August 2, 2010

Designer Profile | Patricia Michaels

Last week, I posted a lot on issues of appropriation in the fashion industry. This week I'm refocusing to get back to highlighting Native fashion designers.

Although I think it is incredibly important to discuss issues that arise in the general fashion industry that affect Native fashion (i.e. diversity, misappropriation, the 'model' body image, concepts of beauty, stereotypes, gender issues, eco-chic, ethnic-chic, historical perspectives, etc), I still want this space to be primarily a forum for displaying fashion created by Native designers. I want this space to be one spot where people (both Native and non-Native) can come to see what's all out there. And there's a lot.

To get back into the flow, I'm featuring one of the most prolific Native designers out there today, Patricia Michaels from Taos Pueblo.

Designer Profile | Patricia Michaels
Patricia Michaels is a style-maker at the forefront of modern fashion design. She states that she begins each garment with a ‘blank canvas.’ Indeed the majority of her designs begin with plain white fabric that she paints–having learned the art of textile design and silkscreen at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. Michaels then creates her clothing from these one-of-a-kind fabrics.

Of her creative process Michaels says, “I don’t own traditional culture. I am just fortunate to participate. The pure enjoyment and love I feel through this participation, and my many travels create the form, the shapes, cuts, textures and imagery of my designs.”

Michaels incorporates her unique vision into each of her garments using textures that challenge modern conventional forms. Her work blends her traditional Pueblo heritage with inspiration drawn from the ever-changing world around her, including elements from the natural environment, such as feathers, and aspects from city life, such as buildings. Michaels’ work is elegant, fluid, sophisticated, and organic. Recently she has ventured into using eco-friendly materials such as soy-based and bamboo fabrics.

She stated,

“My ideas of “green” are really blue. My ideas come from water. When there are obstacles, I go back to my given name, Water Lily, and things become clear. It is not so different from how, as Pueblo people, we can look back to a protective past. We consider our source, Blue Lake. Our water remains pure and clean.

Water is wild—it deepens canyon and creates rapids. But it is gentle, too, at the mercy of wherever it goes, forced to pick up toxins and pesticides. Water is not life giving; it is life itself.

I want my clothing designs to be timeless and fluid, reflecting the nature of water. I want them to bring the past into the present, and into the future. I try to respect fabric so that it moves and breathes like water, and I hope my clients can sense this deeper awareness. My latest work reflects nature’s place in urban life, reminding us that nature finds its way everywhere.”

Michaels has worked with the Kellogg Foundation on a cultural and economic exchange project to promote Native American and South African fashion designers and artists. In 2005 she, along with other Native and African designers participated in an international cultural fashion show during Santa Fe's annual Indian Market. In 2007, she again collaborated with South African designers, this time traveling to Johannesburg, where she served as the assistant director for the second cultural exchange show in the Kellogg-sponsored project.

In 2009 and 2010, Michaels showed her work during New York’s Fashion Week. Her garments show us that tradition and modernity can combine to sustain the dynamic and creative cultures of not just Native people, but all people.

Michaels lives and works in Taos, New Mexico where, in her studio, she produces custom tailored avant-garde fashions, high-end limited edition apparel, and ready- to-wear lines for men and women.

To learn more about Patricia Michaels, visit her webpage pmwaterlily, or her site on Artists of Taos, or her profile on Rainmaker Art.

Many of Michaels designs are photographed by Jennifer Esperanza. To se more of Esperanza's work, please visit her website