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Museum of Indian Arts and Culture sponsoring Native fashion exhibit

SANTA FE, N.M. – The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe will sponsor a unique exhibit that accentuates the elegance of contemporary Native fashion design.

“Native Couture II: Innovation and Style” will kick off Aug. 28 with breakfast with the artist featuring Cody Sanderson, award-winning metal smith and jeweler, followed by a tour of the exhibit with him and co-curator Director Shelby Tisdale.


Photo Courtesy Museum of Indian Arts and Culture This turquoise, sterling silver, and plastic hair comb situates 20th century Native fashion between the tradition and the modern. Created around 1950 by an unidentified Navajo artist, they were donated to the museum by Dr. Phyllis Harroun.

The show, which opens to the public Aug. 30, highlights the evolution of Native fashion beginning with 19th century handmade clothing and accessories that influenced the development of “Santa Fe Style.”

The show includes works from a number of today’s top Native designers. All the garments and jewelry have been created within the past 50 years using the timeless traditions and techniques of handcrafted, authentic, wearable Native American art.

This exhibit follows the exciting trend set by Native designers Dorothy Grant, Patricia Michaels and Virgil Ortiz, who showed their work during New York Fashion Week this past spring. This was the mainstream fashion world’s first acknowledgment of the crossover appeal of the personalized and highly embellished Native style.

With art and designs firmly rooted in traditional cultures, and form and function inspired by contemporary lifestyles, Native designers are not only crossing boundaries, but challenging stereotypes and cultural misconceptions. Native American fashion sense often straddles two worlds, blending traditional and modern styles.

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The exhibit features a diverse and fascinating array of work by a number of Native stylists, including the lines of Grant (Haida) and Ortiz (Cochiti); a blend of old and new concepts by Penny Singer, Diné; beaded high tops by Teri Greeves, Kiowa; pueblo motifs on metallic vinyl bags by Pilar Agoyo, Ohkay Owingeh/Cochiti/Santo Domingo; and quirky accessories such as Wayne Nez Gaussoin’s, Diné, license plate bracelet.

The “Santa Fe Style,” with its flair for southwest ethnic diversity, is another focus of the exhibition. Renowned contemporary designer Ralph Lauren brought the style to international attention in the past by creating a fusion of styles mixing bits of Native American, Hispanic and Western influences into his collection.


Photo courtesy Jennifer Esperanza Patricia Michaels’ “Pueblo Chanel” is a soft and flowing design that is perfect for work or evening attire in silk organza, silk, velvet and satin.

The traditional roots and contemporary evolution of Santa Fe style is most easily identified in the historic invention of bow guards, leather bands worn by warriors crafted for the practical purpose of protecting the wrist from the snap of the bowstring as the arrow was released. The guards eventually became silver cuffs also known as “ketohs.” Decorated with ornate silverwork, they were worn by men as jewelry during dances, ceremonies and on special occasions.

Today’s mainstream acceptance builds on the history of Native couturiers who have designed clothing for regional and national markets since the 1940s.

The creation of Indian wearable art for the mainstream marketplace was then a reaffirmation of tribal identity in the face of increasing pressures for acculturation. This was one of many endeavors undertaken to communicate the continued existence and distinct values of Native America to the world at large.

A movement toward a greater awareness of cultural traditions became more pronounced in the 1960s. In 1962, the Institute of American Indian Arts opened in Santa Fe for Native American students to learn traditional art and design. This institution provided the cultural foundation that led to contemporary experimentation. Many of today’s best known Native designers were trained under this system at IAIA.

The museum, at 710 Camino Lejo in Santa Fe, is open Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information call (505) 476-1140 or (505) 476-1211.