“When PETA pops up, you know it’s that time of year, with temperatures dropping, gift guides proliferating and fur once again becoming a topic of debate, setting activists against enthusiasts, man against nature, indulgence against ethics. But as the holiday season begins, it may be worth pausing to consider another idea, courtesy of a designer who exists far outside mainstream fashion… to say that Peter Paul Kawagaelg Williams, the founder of Shaman Furs, is not a fashion person would be putting it mildly.”V. Friedman, The New York Times
“He is, rather, a somewhat scruffy 34-year-old Alaska Native with long hair and no formal design education who identifies as an environmental activist and member of the Yup’ik tribe, and who has made it his mission to reintroduce style to the allure of sea otter. Not to mention the idea of traditional subsistence hunting, and the value of knowing your clothes.
On the one hand, there is the popular (and justifiable) distaste for anything that involves the killing of cute, cuddly creatures. On the other is Mr. Williams’s homegrown but broadly resonant and deeply felt theory about ‘mis-consumption’ and the way we have become disconnected from what goes in our closets — and on our bodies.
‘We don’t want to think about the plants we are wearing when we wear cotton, and we don’t want to think about life and death,’ he said in phone interview from Alaska. He thinks it should be the opposite.
Mr. Williams comes to this belief as part of his birthright, and he expresses it in the form of a pencil skirt. He calls hand-sewing a “prayer” and says that for him, hunting equals environmentalism equals spirituality. For him, the universal language of fashion is the best vehicle for amplifying the heritage and legacy of his people while at the same time ensuring the future of those people — in part because his staple material is one of the most precious pelts no longer widely available.
Shaman Furs, a one-man operation run out of a 900-square-foot trailer that doubles as atelier and apartment, specializes in hats, vests, earrings and pencil skirts made from sea otter and sealskin, pelts that Mr. Williams harvests, designs and sews himself (the only part of the process he outsources is the tanning) in an elaborate combination of traditional ritual and modern basics.
It involves an aluminum skiff, “smudging” (ritualistically cleansing the body and spirit with Labrador tea smoke), a .223 Ruger bolt-action rifle, a skinning knife, thanking each animal for the gift of its life, and the rite of giving the otter or seal a last drink of water after its death. The ritual doesn’t obviate the visceral nature of the hunt, even for Mr. Williams, but that is part of the point.
It’s not that he expects to convince PETA. His clothes don’t make that kind of statement and probably couldn’t if they tried. He’s just trying to unpick assumptions, one stitch or pair of earmuffs at a time.”
“I want to maintain the individual relationship I have with the animals, and create an intimate experience for those wearing my work.” ~ Peter Paul Kawagaelg Williams~ Yup’ik tribe, Alaska