Fash­ion­ably em­pow­ered

De­signer Loren Aragon

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

The silk scarf dresses in Loren Aragon’s new Em­pow­er­ment col­lec­tion are daz­zlingly col­or­ful de­par­tures from his pre­vi­ous works in black and white and monochrome. He de­scribed one of the new dresses as “mostly in­spired by color vari­a­tions in the sky” and pointed out graphic-de­sign el­e­ments that, as in many of his works, re­late to Acoma Pue­blo pot­tery. ACONAV, the fash­ion de­signer’s cou­ture brand, re­lates to his Acoma cul­ture and that of his wife Valentina, who is Navajo. She is the com­pany’s op­er­a­tions man­ager. Aragon’s mother, Hilda Pe­dro, is chief seam­stress.

One re­cent af­ter­noon, Pe­dro was busy work­ing on a new pat­tern as her son showed some of his new dress de­signs, sketched on pa­pers on a wall. They were at the School for Ad­vanced Re­search, where he is the 2017 Ron­ald and Su­san Du­bin Fel­low in res­i­dence un­til Aug. 15. He has re­searched Pue­blo de­signs at the

In­dian Arts Re­search Cen­ter archives at SAR to glean in­spi­ra­tion for his lat­est de­signs. He strives for nov­elty. “I’m not a pat­tern guy. I want to make some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­times asym­met­ri­cal. It’s a more artis­tic pre­sen­ta­tion for me. I love un­bal­anc­ing things, but find­ing bal­ance in the de­sign over­all.”

Aragon, who started out as a jew­eler, grew up see­ing his mother and his aunt mak­ing tra­di­tional Acoma gar­ments, but the process didn’t in­ter­est him at all. How­ever, later on, when he was pur­su­ing fash­ion de­sign, he was ap­palled at the hodge­podge of sym­bols in what are called “Pue­blo” or “South­west” prints in re­tail stores. “I wanted to em­pha­size the iden­tity of Acoma de­sign. I was awarded a fel­low­ship at the Wheel­wright Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian, and that helped me ad­vance my jew­elry work and start de­sign­ing my own fab­ric prints.” His en­gi­neer­ing back­ground, in­clud­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in com­puter graph­ics, is serv­ing him well. His iPad is a pri­mary de­sign tool. “Af­ter a while, I had some fabrics printed and put them into some con­tem­po­rary de­signs and a cou­ple of tra­di­tional dresses, and peo­ple loved what they saw.”

Many of his orig­i­nal de­signs re­call tra­di­tional pot­tery iconog­ra­phy, in­clud­ing water, rain­bows, par­rots, and light­ning. He of­ten has gar­ment el­e­ments re­lat­ing to the tra­di­tional Pue­blo red sash and also to the manta, which man­i­fests in his work as “a sin­gle-shoul­dered black sash that hov­ers over the un­der­dress,” he said. “The manta is a com­ing-of-age kind of thing in our cul­ture, sep­a­rat­ing the girls from the women. When it’s worn dur­ing cul­tural prac­tices, it has that kind of sta­tus and it also kind of says, ‘Hey, I’m a sa­cred be­ing. I’m to be re­spected.’ For a lot of these de­signs, we’re mak­ing our own tex­tiles and I’m work­ing with more luxury ma­te­ri­als, silk and leather, and I’m ac­tu­ally in­cor­po­rat­ing my met­al­work.” He showed a dress with metal flo­rets added as per­ma­nent jew­elry adorn­ments.

Aragon won first place in the Adult Con­tem­po­rary class at the 2016 Santa Fe In­dian Mar­ket De­signer Chal­lenge, and ACONAV com­petes in two shows for In­dian Mar­ket this year: the Haute Cou­ture Fash­ion show on Aug. 19 and the Na­tive Amer­i­can Cloth­ing Con­test on Aug. 20. He is also do­ing a fash­ion show in the Rai­l­yard for the We Are the Seeds show. “I’m ac­tu­ally team­ing up with Diné de­signer Jolonzo Gold­tooth. He and I are do­ing two dresses each and we’re go­ing to work with the artists at Seeds to make the gar­ments.”

Dur­ing the in­ter­view, Aragon was wear­ing a T-shirt from his En­chant­ments se­ries. “The in­spi­ra­tion was from all around Acoma Pue­blo, things that are true to our cul­ture, mostly tak­ing our pot­tery de­signs and putting them into a more con­tem­po­rary style,” he said. The new se­ries is Em­pow­er­ment. The Acoma woman is his in­spi­ra­tion, but these gar­ments are not just for Acoma women. “I want to share that whole idea of our ma­tri­ar­chal or ma­tri­lin­eal idea, that the women are the power, they are our givers of life, they’re our ed­u­ca­tors, they’re our nur­tur­ers. And when I make some­thing, that’s what I want the women to feel, that they feel em­pow­ered be­ing in an ACONAV dress.”

Women from the pue­blo helped him get started in the field. “A god­sis­ter of mine got some of her friends to help me model my first T-shirts. That’s how I started out, do­ing ap­parel, just want­ing to see my de­signs on some­thing wear­able. We had at least 20 girls from Acoma who mod­eled for us. It’s a way to give back to my com­mu­nity, es­pe­cially to the women. We want to help en­cour­age and in­spire them.”

— Paul Wei­de­man

WHEN I MAKE SOME­THING, THAT’S WHAT I WANT THE WOMEN TO FEEL, THAT THEY FEEL EM­POW­ERED BE­ING IN AN ACONAV DRESS.

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