Mary Simon’s installation outfit was designed, sewn and beaded by Inuit women


There’s more than meets the eye to the dress new Gov. Gen. Mary Simon wore on her installation day.

For one, it was made especially for her with the help of Inuit designers. And for another, the two-piece garment was designed, sewn and beaded in a very short time frame.

Designer Victoria Okpik, originally from Quaqtaq, Nunavik, in northern Quebec, was asked by Simon to make a garment for the investiture ceremony on Monday, when Simon was officially sworn in as Canada’s 30th Governor General — the first Indigenous person ever to hold the position.

Simon had wanted a special outfit that was made from her home region, Okpik said.

Okpik — who has more than 20 years of experience as a seamstress and designer — was the first Inuk to graduate in fashion design from Montreal’s LaSalle College.

Victoria Okpik creates Inuit-inspired clothes in Montreal. Governor General Mary Simon wore Okpik’s designs at her installation ceremony. 4:37

But Okpik had just 20 days to get Simon’s dress and jacket ready, and due to COVID-19 and distancing, part of the process involved multiple back-and-forth emails for measurements, designs and colours.

“I was honoured to be asked to design a garment for a big event and I am very proud of Mary being the next Governor General,” Okpik said. “I was very proud to be asked to make a dress.”

The beading

Meanwhile, Julie Grenier, a beader originally from Kuujjuaq, also in northern Quebec, was in charge of the beading on the dress after Okpik reached out to her.

Grenier knew Simon personally, since they’re from the same small community.

“The deadlines were pretty tight,” Grenier said. “We kind of had discussions about what kind of beading they wanted to have on and decided on some embroidered beading. So I hopped on board and took on the challenge.”

Grenier went with a floral and leaf beading, saying the work, in a way, represents all Indigenous people in Canada.

Grenier said she was partly inspired by nature when doing the beadwork on the dress. (Submitted by Julie Grenier)

“I was able to just kind of let my own creativity spill onto the drawing, and then being able to fuel my creativity through the colours and everything that I used was also a lot of fun,” Grenier said.

She said she was partly inspired by nature, pointing out the small purple and blue flowers beaded onto the dress.

“They remind me of my childhood. They remind me of Kuujjuaq, I used to pick them all the time.”

The design and colours were also inspired by her impression of Simon, she said.

“I was trying to depict, I guess, what I feel about Mary and her personality and her strength and her character, you know.”

Grenier also incorporated 24k gold beads into the design. She says it was an honour for her to work on the outfit.

“I mean, it’s not every day that you get this kind of a request and that you get to work with a designer like Victoria. And, you know, it was new for both of us,” Grenier said. “It was an amazing experience and a huge honour.”

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, centre, and her husband Whit Fraser, second from left, watch drummers perform as they arrive for the Governor General of Canada installation ceremony in Ottawa on Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

‘A place in that ceremony’

 The dress and the jacket were handed over at 5 p.m. Sunday, the evening before the ceremony.

Having Simon wear a garment that was visibly Indigenous and from the North may have helped other Indigenous viewers see a bit of their identity at the ceremony, said Grenier.

“I think it gave people a sense of belonging, like they had a place in that ceremony, they had a place in the naming of Mary as the Governor General,” she said.

“It was like that for the entire ceremony. I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t think anyone’s ever seen anything like it — to include so much culture into the entire ceremony was incredible.”

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