‘Art of Indigenous Fashion’ showcases Native American designers

Designed by Jamie Okuma. (Courtesy of Tira Howard)

Indigenous designers stitched, beaded and quilled the original haute couture of North America.

These artists hand-tailored and processed every animal part, honoring the creature as they worked.

Fashion can be viewed as the original design language of America, as seen in the use of generic “Indian” design appropriated by the fashion industry.

Today high-profile names such as Jamie Okuma (Luiseño, Shoshone-Bannock, Wailaki), Marcus Amerman (Choctaw) and Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo) have created contemporary designs for more than a decade.

The IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art will showcase these works by more than 20 contemporary designers from the U.S. and Canada in the “Art of Indigenous Fashion.” The exhibition runs from Aug. 19 through Jan. 8, 2023.

The Institute of American Indian Arts served as a training ground Okuma, Amerman and Michaels. It’s no accident the institution was co-founded by fashion designer Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee).

From tradition to the runway, garments made by Indigenous artists can be coded stories related to the designer fused with their own culture. Through fashion, the designers carry their culture knowledge specific to who they are as Indigenous people.

Amber-Dawn Bear Robe, director the Santa Fe Indian Market Indigenous Fashion Show, is guest curator of the exhibition.

The show features California designer Okuma’s contemporary take on ribbon skirts and dresses. An enrolled member of the La Jolla band of Indians, she specializes in one-of-a-kind pieces that are hand-executed exclusively by the artist herself in all details of the process, while also designing ready-to-wear fashions.

Amerman’s work will include a beaded leather jacket with his portrait of the actress Brooke Shields said Bear Robe.

Amerman is known for his pictorial beadwork.

“It’s also the pizazz and fun he brings to his work,” she added.

Known for her hand-painted fabrics, often using algae pigments, Michaels’ work includes the blue-and-mirrored dress she made during “Project Runway.”.

The “Art of Indigenous Fashion” celebrates the creativity and excitement of style, as will its opening on Friday, Aug. 19, from 5-7 p.m.

“I’m encouraging people to come in their finest, to come in their bling, to get outrageous with their style and fashion, and to have fun with this show,” Bear Robe said. Guests at the reception will include designers featured in the exhibition and presenting their work at SWAIA; actors from the AMC television series “Dark Winds;” and in-demand fashion models, including actress, model, and activist Ashley Callingbull (Enoch Cree Nation), who, in 2015, became the first Indigenous person to win the Mrs. Universe pageant.

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