Art Meets Fashion at SS River Designs

It is all over social media, but it’s the kind of attention that is making a St. Louis native very happy. Christine Tournier who owns SS River Designs and creates art-to-wear fashions and beadwork was asked by her close friends Clint and Colleen Rudderhamoff to make a beaded medallion as a gift. That gift turned out to be for American actor Jason Momoa. Momoa was in Canada filming the latest season of the fictional drama See. The series is set in a post-apocalyptic society in the distant future where humanity has lost the sense of sight and the ability to see is believed to be a myth. The birth of twins in a mountain tribe who have the gift of sight sets the plot in motion. As part of the filming, the CNIB sent out a casting call to blind and partially sighted actors in Canada. Colleen Rudderhamof encouraged her husband to try out, and Clint was among those chosen.

The three friends collaborated and came up with a design that would represent Indigenous culture on Turtle Island along with showcasing the Hawaiian culture Momoa comes from. The medallion took Tournier several days to complete and although it was patterns she had never beaded before, she was very happy with the result, as was Momoa apparently. Tournier included with the medallion, an explanation of what it included and what each aspect represented. When the Rudderhamofs were able to present it to the actor, he read aloud the note Tournier included and offered to have pictures taken of himself wearing the medallion alongside Clint and Colleen. The design for the medallion included an eagle, a feather, a teepee, a Hawaiian flower, and a rainbow.

Tournier told CTV’s reporter John Flatters, “It’s generating a lot of interest and so many positive comments and congratulations. But it’s generated a lot of interest in my brand on social media, so I appreciate that for sure.” She started SS River Designs to showcase her French and Métis culture. SS River Design is named after the South Saskatchewan River where she was raised and resides today, along the banks of this important place in Métis history, and which she uses as an inspiration for her designs. Tournier and Métis community of St. Louis, Saskatchewan, have a strong connection to the river and the land. Tournier takes pictures of the flowers and vegetation that clothes the river valley and incorporates that imagery into her beading.

Christine states she learned how to bead alongside her mother after her mother was gifted some beads. Metis beading, she explained is very symmetrical with one side reflecting the other, and usually involves flowers, but as her skill level and confidence have developed, she has created her own stylized form of beadwork. She has also drawn inspiration from the native trees and created a fabric line based on the lines, patterns, and colours in birch bark and a beading pattern that is more linear rather than circular.

Out of high school, Tournier took a fashion course in Alberta for a couple of years because she’d always had a love of sewing. Over the years sewing and beadwork continued as just a hobby, but she started registering for more workshops and courses on beading and fashion (garment construction, draping etc.) to keep her skills growing. In 2015, she applied for and received a Sask Arts Board grant, which allowed her to create a small collection of beaded garments and followed that with a local mini-exhibition. The exhibition was so well received that it encouraged her to stay the course and she “got into it” a lot more. With the discovery of printing art onto fabric, she said that it fit so well with her interest in fashion and garment construction that she made the decision to start her small business.

The art of beadwork takes many many hours to complete, but being able to transfer that art onto a piece of fabric it makes it more accessible to more people. Like a painter who makes prints of an original piece of artwork, printing her beaded art onto fabric gets the art into the hands of more people. It’s a “unique way to share aspects of the land with other people through clothing.” She has two lines an art-to-wear clothing line which naturally results in one-of-a-kind beaded garments and then some made from the fabric with the design built into it. The ready-made garments are made by a small Canadian manufacturer and have a beautifully vibrant print that is said “will not fade even with repeated wear and washing.” The printed artwork reflects the vibrant, colourful, and detailed beadwork of the original. The printed fabric uses water-based sublimation inks made by a factory with Zurich-based International Oeko-Tex Association's Eco Passport certification for sustainable textile chemicals. In recognition of the need for environmental responsibility, SS River Designs only produces small quantities of its contemporary wearable pieces. The small quantities allow them to remain mindful to not over-order and minimize any excess inventory.

Her website, states, she started her business “to share my art-to-wear pieces which celebrates and aims to keep michif culture alive… [and] to make the culture more widely available to all people.” In an episode of Art Talks on the Creative City Centre website, Christine expressed a desire to have more of the actual “cut and sew” done right here in Saskatchewan saying that with so many very talented local seamstresses, artisans, and creatives that the “vision for the brand is having strong ties to the community.” With that in mind, she has a bricks and mortar shop in Prince Albert and another studio in the River Road Centre in St. Louis where she creates her designs and she and two local seamstresses sew her runway collections.

While being part of her friend’s adventure and creating the medallion gift for Jason Momoa was a great thrill, Tournier’s focus now is preparing her next runway collection to showcase at Cannes, France in May. Organized by International Indigenous Fashion Week Inc. which is based in Regina, to bring Canadian and American designers to Cannes, the festival includes influential Indigenous designers, models, entertainers, film enthusiasts, hair & makeup artists, fashion bloggers, and fashion marketing strategists. Occurring during the Festival de Cannes, Indigenous fashion will be showcased for the movers and shakers of worldwide fashion, and St. Louis’ Christine Tournier will be right there with them.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder