The Fine Art of High Fashion at Santa Fe Indian Market

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Every year in August, thousands of visitors arrive in Santa Fe for the annual Santa Fe Indian Market, produced by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), the largest juried Indian arts market in the world.  Santa Fe hotels fill up to capacity and the small city begins to buzz with Native American arts and cultural events, that include film, fashion, live music and performing arts. This year the Santa Fe Indian Market will be held on August 18-19, 2018.

Design by Rose B. Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo)

The Indian Market, established in 1922, was originally created as a venue to preserve and showcase the extraordinary Native American heritage, art and culture of the Southwest; and, where visitors and collectors could browse, appreciate, and purchase the treasured arts and crafts.  At its foundation were the traditional Native American artists. These artists, along with many of their descendants, remain revered and sought after by collectors for their authentic handmade pottery, basketry, jewelry, painting, sculpture, carvings, clothing and accessories.

Design by Orlando Dugi (Navajo)

As the Market has evolved over the last 97 years, contemporary elements and programs have emerged, reflective of modern society, creating a fine arts festival feel as much as a market.  Nevertheless, the cornerstones of Native American art, whether traditional or contemporary, include timeless designs, craftsmanship and artistry that have been passed down through generations, and often find their roots in cultural history, storytelling, and the natural world.  The event is an unparalleled tourism draw for Santa Fe and the region, yet it is this foundation of the Market that transcends its more commercial aspects. Visitors know they are experiencing something very unique and special, authentic Native American culture.

Design by Jamie Okuma (Shoshone-Bannock/Luiseño)

Within this larger context, two Market events that revolve around Native American clothing and attire are highly anticipated every year; the time-honored Native American Clothing Contest, where contestants model their finest traditional attire and regalia, and the contemporary Indian Market Haute Couture Fashion Show, which showcases cutting-edge collections of some of Native America’s most talented and sought-after fashion designers.

Design by Dorothy Grant (Haida)

As with the Market itself that features the work of more than 200 federally recognized tribes, the Haute Couture Fashion Show designers represent a broad spectrum Native American heritage, which has influenced their path of learning, creating, design, and emergence into the global high-fashion arena.  Something that all of these clothing artists share is a strong connection to their roots and the community and culture they come from, as well as a desire to express it in their distinctively Native American apparel.

Design by Pamela Baker (Kwakiutl/Squamish)

Whether more classic or contemporary in style, or a combination of both, elaborate accessories and adornments often accompany the clothing designs, such as beaded handbags, intricately decorated headdresses, hand-made jewelry, and hairpieces.

Design by Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo)

The originality and ingenuity of the designs unveiled at the show are breathtaking and beautiful.  From flowing textiles inspired by natural landscapes and elements like water, fish, and flowers, to graphic prints and sleek sculptural designs influenced by ancient Native American symbolism, architecture and pictorials, to incorporating adornments such as feathers, animal skins, bones, and furs, many of the garments are one-of-a-kind works of art.

Design by Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo)

“I feel excited about the Indian Market fashion getting better every year,” says Taos Pueblo designer Patricia Michaels. Michaels is known for her show-stopping “PM Waterlily” Project Runway debut and 2nd place win.  “I always look forward to the diversity that individuals express and know that their hard work with many prayers and thought will finds their place.  I only hope that every aspect of our artistry will always be respected, the old and new.  We live in a world where time-consuming techniques and work ethics that have been replaced by the competitive world of fast consumerism.  We need a balance and this can be done with grace and respect.”

Design by Violet Ahmie (Laguna Pueblo)

The Haute Couture Fashion Show has been curated by its founder Amber-Dawn Bear Robe (Blackfoot/Siksika) since its inception in 2014.  Bear Robe, an Assistant Art History Professor at the acclaimed Institute for Indian Arts in Santa Fe, has a passion for fashion and sharing of culture in this inspiring and entertaining production.  In addition to coordinating the designers, dozens of models, hair and make-up, DJs, light show, and performers, to perfection, Bear Robe herself hosts the event with grand dame-style calm and grace.

Design by Crystal Worl (Tlingit Athabascan)

For those who are fortunate enough to catch this event while attending the Market, prepare to be dazzled by vanguard style and a stunning presentation of wearable art on the runway.  When you enter the Santa Fe Convention Center, where the event is held in a grand ballroom divided by a sleek runway, you will know you’ve entered the world of high fashion in the Southwest, grounded in Native American tradition.  The Show has become a huge attraction and fills up to standing room only with attendees, including celebrities and dignitaries, and a beehive of photographers who want to be the first to capture and share the influential styles.

Design by Jamie Okuma (Shoshone-Bannock/Luiseño)

“Native North American fashion has always been exciting and innovative and people are finally taking notice,” says Bear Robe.  “It’s fantastic! I have been producing the SWAIA fashion shows for five years now and have seen it grow into one of the most popular and anticipated events of the Market.  This year we have an internationally acclaimed jeweler showcasing a new line.  This should be the best fashion show yet.”

Design by Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene)

The Haute Couture Fashion Show will be held on Sunday, August 19. It is a ticketed event and will sell out. General seating is available for $25 per ticket.  New for 2018 a VIP experience has been added. For $100, the VIP All Access Pass includes access to a VIP lounge before the show, front row seating and a vodka reception with designer and model meet and greet after show. The complete schedule of events and link to purchase tickets can be found online.

Design by Maya Stewart Chickasaw/Creek/Choctaw)

If you are ready to plan your trip to Santa Fe for the Indian Market weekend, order the 2018 Santa Fe Travel Guide now. You can also discover more of what Santa Fe has to offer by checking out our Deals and Specials.

  • Fashion Show Producer Amber-Dawn Bear Robe

This blog was written in partnership with TOURISM Santa Fe and Rima Krisst, TOURISM Santa Fe Tribal Liaison. Featured image on blog header is design by Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo).

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