Not many fashion designers take their cues from Inuit art and culture. Then again, Mariouche Gagné hardly fits the couture-clad, pincushions-and-tantrums stereotype of her industry. Born in the First Nations village of Loretteville in Quebec, Canada, she attended Lasalle College for fashion design, trained at Denmark’s Saga Furs of Scandinavia, and enrolled in Domus Academy in Milan for a master’s in design management. There was just one not-so-little problem: she couldn’t afford the tuition. Gagné called home in a panic, and her mother faxed over information about a contest sponsored by the Fur Council of Canada, with a rather, um, helpful note saying, “You’d better win.”
Gagné collected her mother’s old furs and starting snipping and sewing, transforming them into a reversible ski outfit. She won second prize, finished her degree, and caught the eye of Quebec City department store Simons, which commissioned more of her recycled-fur designs. A career in sustainable fashion—featuring hats, mittens, scarves, moccasins, coats, skirts, and more—was born. She founded Harricana in 1997, and gradually expanded to sales in 150 North American stores and dozens more in Europe.
These days, Gagné—who works only with recycled fox, fisher, ermine, rabbit, chinchilla, wolf, sable, and other furs (she estimates that her company has saved the lives of more than 600,000 animals over the past 15 years)—creates a variety of practical, athletic-inspired garments that are as chic as they are wow-worthy. We’re partial to her Nanook of the North–meets–downtown fashionista Winter 2011–2012 collection, especially the luxe vests, embellished oversized sweaters, and patchwork ponchos.