Indigenous Fashion Center Stage at the Santa Fe Indian Market – WWD

Indigenous Fashion Center Stage at the Santa Fe Indian Market – WWD

Indigenous Fashion Center Stage at the Santa Fe Indian Market – WWD

The first Santa Fe Indian Market Contemporary Fashion Show in 2014 was held in a public park with four designers, a $200 budget and a U-Haul for models to get ready.

Fast forward to last weekend when the prestigious, juried native arts show hosted two sold-out runway shows at the Santa Fe Convention Center featuring 14 designers, a 100-foot runway and more than 1,000 spectators each night.

The atmosphere was electric, with special effects and dancing; celebrity models Amber Midthunder (“Prey”), D’Pharoah Woon-a-Tai (“Reservation Dogs”), and plenty of standing ovations.

“What has changed is that people want to see more of it, which is great. What has remained the same is that these are amazing talents and designers who are diverse in all their collections and personalities and creativity,” said art historian Amber- Dawn Bear Robe, who curates and produces the runway shows and dreams of creating an Indigenous Fashion Week in Santa Fe.

“It’s definitely gained interest over the years,” said Your Special Occasions designer Orlando Dugi, who has been featured in every show and is based in Santa Fe.

But it has not been without struggles.

“Especially when I started, because I was doing special occasions… I wasn’t native enough for some, and too native for others,” Dugi said. “If someone saw my collection on the runway, they wouldn’t necessarily know I was Native until they saw my face. And from the Native side, it was ‘who wants that, it’s not traditional or what our people wear.’

Patricia Michaels, the first Native designer to appear on “Project Runway” in 2012, had a similar experience when she started making clothes 35 years ago.

“I’m from Taos pueblo, the oldest living village in the United States,” Michaels said. “When I started, I had protesters saying my stuff wasn’t indigenous enough because I use silk, a non-native material. People didn’t understand the contemporary movement.”

That’s changing, thanks to a new generation of designers gaining visibility inside and outside their communities through fashion events and markets in Canada and the U.S., on social media and in native-produced shows like “Rutherford Falls.”

Indian Market, the largest and most prestigious indigenous art market in the world, celebrated its centenary this weekend, featuring the work of more than 800 juried artists, representing 250 nations in traditional ceramics, basketry, jewelry, painting, sculpture, woodcarvings, and textiles . But fashion was a bigger focus than ever.

Modern native fashion in focus

On the runway were many of Hollywood’s Indigenous stars who are increasing their on-screen representation, including the first Indigenous superhero Middog; Woon-A-Tai (recently signed by IMG), and “Dark Winds” stars Zahn McClarnon, Jessica Matten, Kiowa Gordon and Eugene Brave Rock.

In the seats, in addition to collectors, curators, art patrons and local celebrities like Sazon’s James Beard Award-winning chef Fernando Olea, there was a fashion industry.

They included Ojibwe Vogue writer Christian Allaire, who has been a key booster of Native fashion; Beyond Buckskin online boutique founder Jessica Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa); Founder of Native Max fashion magazine Kelly Holmes (Cheyenne River Lakota), and representatives from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Ralph Lauren.

The designers had very different approaches, from street to sci-fi to political. Mohawk designer Skawennati placed signs emblazoned with messages such as “Resistance is Fertile” and “Water is Life” in models’ hands as they displayed her “calico camouflage” pieces, while others had minimal or no references to traditional culture.

With so many differences, is it even useful to have a native fashion show anymore?

“Well, that’s what we have now,” said Jamie Okuma, a leading indigenous designer and artist who lent her work to the Costume Institute’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” exhibit, despite initial fears that she was a symbol.

A member of the La Jolla Band of Mission Indians, she showed gorgeous printed silk dresses and capes based on images of flowers from her reservation in North San Diego County, a black and white ribbon dress that riffed on traditional native dress, and a cream organza -pannier dress with cap sleeves and tonal floral embroidery that belongs on a red carpet.

Jamie Okuma, Peshawn Bread

Jamie Okuma

Courtesy of Tira Howard

With a dedicated fan club of collectors, Okuma knows that if she wanted to live in LA or New York, she could expand her brand beyond the one-woman operation it is now. But she prefers to keep it small and special.

“The internet has made it so that you don’t have to move, and it’s great that my kids can see that they can do whatever they want from anywhere,” said the designer, who lists pieces for sale on her website as she make them.

What all runway designers have in common, however, is respect for the earth and the value of community, a sustainable approach through materials, local or small batch production and contained growth. All of this is incredibly timely as part of the larger fashion industry discussion, even if native designers still struggle to be seen.

Quannah Chasinghorse, Lauren Good day

Quannah Chasinghorse, wears Lauren Good Day

Courtesy of Tira Howard

At the weekend market, which attracted more than 150,000 visitors, their stalls were some of the most popular, especially with younger shoppers picking up sundresses, hoodies and scarves.

“Maybe you can’t afford a $30,000 pot, but you can afford a $250 piece of fabric that’s emblazoned with culture,” said Kim Peone, executive director of the Southwestern Association of American Indian Arts, which produces Indian Market and looks for fashion to help secure the next 100 years. “If we don’t pursue the modern space, we will lose a generation.”

Different approaches

On the runway, Dugi debuted his first men’s collection that nodded to gender fluidity with luxury pieces including high-waisted palazzo tuxedo pants, tuxedo shorts, chunky knit sweaters and a hand-painted coat that could have come down a runway anywhere.

Orlando Dugi

Orlando Dugi

Courtesy of Tira Howard

Look closer, however, and one can see the influence of a Dine creation story about two warrior twins given gifts such as lightning and flint armor by the sun to fight monsters on Earth. It informed arrow motifs, a bonnet-like diamond bubble knit pattern on jumpers and the metallic embroidered sun on the back of a coat created in collaboration with Dine painter Ryan Singer.

“We didn’t want it to be so literal and meaningful that it would offend Navajo people if non-Natives use it,” Dugi said, adding that he sources his wool from local sheep farms in New Mexico, uses local spinners and knitters. Starting at $750, all parts are made to order.

In contrast, designer Lauren Good Day showed a modern collection that looks set to explode if sold.

Lauren Good Day, D'Faraoh Woon-A-Tai

D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai wears Lauren Good Day.

Courtesy of Tira Howard

Her colorful bomber jackets, T-shirts and sweatpants, simple sundresses and mini and maxi skirts featured geometric, floral and rainbow stripe prints based on Native band dresses, Plains beads and ledger drawings. Priced from $150 to $225, they will sell well at Urban Outfitters or Free People stores.

“I like to take old pieces, and more traditional work, and turn them into modern clothing,” said Arikara Hidatsa Blackfeet Plains Cree of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota, explaining that while traditional native band dresses are used for ceremonial purposes. , is not OK for non-natives, are her graphic interpretations. “What I make and have for sale on my website and post on social media is for everyone … I keep the originals for myself.”

Taking a multi-generational approach, aspiring fashion designer Melanie Leblanc and her jewelery designer ‘aunt’ Catherine Blackburn, who is of Dene and European ancestry, collaborated on a wearable art collection spectacularly displayed on models in dramatic bear jaws and deer antler head gear.

“It was inspired by our grandmothers, and we incorporated community, allowing other indigenous artists to collaborate with us, including cousins ​​and mothers, to make the show happen,” said Leblanc, who lives in British Colombia. “Catherine wanted to honor the animals and the land, so you see the bear jaw harvested by her husband. Everything has a purpose.”

Catherine Blackburn and Melanie LeBlanc

Catherine Blackburn and Melanie LeBlanc design.

Courtesy of Tira Howard

The road to representation

In terms of being recognized by the larger fashion community, it has been slow, especially in the US

“The representation of the Indigenous art period is on a much larger scale in Canada than it is in the United States,” said Bear Robe, runway show producer.

During Indian Market weekend, Dine designer/retailer Amy Denet Deal opened 4Kinship, which she said is the first indigenous-owned fashion boutique in Santa Fe, showcasing her own sustainable hand-dyed vintage and art clothing launched in 2015, handwoven clothing from Taos-based Indian-Spanish designer Josh Tafoya and more.

“We’ve never had a nomination from the Council of Fashion Designers in 60 years,” said Deal, a Reebok and Puma veteran. “We cannot end the grant until we get more children into fashion. You know we have all the cultural wealth – it bursts out of us. But we have no way into the industry.”

As part of CFDA’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, Executive Director Lisa Smilor traveled to Santa Fe for the weekend’s events, meeting with designers and educators to listen and learn.

“The collections and views are strong, centered around a responsible and sustainable supply chain and strategic sales and distribution,” she said. “Clearly, there are huge opportunities for the industry to work together to create meaningful and impactful support and opportunities to ensure we see greater representation of Indigenous design talent at every step of the proverbial ladder going forward.”

Jamie Okuma, Amber Midthunder

Amber Midthunder wears Jamie Okuma.

Courtesy of Tira Howard

“It would be great,” said Dugi, who showed at Style Fashion Week in New York in 2018. “We’re American and we’re designers, and I don’t know what it is that we’re overlooked and overshadowed… It’s great The CFDA is looking at it, it’s a start. It makes me happy that they can finally see that there’s not just one particular way of Native fashion.”

Also in town were 10 team members from Ralph Lauren, a sponsor of “The Art of Indigenous Fashion” exhibit that opened Friday at the museum at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Acknowledging Native Americans as the source of so much of its inspiration and storytelling, the brand has been present at Indian Market for the past five years as part of its Native American and Indigenous engagement program, meeting talent who might want to work as artists in residence.

The Hollywood opportunity

Lady Gaga’s stylist Nicola Formichetti also attended both nights after stumbling upon the Indian market by chance during a weekend trip while on a break from touring with the pop star. He also reached out to designers via Instagram for meetings.

“I came here to enjoy the nature and the history, and it turned into two magical days meeting the local talents. I feel like there’s something—I believe in energy—there’s something here,” he said, singling out a new Plains Cree designer, Jontay Kahm, whom he met at the museum exhibit, and who was actually inspired by Lady Gaga to come into fashion in the first place.

Kahm, who attended Marist College and is now a senior at IAIA, was accepted by Parsons School of Design but turned it down because there was no scholarship money. His futuristic designs are inspired by nature, Alexander McQueen, Iris van Herpen and Nick Cave’s sound suits.

“He takes inspiration from the culture but takes it somewhere else, and that, to me, is what’s going to make this a destination for fashion,” Formichetti said, pointing out a blue bird dress, made of 2,000 feathers, with a face mask covered in buckles, like “made for Gaga”.

If she wore it, it would be a full-circle moment for Kahm, 26, who sold five pieces for $1,000 to $4,000 each at a pop-up he held at the museum over the weekend. “It would be a triumph for my community, my heritage and my culture,” the designer said.

The blue bird dress is on hold for Gaga.

Dress from Jontay Kahm

Dress from Jontay Kahm.


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