Fashion Heat: The Sartorial Splendor of Native American Clothing Design

- August 20, 2012

"As an unabashed fashion junkie, I was impressed with the attention to detail, color and compliance with tradition..."

I attended The Institute for American Indian Arts (IAIA) fashion presentation celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The event, titled Fashion Heat,  lit up a dreary overcast evening. The designers showing were past and present students at IAIA. Show Coordinator Amber-Dawn Bear Robe orchestrated an intense evening of fashion.  I could have sworn I was in Bryant Park, Paris or Milan.  As an unabashed fashion junkie, I was impressed with the attention to detail, color and compliance with tradition exhibited throughout the show.

The first segment focused on traditional Native dress.  Buckskin-fringed garments embellished with traditional beading, were stunning.  The details of  these garments from the moccasins, belts, and hanging bags showed Native American tradition is still very much alive and certainly actively passed from generation to generation.  These costumes were made to be worn for weddings and other special events in the lives of Native Americans today. 

After a brief interlude featuring a Native American dancers, the show moved into contemporary designers.  I was enthralled at the transition from past to present.  The content glided effortlessly into beautiful couture evening, cocktail and separates.  A sprinkling of junior dressing added some whimsy to the show.   The point of view of these new Native American designers is obviously rooted in their cultural past.  They paid homage to their culture in unique ways.  Intricate and thoughtful use of accessories was one way the cultural traditions were obvious.  Headpieces of feathers, earrings, cuffs and bracelets completed each garment.  The shoes of the models were inspired works of art.  Heels were wrapped in fabric and laced with eyelets or intricately painted and beaded to compliment the garments.

Fashion as been my passion for as long as I can remember.  Maybe it’s because as the younger sister, I got things second hand, or maybe because as an artist color and form turn me all the way on.  This show left me breathless with the possibilities of translating the past into the present.  Culture has a point of view.  Every generation possesses a unique take on what is beautiful and timely when it comes to dressing.  The designers of the IAIA took fabrics of today and effectively translated them into timeless pieces of beauty.  I could have shopped all night! 

The colors were spectacular.  The evening wear was as flowing like a Southwest wind. The reds brought to mind the red rocks of the Piedre Lumbre Valley.  The geometiric patterns painted on very contemporary leather jackets paired with sleek leggings were pieces I could own and wear over and over.  A basic black dress revealed a bodice reflecting Aztec patterns, another a neckpiece that could have adored an ancient Mayan princess.  I have been to and participated in many fashion events and Fashion Heat was one I will not soon forget. All the participating designers were noteworthy and the models were  gorgeous with impeccable hair and makeup.  The City Different never ceases to amaze me. You never know what you will find on a cloudy night in Santa Fe.