New York Fashion Week ended yesterday. But downtown, one show is opening. The Native Fashion Now exhibit is a collection of contemporary work by 67 young Native American designers. It hopes to show native work today, but without the stereotypes that some hold about eagle feathers, buckskin, and native dress. Pia Peterson has more.
PETERSON: At the entrance to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, school groups are filing through the doors, tourists are huddled together pointing fingers at brochures and museum maps.
PETERSON: Inside the main hall, a well-dressed woman in a long black coat walks through the doorway into a brand new show at the museum. It’s opening day for the Native Fashion Now exhibit, and Siuin (SHUNE like Dune) Kelly is curious. She’s one of the first patrons. The room is quiet, so she whispers her first impressions.
KELLY: It’s an accident I turned up here, and it’s blowing my mind.
PETERSON: Kelly is a textiles designer who works on furnishings for high end brands like Chanel. Like many here today, she didn’t really know what to expect.
PETERSON: Inside the exhibit, music plays from a video by young Apache filmmaker Dustin Craig. There silk parasols hanging from the tall ceiling, a beautiful hand-painted silk dress, high heeled boots with intricate beadwork. Jared Yazzie designs his own line of clothing – OXDX. He stands next to two of his shirts in the exhibit. He introduces himself in Navajo.
YAZZIE: [Navajo] I spoke Navajo, Dine, so whenever you speak to someone in Navajo you have to say who you are, and then you have to say your four clans because that describes who you are.
PETERSON: Yazzie grew up on Navajo Nation, a semi-autonomous Native American territory in northern Arizona and New Mexico. He’s wearing one of own his designs. It’s a black t-shirt, with a distorted portrait of the Cleveland Indians logo in the style of the punk band the Misfits, with the words “Mis-Rep,” for misrepresentation, underneath the ghoulish face. He says he doesn’t appreciate when Native American images are reproduced by non-natives, on clothing, or as sports mascots.
YAZZIE: All of which doesn’t represent me, or represent anybody, really. It’s fake. And to me it’s, to me it’s hurtful.
PETERSON: Brands like Victoria’s Secret, Proenza Schouler, and Urban Outfitters have all come under fire in recent years for misusing Native designs. In the same time period, there has been only a small handful of Native American designers representing themselves on major runways like New York Fashion Week. Now, Yazzie has made it to New York. But when will designers like him make it out of the museum and onto the Fashion Week runway? Museum spokesperson Joshua Voda says opening the exhibit during fashion week was intentional, and not just because it lures fashion insiders from all over the world to the city.
VODA: It also puts this work that is so amazing in the exhibition amongst that environment where it really belongs. The designers are phenomenal, and they really should be recognized at a time like NYFW.
PETERSON: If you ask Jared Yazzie if he could see his designs on the runway one day, he says yeah, because he dreams big.
Pia Peterson, Columbia Radio News.