Native American fashion is as diverse as its designers, comprising the high fashion of runway-ready haute couture as well as the everyday style of Nike sneakers. Native Fashion Now, a traveling exhibition currently on view at the Portland Art Museum, celebrates more than a half-century of these artists and their work.
From Orlando Dugi’s luxe red dress and feathered cape that grace the entrance of the exhibition to the casual T-shirts of Jared Yazzie (emblazoned with the words "Native Americans discovered Columbus"), Native Fashion Now showcases the considerable talent and adaptability of these designers.
Other featured works include a dress by Patricia Michaels, winner of "Project Runway," a pair of beaded Christian Louboutin boots designed by Jamie Okuma and Oregon artist Wendy Red Star's fringed Motor Oil Buffalo Dress, on loan from the Portland Art Museum. All told, nearly 100 works from 71 different Native American artists are on display.
Spanning the 1950s to today, Native Fashion Now encapsulates what Dr. Jessica Metcalfe calls "an indigenous spring moment."
"It's an exciting and rejuvenating creative cultural explosion moment," Metcalfe writes on her fashion website Beyond Buckskin. "New artists are constantly emerging while more established designers are reaching greater heights."
There are works by three non-Native American designers in the exhibition as well, meant to speak to the ongoing issues of cultural appreciation and appropriation of Native American fashion. By displaying a totem pole dress from white designer Isaac Mizrahi, for example, curator Karen Kramer hopes viewers will be prompted to "discuss such a complex issue, because totem poles are very specific to Northwest family history and while Isaac doesn't replicate them completely, he riffs on them."
Native Fashion Now is on view at the Portland Art Museum through Sept. 4.