February 21, 2010

Maya Stewart Featured in Tulsa World Newspaper

World Correspondent
Published: 2/21/2010 2:27 AM

Editor's Note
: Stacy Pratt is an Oklahoma native now living in New York with her husband, a U.S. Army staff sergeant and Oklahoma native stationed at Fort Drum. Pratt's cousin is Maya Stewart, a Washington, Okla., native who started a line of handbags featured in this year's New York Fashion Week, held last week.

NEW YORK — Bryant Park
is covered with the remains of yesterday's big snow, but a bright sun shines on the famous white tents that have taken over this peaceful oasis in the middle of Manhattan.

music from the runway shows inside them serves as a soundtrack to the action outside: Security guards check invitations and press passes of expensively dressed socialites and journalists in comfortable shoes. Television crews shoot teasers for interviews with models and designers whose names and faces make regular appearances in the biggest fashion magazines.

At the
park's round green tables, men play cards as they probably do every day, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this is Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week — the week when designers unveil their spring collections for the press, department store buyers and anyone else lucky enough to score a coveted invitation to the event's last year at this landmark location.

the white tents have been a symbol of New York Fashion Week since its inception in 1943, shows are held all over Manhattan, including right across the street from the tents in historic Bryant Park Hotel. That's where I caught up with native Oklahoman accessories designer Maya Stewart, creator of the Crazy Snake Rebellion luxury handbag line, on Thursday, day two of the prestigious event.

In the swank
red-leather lobby, she was waiting for news about a box of purses that was supposed to have arrived in New York the day before. It was sent several days ahead of time by overnight mail, but the mid-Atlantic blizzard delayed it. Now, two hours before she is due to make her Fashion Week debut as part of the UNRESERVED Designer Collective installation show in Bryant Park Hotel Loft, the purses are still en route from Oklahoma.

people would panic in this situation, but Stewart — who originally hails from the small town of Washington in central Oklahoma — appears completely unruffled. In an outfit of tall boots, black leggings, and a diaphanous white blouse topped by a sleek black blazer, she fits right in with the rest of the fashionably attired people in the lobby, most of whom are watching a television crew film a piece about Canadian supermodel Coco Rocha. After placing courteous, calm calls to the appropriate authorities, she grabs her things and heads toward the Loft.

"Most of
the bags did make it here," Stewart says. "I really wish I had all of them, but at least I have enough to represent the collection, and the rest should arrive in time for the trunk show tomorrow."

N.M. to N.Y.
Michael Chapman and Gail Bruce, co-founders of UNRESERVED, said this kind of professional confidence
, along with Stewart's innovative, high-quality work, is what convinced them to make her part of the collective's inaugural Fashion Week show.

"We met Maya at the Santa Fe Indian Market, and our PR company was blown away by her talent. We thought she'd be a great person to bring in for our first show," said Chapman. "Her enthusiasm and her talent stood out to us right away."

The Designer Collective is part of the UNRESERVED American Indian Fashion and Art Alliance, an organization formed
to provide internships and other professional opportunities for American Indian designers from all tribes. Eileen Fisher, Daryl Kerrigan, Nanette Lepore, Pamela Love, Nicole Miller, Urban Zen by Donna Karan and Diane von Furstenberg are among those who have agreed to sponsor UNRESERVED interns in the coming year.

Before her involvement with UNRESERVED, Stewart, who lived in Los Angeles for several years before to moving to London for college, did internships with British designer Matthew Williamson and Los Angeles designer C.C. Skye. Bruce calls her a "shining example of what internships can do."

Chapman agrees, and says
that UNRESERVED hopes to help Stewart, and the other three American Indian designers in the show, reach the next level in their careers.

"We are committed to opening up a new frontier, a new realm, for native designers through entry-level internships and other opportunities," he said. "With Maya, we want to introduce her to the press, potential backers and buyers for department stores so people can appreciate and celebrate her talent."

Bruce said Stewart's work also supports the creative goals of UNRESERVED.

"One of our goals is to bring native cultures from the past into the present with an eye to the future," she said.

Stewart, who is finishing a bachelor's degree with honors in accessories design at the London College of Fashion, does that, creating purses and bags that incorporate designs from her Chickasaw/Creek heritage into contemporary forms, using modern luxury materials and traditional techniques.

She is part of the Fife family
of designers whose artwork and fashion designs were recently featuredin a retrospective at the Broken Arrow Historical Society Museum.

"The goal of my collection is to showcase the beauty of American Indian designs using modern materials," Stewart said. "Nothing else is like it, and there are so many designs and techniques that are slowly being lost. I want to help keep them in our native communities and also share them with the wider global community."

All of the bags are varying textures and shades of black, created from fine lambskin. All of them are exquisitely constructed using techniques and designs ranging from Seminole patchwork to a raised image of a Pomo basket pattern. But it was the brilliant cerulean blue that lines the inside of many of the bags that began her inspiration.

"The theme
of this collection is 'astronomy,' and the idea behind it actually began with this amazing blue," she said. "At that time, I was talking a lot to my aunt, Phyllis Fife, who directs the NSU Symposium on the American Indian in Tahlequah, and the theme that year was 'Sun, Moon, Stars,' so the importance of the sky to our native cultures was on my mind. When I saw this color, I knew I wanted to create a collection that would reflect that reverence in a subtle but powerful way."

Great opportunity
For the Loft show, Stewart's purses and a hand-woven sash made of thin nylon cords created by her aunt, artist Sandy
Wilson of Morris, are displayed on two large wooden discs. The natural textures both contrast with and complement the modern lines and ancient patterns of the purses.

For almost five hours, Stewart stands next to her collection answering questions from members of the fashion media, including several respected industry publications, as well as buyers from major department stores and private collectors.

The next
afternoon, Stewart once again arranges her collection — this time with the formerly missing bags included — and prepares for the trunk show and cocktail party that follows. This event is held in the elegant Ramscale Studios Penthouse on the banks of the Hudson River. Featured in several television shows and movies, the 13th-floor penthouse has high ceilings and huge windows that face the Empire State Building on one side and the Statue of Liberty on another.

"I'm so glad to have all the bags here," she says. "I put so much into this collection, and it's gratifying to have so many people come by to see it."

About the event
These days, around 40 fashion weeks are held across the world, from Los Angeles to Johannesburg, but
New York Fashion Week is the oldest of the lot. Begun in 1943 by fashion editor Eleanor Lambert, the event was originally called Press Week. Lambert organized it because Francewas then occupied by Germany, cutting the American fashion press off from its usual source of news.

This first event also heralded a new attention to American designers, who until then were all but ignored in favor of the French. Today, New York Fashion Week is one of the four largest and most important fashion weeks, along with Milan, Paris and London.

This year marks the UNRESERVED Alliance’s first show at New York Fashion Week. In addition to showcasingup-and-coming Native American designers Maya Stewart, Victoria and Dylan Poblano, Maria Samora and Patricia Michaels, this year’s show marks the beginning of the organization’s fashion internship program.

For more information on the UNRESERVED Alliance internship program, visit unreservedalliance.org.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/scene/article.aspx?subjectid=43&articleid=20100221