April 2, 2010

Designer Profile | Walter Barney

"Barney's designs could be slinky dance costumes, or they could be the most punk-rock outfits to wear to a black-tie event, like his skirts that looked like piles of lace leaves to organic tops of netting. Barney, who went to the Art Institute of Chicago, said his clothes are designed in layers. "I deal with organics and I try to create a foundation," he said." - Dan Mayfield for the Albuquerque Journal

Navajo fashion designer Walter Barney currently lives in Santa Fe. His designs have been shown during the Santa Fe Design Weekend (2008) and at the Art as Fashion shows (2009 and 2010).

He writes:

My life came with a lot of twist and turns that formed into fashion design something I would not have guessed. My father and I share the name Walter Barney. Walter senior died in 2009 one late summer night. He and his wife Lorraine created me 8 or 9 months before "Woodstock" so I was born during the summer of love. My parents lived away from the community just far enough not to disturb neighbors. My father farmed and mom sewed quilts on a mechanical foot pedal sewing machine. The radio would play country music all day long and a Navajo DJ would announce upcoming events. I played cars on floor while mom sewed. Mom would tell me to keep my hands away from the spinning metal wheel or there will be fingers on the floor. This is probably the first exposure to fashion design.

In school, rock music was what everyone listened to. A rock shirt was the first clothing I altered to look cool. The sleeves were cut off to make a style wife-beater shirt. I played high school sports like football and wresting. I made 2 touchdowns the whole time.

The military was a choice I made so I could get a job later in life. In 3 years I gained a title of surgical technologist. I use surgical stitching in some of my garments as a finish technique. My next stop was Albuquerque, N.M. The punk rock scene was alive and this time was another exposure to fashion. The Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe was my next stop. Two years of art school went by and I saw Natives act as art superstars.

One art school is not enough so I signed on to the School of Art Institute of Chicago. This is where fashion classes began for me. Two and a half years of training under my belt with real designers as teachers. My style came together here for the first time and I was not surprise to see sexy sci-fi punk looking garments. My feeling is the clothing I create is endless.

My style is not noticeably ‘Native’ - it lacks fringe and buckskin. I refuse to put myself in that category of Native designers simply because the range of creativity is limited. If America was never taken over Native fashion may have advanced in another direction, but who knows.

I tend to create from a character-driven style. These styles are inspired by Sci-fi movies and illustrated magazines. Drawing came natural and soon characters I developed had texture and flow. It was no surprise when fabric took the place of pencil lead. The drawing and sewing go hand in hand to communicate my vision.

My style consists of squiggles, bold, thin, full and complex lines that can be seen in my clothes. The most fun is figuring out a plan to piece fabric together to get a finished piece. I use color in many ways like contrast to subtle blends. I see color as a tool to separate lines on a style and keep lines flowing. My style is what I feel and the thoughts I put on paper for people to view is "Walty". "Walty" is my fashion name and logo. In the end, many generations ahead of me funneled their thoughts to me and I am here to figure out why I love to design.

(All images courtesy of Walter Barney)