended up on The Kelly Clarkson Show,” said Allen.

It was Reis’ designer who reached out to Allen to do a collaboration, Allen explained.

Reis said she only started her business a few years ago and said it feels empowering.

“Someone who is from a very small community on the north coast, Rigolet and Nunatsiavut, and you know just still living in Labrador.”

It feels good to see Indigenous representation and that it’s “going places.”

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