The work of Gwich’in jewelry designer Tania Larsson is featured in the May issue of British Vogue.
Larsson got an email from British Vogue in early March saying they came across her company online and wanted to showcase her work in an upcoming issue.
“It was this opportunity to show my work in the jewelry designer profile in a print magazine and there’s 1.2 million readers who see this work,” Larsson told News/North in an interview last week.
Larsson said she emailed back right away
“I thought it was fake at first I’m like yeah right,” she said with a laugh.
Being featured in Vogue has been a dream of hers for a while, she said.
“This is a magazine that I wanted to show my work,” said Larsson.
“And I thought it was really exciting and also nerve-wracking – like what kind of pictures you send them and what kind of text you provide so that the audience that they have understands what you’re trying to share with the world.”
The earrings featured in British Vogue are inspired by Gwich’in designs Larsson researched through the Smithsonian collection in 2015.
“I took lots of reference work of the Gwich’in items that were in the collection and I looked at the materials that were used, the kind of beads, where they came from, how we got ahold of them and since then I’ve just been looking for them all over the world,” she said.
The earrings incorporate traditional materials like muskox horn and European ones like vintage French beads.
All of her raw materials are sourced from the North, whether it’s Alaska, Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut.
“I do all of the work so it means that I tan the moosehide, I tan the caribou hides that are backed, I got the muskox horn from here,” said Larsson.
“I have great support from all the communities and hunters who provide the hides, who send me some horn or antlers whenever I put a call out.”
The earrings also feature vintage Italian beads and French antique beads, rare materials that have been out of production for decades if not centuries, said Larsson.
She used 18-karat gold for the ear hooks and findings and 24-karat gold-plated beads from the Czech Republic for the edging to pull it all together.
“On top of that, I found some diamond beads that I included in the centre and then diamonds and gold that I included in the horn,” she said.
This blend of traditional and European materials has a deep history in the Northwest Territories. The now vintage European beads were once traded through the Hudson’s Bay Company via trading posts in the Gwich’in region and across the territory.
“I was very interested in the trade routes and the trade routes pre-dating contact,” said Larsson.
“Even like including dentalium shells in my work or silverberry seeds, because we’ve always been organized nations who traded between people to the west coast or people up North or down south.”
Larsson is going to Italy at the end of April to purchase more antique beads from a supplier in Venice.
“These are like super old beads that are super special because they give a colour palette that you can’t create with today’s bead production, you can only find it through old beads,” she said.
Including these beads was important because it reminded Larsson of work her grandfathers used to do.
She heard stories from elders and knowledge holders about how rare and valued these beads were, and it’s evident in their old outfits.
“You can tell in the work because it’s only three or four beads a flower petal for example, at the tip, and that was like the highlight,” she explained.
“That shows that you have some very special beads in your work.”
The care and precision Gwich’in people put into their traditional clothing shows love for how they presented themselves to the world, said Larsson.
“How we put so much effort into our adornment and that for me is so important because it’s all about sharing our pride and we always had that,” she said.
“We always carried ourselves with so much pride and care in how we presented ourselves, even if we were nomadic, in the arctic. That’s something that has always been important and that’s what I love to see in my work.”
Larsson said she couldn’t have done it without her many mentors like Judy Lafferty and Lucy Ann Yakeleya.
“If you look at their work, one day I hope I’m at that level,” she said.
“There’s tons of amazing masters across the territories and this is just my take on our work. And being able to include their teachings in my jewelry, that’s super important to me.”
Larsson counts this feature as a success for herself and everyone who helped her get here. The support of the EntrepreNorth program was very important too, she said.
“Because I spent so much time refining what I’m trying to say with my business that I’m so thankful I was a part of the program…It was really nice to have support within the Northern community to not be doing this by myself.”
The British Vogue feature is just a “tiny start” Larsson said.
“I’m excited to see what comes from it,” she said.