Photography: Gown by designer Orlando Dugi/Photo by Jason S. Ordaz/Courtesy of Santa Fe Indian Market

Two stars of August’s Indian Market Fashion Show give us a behind-the-scenes preview.

The Big Picture From Fashion Show Producer Amber-Dawn Bear Robe

First, her impressive bio: Amber-Dawn Bear Robe (Blackfoot) from Siksika Nation in Alberta, Canada, is visiting faculty in the Museum Studies and Cinematic Arts departments at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe. The latest of her curatorial projects include organizing the annual fashion show for the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts and curating an exhibition for The Tweed Museum in Duluth, Minnesota, titled Blood Memoirs: Exploring Individuality, Memory, and Culture through Portraiture. Previously the director/curator of Urban Shaman: Contemporary Aboriginal Art, the largest Aboriginal artist-run center in North America, she earned master’s degrees in American Indian studies and art history from the University of Arizona.

C&I spoke with Bear Robe as she was looking forward to the SWAIA Fashion Show during Indian Market in Santa Fe in August.

Cowboys & Indians: What is your role with the SWAIA fashion show?
Amber-Dawn Bear Robe: My “title” is fashion show producer, but I wear many hats! I work with the designers, organize models for the designers to select from; I arrange the DJ, the guest list, the runway, hair and makeup, and other details. Hosting the event is also part of my role. I also organize freeze modeling events for private SWAIA receptions. I am usually dealing with around 70 to 80 models and six to eight designers. SWAIA is a not-for-profit organization, meaning a small to no budget. I am always looking for more donors to the fashion show.

C&I: What will this year’s show consist of?
Bear Robe: This will be the first year the fashion show will be held indoors, inside the Santa Fe Convention Center. There will be two components to the show: ready-to-wear and an haute couture segment divided by a “surprise” act. Last year the show opened with a voguing dancer; the year before Nakota La Rance opened the show with contemporary hoop dancing.

The fashion show will consist of three haute couture designers and three ready-to-wear designers, representing indigenous nations from Canada and the United States. The show is always high-energy, overflowing with people, a display of unique and exquisite fashion and beautiful models.

Celeste Worl (Tinglit) has been the deejay for every SWAIA fashion show. The event draws so many people and is a crazy-busy but fun and exciting time for me! There might be an appearance by Miss Alaska, Alyssa London.

C&I: What are you especially looking forward to seeing?
Bear Robe: Seeing the new fashion lines of the designers is the most exciting component! Seeing their new work! I also look forward to the community of friends and people who come to see the event. Organizing the event is like organizing a massive party. I get to see so many people I have not seen since last market, meet new friends, and we are all gathered at one exciting show.

C&I: Who are some of the most exciting indigenous designers working in fashion right now?
Bear Robe: There are so many in the public eye, especially with the exhibition Native Fashion Now showing at the National Museum of the American Indian, organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. To name a few: Sho Sho Esquiro, Bethany Yellowtail, Orlando Dugi, Jamie Okuma, and, of course, Patricia Michaels. There are also artists who use textiles, or have a fashion component in their work, that is really exciting — for example, Wendy Red Star and Marie Hupfield.

C&I: What’s particularly memorable about some of their work?
Bear Robe: All the designers I have worked with have memorable work. I can think of the dentalium “wedding” dress by Jamie Okuma, or the extravagant beadwork and display of Orlando Dugi. Words cannot describe. [Seeing is so much better than describing these] “wow” moments.

C&I: How is indigenous fashion both referencing tradition and breaking new ground?
Bear Robe: Indigenous fashion has always been breaking new ground, but now people, media, and art museums are paying attention. Non-Native designers and artists have been “borrowing” (appropriating) from indigenous artists since the 1950s. Native artists and designers may literally or symbolically reference their own cultural heritage in their work.

The wonderful thing is there are no rules, no such thing as “Traditional” art with a capital T — that is a concept made to control Indigenous art and people. Culture, traditions, art, and fashion are always changing to reflect the individual, the surroundings, and the present time. Culture is living and breathing, not stagnant. That is the wonderful aspect about Indigenous fashion and I am pleased the new direction of SWAIA recognizes this.

C&I: How do you suggest visitors make the most of seeing the Indian Market?
Bear Robe: My favorite way of experiencing the market is when the models are walking down the runway. But for a visitor, I would suggest taking your time to walk and visit all the booths. Market is huge, so you need to take time. Meet the artists and soak everything in. Visitors are surrounded by visual stimuli, performances, art, and a massive amount of people visiting from Canada and the United States. Wear comfortable shoes and bring water.

A great place to eat is the Coyote Cantina, one of [my] favorite places. But there is also the food fair that has many options, including the ever-so-famous Indian tacos and fry bread. Tickets for the fashion show can be purchased from the SWAIA website; standing room is free. Another great event, if you are wanting to see more Native fashion, is the Native American Clothing Contest held Sunday, August 20, at the main-stage plaza. This event includes both traditional and contemporary.

Fashions From the Elegant Edge by Orlando Dugi

Originally from Grey Mountain, Arizona, Orlando Dugi (Navajo) grew up watching his grandmother and father doing beadwork. Soon he was doing his own and dreaming of the elegant life in fashion centers like New York, Paris, and Rome, where the high fashion reminded him of the regalia of tribal ceremonial events.

Dugi’s eveningwear and accessories utilize a single bead stitch technique employing the smallest beads. His work is synonymous with cutting-edge adornment, luxuriously employing silks, crocodile leather, crystals, feathers, velvet, gold, and gems with floral motifs and bird and animal imagery.

C&I caught up with Dugi as he was getting ready for the SWAIA Fashion Show at Indian Market in Santa Fe in August.

Photography: Gown by designer Jamie Okuma/Courtesy of Santa Fe Indian Market

Cowboys & Indians: How did you get involved showing at Indian Market?
Orlando Dugi: In 2010, Santa Fe Indian Market was my third art show. My partner, Ken Williams, encouraged me to apply to the art markets. He’d been a part of the art shows for several years when I met him and after a couple of years I decided to apply. That first year I entered my first dress I ever designed in the contemporary clothing competition.

C&I: You’ve shown at New York Fashion Week. How does showing at Indian Market compare with showing in New York?
Dugi: Showing at Style New York Fashion Week was great. In New York we are showing to a much broader and more mainstream audience. I don’t think that anything compares to NYFW, but SWAIA Fashion Show is in its infancy and it has gained a lot of recognition and is a highly anticipated event of Indian Market. We are striving to make it better each year.

C&I: You’ve been influenced by your own indigenous background and also by New York and international high fashion. How do you describe your influences?
Dugi: I am influenced by everything and anything. It’s my life and my point of view that make my work what it is, and lots of the time I just want to make something beautiful.

C&I: What will you be showing at this year’s Indian Market?
Dugi: This year I will be showing a collection I designed for my final in collections class at Santa Fe Community College. The capsule collection is 10 garments inspired by a flower garden. If you can imagine walking through a garden in the evening and everything has fresh dew drops that sparkle in the moonlight. There are a lot of flowers, beads, and crystals, and some sculptural pieces.

C&I: What are you particularly excited about showing and what’s the backstory of the piece(s)?
Dugi: I have a few pieces that are sculptural. I saw a picture of a purple tulip and one of the pieces I named the “tulip dress” is shaped like sort of like a tulip, but kind of like a martini glass, too. But a couple other garments have a similar sculptural form that you will see. A lot of the garments must be custom-dyed.

C&I: What’s the best way for the visitor to experience fashion at Indian Market?
Dugi: That’s easy: Go to the fashion show on Saturday and go see the clothing competition on Sunday. I think most of the designers have booths and you should make it a point to see them all. But first, put all that you think you know about Native American fashion out of your mind and be open. We are alive and here to show you our interpretations.

C&I: What’s next for you?
Dugi: Right now, I am pursuing my associate’s degree at Santa Fe Community College and I plan to go on to a university to pursue a BFA. I have two schools in mind and a third one just in case. Things could change, but for now that is the plan.

For more on the Indian Market, pick up the August/September 2017 issue on newsstands next week.

Tickets for the fashion show can be purchased from the SWAIA website.