The layered meaning behind our guest designer’s capsule collection
Stories aren’t only told with words. They are also expressed through shape, colour and symbol—and this is how Victoria Kakuktinniq likes to tells hers. Calling us from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, on a cold November afternoon, this year’s singular Project Atigi designer translates the layered meaning behind one of her languages: the parka.
Tightly woven into her story is Kangiqliniq—the traditional name of her hometown and home once more. She spent her childhood exploring its waters—Kangigtiniq translates as “deep inlet” in Inuktitut—venturing out in her dad’s boat to fish, camp and hunt, often in the company of dozens of family members. Victoria is one of seven siblings, and with 14 aunts and uncles just on her mother’s side, living in a hamlet of fewer than 2,500 people means that “I’m related to almost everyone here!”
It’s through this big, close-knit family that she came into making parkas. “I grew up watching all my aunts, my grandmas, my mom and my sisters. They were all seamstresses. It’s a big part of our culture,” she says. Another, newer family member finally cinched her next steps though: “My daughter, she had just been born, and that inspired me to take action because I always thought when I grow up, I’ll be sewing for my family, my kids.”
Accepted into Ilitaqsiniq’s Miqqut Program, a four-month traditional and contemporary Inuit sewing skills program lead by Elder instructors, Victoria chose an ambitious first project. “Oh my gosh, I shouldn’t have done this, but I decided to make a sealskin parka,” she laughs, “It’s extremely complicated. It took a long, long time for me to get it done. But the reaction I got—everyone was so proud—I felt really great, accomplished, excited—that feeling just held on to me.” Completing the program in the spring of 2013, she launched Victoria’s Arctic Fashions and jumped right into the fashion design and apparel production program at Winnipeg’s MC College that fall.
The complexity of that first parka turned out to be a harbinger. Six years later, through the Flying Solo program, Victoria found herself presenting collections at fashion weeks in Paris and New York City. Inspired by her grandmother’s beaded amautiks that take up to a year to make, the haute couture pieces she created were similarly intricate and involved. To complete all the elaborate beadwork, she teamed up with other Inuit artists and relished the collaborative process. “When you collaborate with other artists, you bind all your creativity, all your ideas, to create such a wonderful piece together.”
For her 2022 Project Atigi collaboration with Canada Goose, Victoria designed a parka that shares more of her story, pulling in myriad threads of self, family, culture and place. The elongated silhouette, curved hem and oversized hood is a modern take on the amauti—a traditional Inuit women’s style dating back thousands of years that is Victoria’s preferred cut.
The colour palette reveals another aspect: dark jade green, blue azure, amethyst and black evoke the shades of the Arctic skies lit by undulating aurora borealis on the darkest winter nights. Concealed across the brim, hem and straps, a trim references kakiniit, the traditional Inuit tattoos that vary across communities and individuals. For the Project Atigi collection, this design is custom for Victoria: There’s a discernable Y-shape representing a seal hunting tool, which links back to sealskin, the material used for the earliest known parkas, her own first parka and subsequent others. But the rest of the tattoo trim is more imperceptivity symbolic. “This specific design represents milestones in my life and my strength as a single mother,” she says, “It also represents my parents who have always been there for me, guiding me through life, supporting me, not only in my career but also helping me raise my daughter.”
Sharing the parka’s trim and palette, the other pieces in the collection, a lightweight down jacket and weather-resistant shell, create another kind of quiet, composite symbol. One gives warmth from the cold and the other protection from wind, purposeful on their own but doubly so when layered. “It’s really cool how they work well together,” says Victoria.
Though she’s describing the jackets, the same could be said of the way she mixes traditional and modern in her designs, how she collaborates with other artists and her ever-supportive community. “To Inuit, the words community and family are almost interchangeable. Friends, neighbours and colleagues—they can all be a part of what a person considers family. The whole community traditionally shares in the task of raising the next generation. We help each other…. Being brought up this way had given me the confidence and support to pursue my dreams by embracing my culture and community. How I decided to design my brand is inspired by the way I grew up, this is why I am so passionate about my work.” Her words and work tell the story.