Santa Fe Indian Market Haute Couture Fashion Show
August 18, 2019
Santa Fe Indian Market, Santa Fe
From the moment Shandien LaRance (Hopi) dances out onto the runway, threading her legs into and out of and through her five hoops, the sixth annual Indian Market Haute Couture Fashion Show feels as much a ceremony as a runway show. This isn’t to say that the show, curated by Amber-Dawn Bear Robe, isn’t centered on fashion. Featuring ten collections, from the electric designs of duo Decontie & Brown to Margaret Roach Wheeler’s mythic headdresses and hoods to the floral motifs and loose, modest styles of Delina White, fashion is most certainly at the forefront. And there’s a story here. As LaRance links three hoops together to form a sphere, raised up like a model of the Earth and then pulled apart—as she spreads all five hoops across her arms like wings—she invokes the theme of this year’s Indian Market: Rise + Remember: Honoring the Resilience of Native Women.
The story begins with survival. #wearestillhere is the baseline. Catherine Blackburn’s New Age Warriors stroll down the runway in platform sneakers and striped athletic socks, from anklets to thigh-highs. Her designs challenge the notion of the Native American as a figure isolated from modernity. Her warriors/models wear tops with beaded shoulder armor and spandex miniskirts; beaded headdresses with blue hair; purple- and black-tinted goggles. Their headpieces read “Chief” and “MVP.” The designs blend influences from her Dene culture with contemporary urban style and a dash of Star Trek.
Almost all the designs are by women. There’s Sho Sho Esquiro’s camouflage jumpsuit. Lesley Hampton’s white feathered and sequined suit. Pamela Baker’s sleek embroidered capes. Shy Natives’ lingerie.
Then there’s Korina Emmerich’s Anadromous, a collection sewn from upcycled menswear and recycled blankets gifted by Indigenous women. One woman steps out in a red- and white-striped button-up dress with a black and red wool coat. The next wears a loose-fitting dress of plaid patchwork under a coat with gorgeous tribal patterns. #whywewearred is a campaign to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women, and the designer’s use of red in this collection highlights her allegiance to that movement. Another model sports a black leather jacket covered with Coast Salish form lines of human hands, painted in white and red and casting a protective aura over the woman who wears it. The term “anadromous” describes fish, like the salmon from Emmerich’s native Coast Salish Territory, who swim upriver to spawn in freshwater. She means to draw a parallel between the symbolism of salmon—abundance, fertility, prosperity, and renewal—and that of women. When the designer walks to the head of the line of models, all wearing boots, she leads them in a silent raising of fists. Her shirt reads “Rematriate, resist, rise.”
Patricia Michaels’s collection at first seems to depart from the intensity of this narrative. The Taos Pueblo designer’s hand-painted silks shimmer over the shoulders of her models, one of whom (to the delight of the audience) walks a dog down the runway. Then the lightness, the sense of the everyday, gives way to the red of bloodshed. Red Willow Harmony performs a haunting lullaby for Native women who have been murdered or disappeared. Two models carry net bundles down the runway. The singers wear traditional dress; the models are in red silk, crowned with recycled paper. One by one, they empty their bundles, piling papier-mâché moccasins in front of the cameras. Some of the moccasins are sole-less, indicating the lack of closure experienced by the families of missing women whose cases have been let go cold.
If every ceremony is a prayer, this one is for justice in responding to these cases—and for recognition of the diverse range and talent of the Native designers who walk among us.