BCHF News Storytelling Experience Showcases Ay Lelum Fashion and Music

Storytelling Experience Showcases Ay Lelum Fashion and Music

By Aimee Greenaway

In their first major production and largest showcase to date, Ay Lelum – the Good House of Design fused song, dance, fashion, video, and Snuneymuxw culture into a storytelling experience.  Ay Lelum’s music was featured in British Columbia History magazine’s fall 2021 issue (vol. 54, no. 3).

From the pages of major international fashion magazines to the runways of New York Fashion Week, Ay Lelum brought their increasing international profile back home for Xwi’xwi’em:  Telling a Story on February 19, 2022 at the Port Theatre on Snuneymuxw territory in Nanaimo, BC.

Ay Lelum, run by sisters Aunalee Boyd-Good and Sophia Seward-Good, is a second-generation fashion design house.  Their pieces feature traditional Coast Salish art created by their father, William Good, and brother, W. Joel Good, of the Snuneymuxw Hereditary Chief family.  Garment design is mentored by their mother, Sandra Moorhouse-Good.

Xwi’xwi’em:  Telling a Story opened with a moving prayer from Shx’ uy’ sulwut Lorraine (Lolly) Good.  MC Tsatassaya Tracey White wore the powerful Red Hummingbird Dress designed by Ay Lelum to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Seven fashion collections were featured, starting with their 2018 Vancouver Fashion Week debut, Thul Te Lada, and closing with Stqeeye, a collection that went to New York Fashion Week in 2021.  The strong presence of the pieces was amplified by Ay Lelum’s music so it was no surprise to hear constant applause, murmurs of excitement, and even gasps from the audience as the garments moved down the runway.  The show included vintage pieces from Ay Ay Mut, the first Coast Salish clothing line, created by Aunalee and Sophia’s parents in the 1990s.

Between fashion collections, Ay Lelum provided a glimpse into the work, culture and history of the Good family through video interviews produced by Knight Studios.  Their family is firmly rooted on the land where the 800-seat Port Theatre is located; just metres away their father received critical oral teachings daily from his grandfather, Tseskinum William Good (1878-1966).

Nanaimo Contemporary Ballet interpreted the story of how their great grandfather, Tseskinum William Good, won a 400 metres (440 yards) foot race at a World’s Fair in the late 1890s, which made him the fastest man in the world, but he was stripped of his title because he was Indigenous.  The Nanaimo Contemporary Ballet’s fluid and emotional performance to the Ay Lelum song, Run, had a dynamic backdrop of photos and newspaper articles, including a 120 year old image of Tseskinum wearing his running clothes.

Orange dresses and shirts by Ay Lelum were showcased with their Hey’ewulh Goodbye Song to raise awareness of the recent findings at Indian Residential Schools. Models (L-R) Denean Fred (Snuneymuxw) and Alicia Hanton (Supernaturals Modelling) // Sean Fenzel @fenzlstudio

Music performances by Aunalee and Sophia, with special guests, brought a compelling return to live music for many audience members.  Orange dresses and shirts were showcased with Ay Lelum’s Hey’ewulh Goodbye Song to raise awareness of the recent findings at Indian Residential Schools.

Six generations of the Good family appeared in the production, including as music performers and Ay Lelum local models.  Supernaturals Modelling, co-founded by two internationally renowned changemakers Joleen Mitton and Patrick Shannon, provided 10 Indigenous models adding to the cultural representation on the runway.  There were a total of 20 Indigenous models in the show, including many from Snuneymuxw First Nation.

Xwi’xwi’em:  Telling a Story evoked emotions and inspired conversations about the past, present, and future of Ay Lelum’s fashion and music.  A number of audience members wore their own Ay Lelum or Ay Ay Mut garments, a testament to the wearability, inclusivity, and longevity of the pieces.  This innovative storytelling experience was an expression of culture and reflects how Ay Lelum approaches creating fashion and music: multigenerational, honouring language and culture, all while pushing the boundaries of their art.

Aimee Greenaway is from Nanaimo, BC on the territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.  She is the curator at the Nanaimo Museum and book review editor for British Columbia History magazine.