Designer Loren Aragon
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.