Ready to Wear

Na­tive Fash­ion Now

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Jen­nifer Levin

mong the fi­nal­ists in the 11th sea­son of t he pop­u­lar re­al­ity show Pro­ject Run­way is Pa­tri­cia Michaels, a fash­ion de­signer from Taos Pue­blo. She had al­ready be­come lo­cally known two years be­fore that sea­son be­gan air­ing, when mod­els, dressed in her de­signs and car­ry­ing para­sols she made, pa­raded through the 2011 In­dian Mar­ket and made a strik­ing im­pres­sion. Her first chal­lenge on the na­tional stage of the Life­time net­work was to make a gar­ment in­spired by New York City. Michaels cre­ated the “Cityscape” dress — hand-painted white leather squares that re­sem­ble a blurry ur­ban sky­line and silk that ap­pears al­most sculpted.

“I was go­ing over the Brook­lyn Bridge and I looked up, and Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe’s paint­ings came to mind, the ones that she did that look up at the sky­scrapers, with the clouds at the top,” Michaels told Pasatiempo. “And then I thought of Agnes Martin. Both of them came to Taos. Agnes Martin died here. I knew her; I used to visit with her and see her stu­dio. She did th­ese min­i­mal­ist grid pat­terns. So I took the cor­ner of a win­dow of the sky­scraper, and did a stag­gered off-grid pat­tern, and made it per­sonal to me.”

“Cityscape” is the first plate in­cluded in the cat­a­log for Na­tive Fash­ion Now (Del­monico Books/ Pres­tel, 2015), an ex­hi­bi­tion of North Amer­i­can In­dian style run­ning through March 6 at the Pe­abody Es­sex Mu­seum in Salem, Mas­sachusetts. It’s the first large-scale trav­el­ing ex­hi­bi­tion of its kind, cu­rated by Karen Kramer, the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor of Na­tive Amer­i­can art and cul­ture. In 2016 and 2017, the ex­hi­bi­tion trav­els to the Port­land Art Mu­seum in Port­land, Ore­gon; the Philbrook Mu­seum of Art in Tulsa, Ok­la­homa; and the Smithsonian In­sti­tu­tion’s Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian in New York.

“Cul­tural knowl­edge and per­sonal life ex­pe­ri­ences are im­por­tant sources of cre­ativ­ity — but they are not the only ones,” Kramer writes in the in­tro­duc­tory es­say. “In­spi­ra­tion can come from any num­ber of dis­parate sources. To­day’s Na­tive fash­ion de­sign­ers draw from their per­sonal and cul­tural his­to­ries, but also from the world around them. What makes their cre­ations ‘Na­tive,’ or ‘au­then­tic,’ is not nec­es­sar­ily the use of tra­di­tional mo­tifs or ma­te­ri­als; it’s the de­signer’s artis­tic agency, cul­tural back­ground, and cre­ative am­bi­tion.”

Na­tive Fash­ion Now com­prises four sec­tions: Path­break­ers, Re­vis­i­tors, Ac­ti­va­tors, and Provo­ca­teurs. Many de­sign­ers are in­cluded in or ref­er­enced in more than one sec­tion, but the most his­tor­i­cal de­sign­ers are in the first group, which in­cludes Michaels as well as one of her men­tors, the grand­fa­ther of con­tem­po­rary Na­tive f ash­ion de­sign, Lloyd Kiva New (Chero­kee). Path­break­ers push be­yond clichéd ex­pec­ta­tions of buck­skin fringe and feath­ers to make cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories that ap­peal to a broad cross- sec­tion of con­sumers. New founded Kiva Stu­dio in Scotts­dale in 1946, and was the first art di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts in Santa Fe. He sold his lines in Man­hat­tan and Los An­ge­les bou­tiques and through the up­scale depart­ment store Neiman Mar­cus. Frankie Welch (Chero­kee), a friend of New’s, dressed the Wash­ing­ton elite and was a fa­vorite of Lady Bird John­son and Betty Ford. In 1966 she fa­mously de­signed the “Chero­kee

Al­pha­bet” scarf on com­mis­sion from the wife of then-Sec­re­tary of State Dean Rusk, who gave the lim­ited-edi­tion scarves to vis­it­ing dig­ni­taries.

Path­breaker Vir­gil Or­tiz (Co­chití Pue­blo) was a ce­ramic artist un­til Donna Karan met him at In­dian Mar­ket and in­vited him to in­tern with her. In 2003, he launched his own line of edgy sports­wear, In­di­gene. He is also in­cluded among the Provo­ca­teurs. As Kramer writes, Or­tiz’s cloth­ing de­signs “of­ten seem to take their cues from the soft yet sub­stan­tial mal­leabil­ity of clay.” An­other Path­breaker, Santa Fe res­i­dent Or­lando Dugi (Diné), creates vi­brantly col­ored and em­bel­lished sheer cou­ture dresses — the same line that was re­cently high­lighted at the Santa Fe Street Fash­ion Show at La Fonda.

De­sign­ers in the Re­vis­i­tors group re­fash­ion and up­cy­cle tra­di­tional mo­tifs and styles for use within their com­mu­nity for cer­e­mo­nial pur­poses as well as for out­side mar­kets. Bethany Yel­low­tail (Ap­sáalooke [Crow]/ North­ern Cheyenne) uti­lizes tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing elk teeth, to adorn Ital­ian-made lace in her award-win­ning “Old Time Flo­ral Elk Tooth Dress,” from her 2014 col­lec­tion. “The dress is a knock­out — el­e­gant, so­phis­ti­cated, and dev­as­tat­ingly sexy,” Kramer writes. “Bal­anc­ing color, tex­ture, and an in­cred­i­ble range of fab­ri­ca­tion tech­niques, it em­bod­ies Yel­low­tail’s cre­ative vi­sion and world­view — and shows what amaz­ing things can hap­pen when the past merges with the present.” Re­vis­i­tors take in­spi­ra­tion from his­tor­i­cal fash­ion out­side of Na­tive com­mu­ni­ties as well, such as the para­sol, a 19th- cen­tury Euro­pean ac­ces­sory that Plains In­di­ans adopted and em­bel­lished upon. Teri Greeves (Kiowa) uses pic­to­rial bead­work on her “In­dian Pa­rade Um­brella” that shows con­tem­po­rary Na­tive peo­ple in sym­bol­i­cally im­por­tant rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Crow com­mu­nity events.

Also fea­tured as a Re­vis­i­tor is the non- Na­tive Amer­i­can de­signer Isaac Mizrahi and his 1991 “Totem Pole” dress, the in­spi­ra­tion for which comes from the totem poles of the Northwest coast. While not all Na­tive de­sign­ers con­sider Mizrahi’s dress a par­tic­u­larly good in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a totem pole, cat­a­log con­trib­u­tor Jay Calderín also notes that not all Na­tive peo­ple con­sider totem poles to be sa­cred ob­jects. And though Mizrahi used totem poles as in­spi­ra­tion, he didn’t di­rectly recre­ate them. Tak­ing cues from iden­ti­fi­ably Na­tive Amer­i­can color schemes, pat­terns, or shapes is dif­fer­ent from ac­tu­ally steal­ing from an­other cul­ture, a prac­tice called cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion. Na­tive Fash­ion Now is care­ful with this dis­tinc­tion, as ap­pro­pri­a­tion of Na­tive cul­ture in main­stream Amer­i­can fash­ion has be­come a hot topic of de­bate in re­cent years.

Jes­sica R. Met­calfe (Tur­tle Moun­tain Chippewa), who holds a Ph.D. in Amer­i­can In­dian Stud­ies from the Univer­sity of Ari­zona, is the founder of Be­yond Buck­skin, a blog and on­line bou­tique for Na­tive fash­ion. She was a con­sul­tant for the Na­tive Fash­ion Now ex­hi­bi­tion and wrote many of the im­age de­scrip­tions for the cat­a­log. She of­ten writes about cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, which she and other schol­ars de­fine as the unau­tho­rized use of el­e­ments of an op­pressed cul­ture by a dom­i­nant cul­ture in cul­tur­ally in­ap­pro­pri­ate ways, which in­cludes turn­ing a profit. Though cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion hap­pens ev­ery day and is es­pe­cially ram­pant around Hal­loween, when white peo­ple of­ten don feather headdresses and other

What I de­sign is the part of Na­tive Amer­ica that em­braces na­ture. — Pa­tri­cia Michaels

Na­tive “cos­tumes,” one of the best-known ex­am­ples is cur­rently be­ing lit­i­gated in fed­eral court. The Navajo Na­tion is su­ing the re­tailer Ur­ban Out­fit­ters for la­bel­ing jack­ets, un­der­wear, and flasks with a South­west­ern­style de­sign as “Navajo.” Ob­vi­ously, Navajo is not a catch-all term for ev­ery Na­tive Amer­i­can tribe, nor is it a de­scrip­tor that’s in the pub­lic do­main for gen­eral use, even if the de­sign in ques­tion in­cludes el­e­ments of tra­di­tional Navajo weav­ings.

“Ap­pro­pri­a­tion isn’t a line in the sand. It’s a gray zone. The line is con­stantly mov­ing, and we can’t re­ally nail it down,” Met­calfe told “But we can be bet­ter de­sign­ers. We can think about other peo­ple in­stead of steal­ing de­signs and prof­it­ing off them — by peo­ple who have no con­nec­tion to Na­tive peo­ple and have no de­sire to make a pos­i­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Na­tive cul­ture, ei­ther. I think it’s a topic that we have to talk about.”

The best way to avoid is­sues of cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion is to buy from Na­tive de­sign­ers, but it isn’t just non-Na­tive de­sign­ers who should be sen­si­tive to the specifics of their in­spi­ra­tion when it comes to Na­tive cul­ture. For in­stance, Michaels is not al­lowed by cul­tural prac­tice to take some­thing sa­cred from a Taos Pue­blo cer­e­mony and use it in her de­signs. “I can’t turn that into com­merce,” she said. “I know what I feel dur­ing the cer­e­monies, so I can draw from that, and then I’m not of­fend­ing any­one or do­ing any­thing taboo.” The con­tent of cer­e­monies doesn’t be­long to any one per­son, she said. “It be­longs to the spirit world. What I de­sign is the part of Na­tive Amer­ica that em­braces na­ture. In the past, we were wrong­fully de­picted as savages be­cause we talk to the trees or we pray at the wa­ter. That’s our re­li­gion. So­ci­ety has caught up with us and no longer are we savages — but we’re not mys­ti­cal. We’re just try­ing to be at peace with our en­vi­ron­ment.” De­sign­ers re­ferred to as Ac­ti­va­tors in Na­tive Fash­ion

dwell in the world of street fash­ion, which takes many of its cues from hip-hop and graf­fiti cul­ture, and can be quite political. One of the most well­known ex­am­ples is Jared Yazzie’s (Diné) “Na­tive Amer­i­cans Dis­cov­ered Colum­bus” T-shirt. Pho­tos of peo­ple wear­ing it pop up all over so­cial me­dia ev­ery Oc­to­ber, when the United States cel­e­brates the 1492 “dis­cov­ery” of Amer­ica by Christo­pher Colum­bus. An­other fa­mous T- shirt in this sec­tion is “Ceci n’est pas un con­cil­i­a­teur (This is not a peace­maker)” by Dustin Martin (Diné), which fea­tures an im­age of a sin­gle ac­tion re­volver nick­named the “Peace­maker,” that was used by Custer’s 7th Cavalry dur­ing the Great Sioux War of 1876. In a com­pletely dif­fer­ent vein are the fu­tur­is­tic, punk-rock looks by Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Ban­nock). Plate 43 in the cat­a­log shows a pink jacket made of holo­graphic Ital­ian lamb­skin paired with black leather pants pat­terned with cut-outs, and a half-moon-shaped yel­low leather purse adorned by spikes.

Fash­ions by the fourth cat­e­gory of de­sign­ers, Provo­ca­teurs, are more con­cep­tual art t han wear­able cloth­ing. Like the Ac­ti­va­tors, Provo­ca­teurs of­ten ad­dress political themes in their gar­ments and ac­ces­sories, but the ap­proach is less di­rect, cloaked in lay­ers of sym­bol­ism and his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence. Wendy Red Star (Ap­sáalooke), a seam­stress, ex­plored the in­ter­sec­tion of reser­va­tion life and the out­side world in a 2013 in­stal­la­tion with Ter­rance Houle (Blood), Sikah­poyíí, bishée, baleií­taash­tee (Mo­tor oil, Buf­falo, Dress), for the Port­land Art Mu­seum. An ex­trav­a­gant black leather fringed dress stands be­fore inky sil­hou­ettes of buf­falo, call­ing at­ten­tion to the ex­ploita­tion of Na­tive lands for nat­u­ral re­sources.

Michaels also ap­pears in the nar­ra­tive about Provo­ca­teurs with her “Cityscape” dress that was first fea­tured among the Path­break­ers. It is fit­ting that

Na­tive Fash­ion Now comes full cir­cle with Michaels, who be­gan de­sign­ing in the 1980s, first at the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts, and then at the School of the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago. She comes from a fam­ily of pow­wow dancers and was raised by a sin­gle mother in Taos and Santa Fe.“I at­tended Cristo Rey Academy, so I grew up partly on Canyon Road,” she said. “I had a re­ally beau­ti­ful, tri­cul­tural life.” She de­scribed vis­it­ing the home of her Span­ish friends from school, and at­tend­ing gallery open­ings pop­u­lated by wealthy An­g­los. “I went to my first open­ing when I was eight years old, and it was for T.C. Cannon. I saw th­ese beau­ti­ful paint­ings, and all th­ese women draped in di­a­monds and turquoise and gold. And art col­lec­tors ev­ery­where. And in the middle of all this was T.C. Cannon. I’d never seen a Na­tive Amer­i­can in such a con­tem­po­rary set­ting.” Her re­al­iza­tion of how in­trigued out­siders were by Na­tive cul­ture is part of what led her to be­come a fash­ion de­signer.

“If I can give some­thing back to the world, to ev­ery­body, as a de­signer, then I’m re­ally liv­ing my life, who I am,” she said. “I’m not lim­ited to any one arena of art and cul­ture. I’m a de­signer and I hap­pen to be Na­tive, but I love all the cul­tures. I love go­ing to pow­wows, and to the Santa Fe Opera, and to Catholic mass and hear­ing the ladies sing in Span­ish. I love the bis­co­chi­tos and the faroli­tos at Christ­mas. I love all of it.”

“Na­tive Fash­ion Now” is on ex­hibit at the Pe­abody Es­sex Mu­seum in Salem, Mas­sachusetts, through March 6. The ex­hi­bi­tion cat­a­log, “Na­tive Fash­ion Now: North Amer­i­can In­dian Style,” by Karen Kramer, was pub­lished by Del­monico Books/Pres­tel last Novem­ber.

All im­ages cour­tesyc Pe­abody Es ssex Mu­seum

Top to bot­tom, Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene/Cree):

Wile Wile Wile dress, “Day of the Dead” col­lec­tion, 2013, seal, beaver tail, carp, beads, silk rayon, and rooster feath­ers; skull and tulle fas­ci­na­tor by Do­minique Hanke for Sho Sho Esquiro, photo Thosh Collins; Alano Edz­erza ( Tahltan): Chilkat tu­nic, 2013, cot­ton, photo Thosh Collins; Pa­tri­cia Michaels ( Taos Pue­blo): Cityscape dress, “Pro­jec­tect Run­way, Sea ason 11” Col­lec­tion, 2012, leather, pai nt, and silk, co ur­tesy Kathryn Ro ssi Below, Lloy yd Kiva New (Chero okee):

Kiva dress, 1950s,1 screen-prin nted cot­ton and metal, cour­tesy Fa ash­ion by Robert BlackB with Doreen n Picerne Op­po­site p age, an in­stal­la­tion view of

Na­tive Fash ion Now

Teri Greeves (Kiowa): In­dian Pa­rade Um­brella, 1999, brain tanned deer hide, glass beads, abalone shell, Bisbee turquoise, cloth, brass and nickel studs, In­dian bead nick­els, and an­tique um­brella frame, cour­tesy Gil­bert Wald­man; right, David Gaus­soin and Wayne Nez Gaus­soin (Diné (Navajo)/Pi­curis Pue­blo): Post­mod­ern Boa, 2009, stain­less steel, ster­ling sil­ver, enamel paint, and feath­ers, cour­tesy the de­sign­ers

Pat Pruitt (La­guna Pue­blo) and Chris Pruitt (La­guna Pue­blo/Chir­ic­ahua Apache): Belt buckle, 2012, stain­less steel, sil­ver, Te­flon, turquoise, and co­ral

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