April 27, 2015

Buckskin to Bikinis: Interview with Felicia Ramirez-Nicosia

Earlier this month, I had the great opportunity to fly to New York for the opening of a new exhibit focusing on Iroquois wearable art. The exhibit, called Buckskin to Bikinis, is housed at the Iroquois Indian Museum, and I served as a consultant on the show.

I caught up with another consultant, Onandaga fashion designer Felicia Ramirez-Nicosia, and asked her a couple of behind-the-scenes questions about the exhibition, including her background, and her favorite pieces and moments. (We are pictured left, with awesome artist Leah Shenandoah, at the opening of the exhibit.) Scroll down to read our interview.

BB: Felicia! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about the latest exhibit at the Iroquois Indian Museum. Can you tell us more about yourself, and how you came to be a part of the consultant team for Buckskin to Bikinis?

FN: Hi Jessica! Long story short… I am Onondaga, Beaver Clan. My mother was raised on the Seneca Cattaraugus Territory. I am currently a “domestic goddess” (a title I loved, that a friend once used), and every time I use the term I like to think I hear ethereal exaltation in the background! In other words, I am a stay-at-home mother of two girls (a 2 year-old and a 5 year-old), and while I may not necessarily “bring in the bacon,” I keep the household running on a day-to-day basis. I went to school in New York and made it my home for a many years working in various fashion companies such as Aeropostale, Nautica, and Polo Ralph Lauren.

I have family members who have been involved in the Native art world over the years, for example, my uncle Peter Jones is a clay sculptor and potter, his son Mike Jones, and other cousins Buffalo Hyde, and Zenja Hyde, to name a few. Through attending exhibits with my uncle Pete, I have become acquainted with Colette Lemmon, who knew that I had worked in the fashion industry in New York City for several years. She approached my uncle with her idea and pulled me into the project as a consultant.

BB: You also have a jacket in the show – it’s so chic! Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process, how you come up with an idea for a design and how you go about executing it?

FN: Thank you! Many things inspire me. Lots of times I will see something(s) that I like, and I think “wouldn’t it be cool if”…. And that montage of ideas then gets put into my own impression. I find the materials, draw a rough draft sketch, and drape my design in similar weight fabric to make a pattern. Then I sew it in the similar weight fabric to work out any kinks in the pattern. Once that process is done, I cut out the pattern in the actual fabrics (in this case skins) and sew it together. I made the pattern for the sweater knit portion (collar, waist and sleeves) but hired someone to knit the fabric for me. I am learning how to knit but it would have taken me a lifetime to finish! Straddling the zippers are “Rocaille” glass beads worked on an extended beading loom. The colors and shine of the glass really makes it stand out!

BB: All of the pieces in the show are so fabulous; they demonstrate the diversity that exists in contemporary Iroquois fashion and I think they all play an important role in expressing that. If someone told you that you could have one piece in the show to take home and have as your own, which piece would you pick?

FN: Yikes! That’s a hard one, there are so many I would love to have! I loved Bruno Henry’s Black Leather and Suede strapless dress, if only it were my size! I also love Ken Williams' Sponge Bob Moccasins “Instant Injun” for his commentary as a collection piece. But I think I would choose Elizabeth Doxtater’s High Top - High Heeled beaded sneaker boots, “These Boots are made for Falling”! (Pictured above). I love that they represents the Creation Story and I can see myself rockin’ out in those everyday!

BB: I had so much fun at the opening, exploring all the pieces in the show. What are some of your favorite memories working on this exhibit?

FN: The opening reception was the BEST part - to see it all come to fruition! But to have the opportunity to meet and get to know such a set of strong and inspiring women behind the scenes of the project is most rewarding.