Great Native Designs at the SWAIA Haute Couture Fashion Show

Andi Murphy/A model wears clothing by designer Crystal Worl.

Frances Madeson

Native designers show beautiful designs worn at the SWAIA 96th Indian Market.

Eleven designers and 93 models walked the runway to DJ Celeste Worl’s techno, rock n’ roll and Indigenous soundtrack at the 2017 SWAIA Haute Couture Fashion Show.

“Music opens up our hearts and souls,” DJ Worl told ICMN. “I start with the beat and energy of the people.”

Rose B. Simpson, an IAIA graduate with an MA in Ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design, is a multi-media artist from Santa Clara Pueblo who showcased street fashions on models adorned with head wraps, leather cuffs and aviator glasses. Models strolled the runway some barefoot, with designs that included black leggings, white tops and leather vests inscribed with text messages like “Aware” and “Don’t Give A Fuck.”

Maya Stewart, a graduate of the London College of Fashion of Chickasaw, Creek and Choctaw descent, sent her collection down the runway to the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman, and her high-haired models wore designs with transparent materials, including a pastel striped one shoulder gown featuring side slits to the waist; a long sheer black cape over a mini-dress; and a mylar top with a floor-length tulle skirt over hot pants. There were also contemporary Native men’s designs with a contemporary street edge.

Sho Sho Esquiro’s designs included swirling blue pants, a sea-green sleeveless top and a sleek black cocktail dress trimmed with white repurposed fur sleeves. There was also a halter necked, form-fitting black gown with a veiled cloche and an opened ornate vest filled with silver shimmer. Esquiro is of Kaska Dene, Cree and Scottish heritages, all of which wend their way into her textile designs.

Pamela Baker’s clothes featured plunging backs and lots of shimmer, sumptuous evening gowns, two gossamer wedding dresses, a green lizard textured skirt with a high side slit paired with a gold halter top, and a maxi-skirt matched with a butterfly cape. Her show stopper was a feathered, cropped cape with a roiling, ruffled skirt, both in copper.

“A Kwakiutl copper metal shield represents wealth; the more copper shields your family owns in the Potlach system, the wealthier they are in treasures,” Baker told ICMN. Baker, who is of Kwaguilth/Tlingit/Haida ancestry on her mother’s side and Squamish on her father’s, holds a degree in Fashion Design from Otis College of Art and Design.

The only designer in the show with a degree in mechanical engineering, Loren Aragon of Acoma Pueblo, told ICMN that he wants the women who wear his elegantly structured designs “to feel empowered, to stand out, to rise up to their occasions, and be remembered.”

Drawing from his village’s traditional ceramics, he translates Acoma pottery designs and techniques into couture. A pinch pot for example becomes a white off-the-shoulder party dress made distinctive by its fabric’s pinched texture; a parrot pot inspires tropical colored finery in the form of a dreamy silk tunic. Aragon incorporates metalwork into his fashions, too; his multi-tiered black silk skirted gown with leather corseted bodice is decorated with metallic rings of varying sizes.

Violet Dawn Ahmie of Laguna Pueblo made her SWAIA debut presenting seven party dresses that comprise what she terms “an autobiographical collection” and “an intimate view” of her life so far. Her work emphasizes textured layering—over skirts, hidden pleats, ruffled necklines, sheer sleeves, dramatic cutouts, and scalloped and beaded fabrics.

Ahmie told ICMN that her canvas is primarily “lace and skin” upon which she evokes “moods of love, edgy elegance, strength and softness.” Ahmie draws, cuts and sews everything by hand.

Crystal Worl’s urban summer clothes emphasize body and bold tattoo-like patterning. Crystal Rose Demientieff Worl is Tlingit Athabascan from Raven moiety, Sockeye Clan, from the Raven House. (See title image)

Dorothy Grant, arguably the most experienced and acclaimed designer showing this year, served up elegance with her rich and diverse collection of grownup, dress-up Native chic. Grant is Kaigani Haida of the raven clan from the Brown Bear House of Howkan.

Patricia Michaels of Taos Pueblo showed the largest number of pieces and the most varied as she prepares for her trip to “World Fashion Week, Paris 2017.” Michaels is one of only ten designers to represent the US. It was a veritable parade of billowing butterflies, mylar leggings, long fringed hair pieces, decorative pom-poms and jeweled clasps, emphasizing openness and airiness and only partial closures.

Michaels’ collection was photographer Nate Lemuel of Gallup, NM’s hands down favorite.”The women were coming into the light of things,” he told ICMN at the conclusion of the show. “The colors became increasingly vibrant.”

Orlando Dugi created artful dresses embellished with beadwork, gold thread embroidery, antique crystals and feathers. Dugi’s work received enthusiastic applause.

Jamie Okuma is Luiseño and Shoshone-Bannock, and her fashions borrow from sports and military motifs, her works were also well-received.