Indigenous fashion celebrated at Santa Fe Indian Market

An Indigenous model walks the runway at the Santa Fe Indian Market Gala Aug. 19. for designer Rebecca Baker-Grenier’s collection. (Photo/Kalle Benallie, ICT)

An Indigenous model walks the runway at the Santa Fe Indian Market Gala Aug. 19. for designer Rebecca Baker-Grenier’s collection. (Photo/Kalle Benallie, ICT)

SANTA FE, New Mexico — Five Indigenous designers showed their collections to an eager crowd on Saturday, Aug. 19, in support of Indigenous fashion at the Santa Fe Indian Market Gala.

It was a star-studded night with 2020 Academy Award honoree Wes Studi, Cherokee; Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren; and actor Zahn McClarnon, Hunkpapa, among those attending the show. Actor and musician Gary Farmer, Cayuga from the Six Nations of Grand River, helped with the live auction, and actress Tantoo Cardinal, Métis and Cree, closed out the gala by wearing the final piece for designer Patricia Michaels, Water Clan of Taos Pueblo.

Viviana Vega, Pomo, a first-time attendee at the Santa Fe Indian Market, said there were too many favorites to choose from but she did like Michaels’ collection, saying there were some “very, very beautiful looks that I would definitely see myself in.”

Vega came to the market with the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center as a tribal youth ambassador.

“Indigenous people are so beautiful, and just to show off all our cultures through our fashion is so inspiring,” Vega said.

Nicole Lim, Pomo, who is executive director at the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, said it was nice to see Indigenous fashion celebrated and elevated.

“We’re representing our Indigenous culture through our fashion,” Lim said. “It’s great to see the diversity and community coming together. I just hope that we see more Native artists. We’re seeing it get more mainstream — we are seeing that kind of in Native film and media and I hope we’ll see Native fashion head in that direction.”

The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, which hosts the Indian Market and other events, recently announced the first annual Santa Fe Indigenous Fashion Week in the U.S. to occur in May 2024.

‘Up and coming designers’

Alyssa Willie, Choctaw Nation and Seminole Tribe of Florida, has been coming to the Santa Fe Indian Market for five years and is in her fourth year coming with Native Max, a Native fashion magazine.

Since then, she has seen more and different designers coming to the market.

“It’s refreshing to see some of the newer designers,” Willie said. “I hope Indigenous fashion grows in general. It’s really cool to see these more up and coming designers.”

Willie said she really liked Patricia Michaels and Elias Jade Not-Afraid’s collections.

“It seems like more and more every year is coming out,” Willie said. “I like to dress up and fashion. Also, how we put up contemporary work, contemporary things, bits and pieces that are more modernized and contemporized.”

Kelly Holmes, Cheyenne River Lakota, editor-in-chief and founder of Native Max, said she loved the show. She couldn’t pick a favorite designer of the night.

“Every fashion show I go to, I go with the highest anticipation,” Holmes said. “I’m excited to see what the designers have come up with. Obviously this takes time, energy and effort. I love meeting new designers, models, stylists, photographers. I love making new connections here.”

Holmes said there’s a bond with Native fashion enthusiasts who enjoy wearing Native fashion and art. You can just ask someone what they’re wearing with ease.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that,” Holmes said. “We have to explain who we’re wearing, the significance, the meaning, why we’re wearing something so different from everyone else, etcetera.”

Holmes said more people are now talking about Native fashion. She has been working in Native fashion for 10 years and said she has never seen it grow so much in that time than now.

“I just really enjoy it and also enjoy seeing other fashion productions as well,” she said. “I can just sit back, relax and enjoy fashion for once. This is a pretty cool experience.’”

Other designers who showcased their collections at the gala included:

Elias Jade Not-Afraid, Apsaalooké, who is an award-winning bead artist who designs shoes, beaded earrings, ledger paintings, bracelets, bags and other accessories. He won first place at the 2022 Heard Museum’s art market for his cradleboard, which was purchased by the New York Museum of Art for its permanent collection.

Clara McConnell, or Qaulluq, is Iñupiat Ilitqusiat. She first learned skin and fabric sewing from the generations of women in her family. McConnell combines luxurious materials with Inupiaq pattern designs and motifs.

Patricia Michaels, Water Clan of Taos Pueblo, has been producing her fashion pieces for over 20 years. She finds inspiration from Santa Fe, New Mexico, her tribe and the environment.

Rebecca Baker-Grenier, Kwakiuł, Musgamagw Dzawada’enuwx and Skywxwú7mesh, began creating sewn and beaded regalia at age 11. She started fashion designing in 2021 and has since been apprenticing under Indigenous designer Himikalas Pam Baker.

*Tracey Toulouse, Sagamok Anishnawbek of the North Shores, Lake Huron, is an apparel and craft artisan. Appliqué, bead, quill antler bone, fur and ribbon form her creations.

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