Normally, the phrase “cultural fashion” is associated with tradition, techniques, and aesthetics passed down through generations. And while that’s true, Vogue writer Christian Allaire is looking to expand the definition with his new book, The Power of Style. “In order for tradition to survive it has to adapt and you have to think about it in a new way,” Allaire says. “That was the throughline for everything in the book. Yes, heritage is super important, but for the new generation to be interested in it it has to be current and fresh.”
The book, out April 27 from Annick Press, is geared towards young people who are exploring their own identity through fashion. Allaire, who is Ojibwe, rarely saw himself represented in the fashion industry or media. Instead, he saw Indigenous stereotypes that he didn’t fit into. “I felt like I had to look like what I saw on the screen, the dark skin, the beautiful braid. And I obviously don’t look like that,” Allaire said. “So it really messed with me and I felt like I wasn’t Indigenous enough. I would shy away from my culture for the longest time. A book like this is important to show that culture doesn’t have to look one specific way.”
The chapters explore Indigenous ribbon work (a traditional craft that was recently on the national stage thanks to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland), the politics of hair, cosplayers, heels for men, and more. Each section weaves in the history with interviews edited by Allaire. In the chapter about heels, he speaks with New York-based designers Henry Bae and Shaobo Han about their label Syro and how heels can be a celebration of queer identity, while also adding in the historical context that these shoes were originally designed for men. As it’s primarily a fashion book, striking visuals are peppered throughout.
Though Allaire initially wanted to write a book just about Indigenous design, he’s grateful that he expanded this work to include cultures he’s not directly connected to. With each section, he got to learn about the triumphs of each group, but also the challenges still present. “In the modest fashion chapter, I focused on the hijab, though there’s obviously so much more to explore,” Allaire says. “Even in that realm, I learned so much about how modest fashion brands often exclude black or plus-size muslims. Each sector, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Though it tackles heavy topics like cultural appropriation and the importance of representation, The Power of Style is resolutely celebratory. “The aim was to empower kids,” Allaire says. “There are some meaty subjects, we tried to put in some history. But we wanted to make it a fun read.”