When Rhonda Horne was asked for her high school yearbook what she wanted to be when she grew up, she wrote that she wanted to be a model.
Now, at the age of 50, that dream is about to come to fruition. Horne is one of 25 models who will walk for Karoniénhawe Diabo’s She Holds the Sky Designs at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) on March 30.
Diabo and her models will be headlining a gala to kick off Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design, an exhibition that will highlight contributions from outside the confines of mainstream industrial design, a field from which women have historically been excluded.
Diabo’s work has recently been gaining traction among mainstream audiences. Last month, she travelled to New York City where her work was featured in RISE NYFW, a show that platforms independent designers during New York Fashion Week. Diabo brought a group of Kahnawa’kehró:non models with her, including Daisy Lahache.
“It just made me realize that all of us can go as far as we want to go with our dreams and our goals and that no matter how outside of the box they seem, that they are attainable,” said Lahache, who has been modelling for She Holds the Sky since she was 14.
Next week, Diabo’s designs and some of her Kahnawa’kehró:non models, including Lahache, will walk the runway at Native Fashion in the City, a fashion show in Denver, Colorado, organized by Native Max magazine’s Kelly Holmes.
“The opportunities that she’s not only creating for herself, but the opportunity she’s bringing her models along with for, is a beautiful thing to see,” said Lahache.
Diabo’s growing stature in the fashion world has enabled those around her to see a place for themselves in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by colonial ideals.
“I’m feeling proud to be a Mohawk and really excited for her,” said Horne.
To cast for the Parall(elles)show, Diabo held a call-out at Kahnawake United Church and was met with enthusiasm by both Kanehsata’kehró:non and Kahnawa’kehró:non.
“We had a lot of new faces… I guess word of mouth or people had seen what we had done in New York, so they were really interested and inspired – all different ages and genders,” said Diabo.
One of those new faces is Kanehsata’kehró:non Joelle Perron-Thibodeau, who has been following Diabo’s work for years. She was thrilled when she heard She Holds the Sky was heading to New York Fashion Week.
“I was proud to be a woman, an Onkwehón:we, a Kanien’kehá:ka. It was great to see we’re represented, and not only represented, but we’re doing so well at the international level,” said Perron-Thibodeau.
Perron-Thibodeau has always loved fashion, but standing at five-foot-four, she never thought she would get a chance to walk the runway.
“She values diverse bodies. It’s something I really appreciate. It’s great to have a chance when you’re small, because there’s not much space for shorter models in the industry,” said Perron-Thibodeau.
Diversity has always been a cornerstone of Diabo’s business.
“I want to make sure that when people see my work they know that they’re going to see an authentic Mohawk woman or a man or they’re going to see someone of colour,” said Diabo.
Whether it’s designing a skirt made with the warrior flag, or incorporating the sky dome or the wampum in her work, Diabo has always strived to use her label to educate people about Kanien’kehá:ka culture.
“Ultimately, the message has always been there to show people the things that we’ve been through in the past as Mohawk people and as Indigenous people and what we’re currently fighting for,” said Diabo.