In the full-length documentary that was born out of a 10-minute short, Indigenous filmmaker Nathaniel Fuentes (Santa Clara Pueblo), an IAIA alumnus and owner of He Kha Productions, chronicles the life and legacy of Lloyd Henri “Kiva” New, an Oklahoma-born artist of Cherokee ancestry, who revolutionized Indigenous fashion by fusing traditional Native artistry with contemporary design. His profound contribution to the industry earned him the title of “the father of contemporary Native fashion.”
The film itself is a mixed-media work of art that juxtaposes interviews and voice-overs with archival imagery and animation intermixed to a complementary soundtrack by Shawn Patterson. From his humble beginnings in 1916, Oklahoma, to serving in the Navy during World War II to co-founding the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in 1962, the film captures every aspect of New’s incredible journey as an artist and educator.
The highlight of the film, of course, is New’s 20-year career as a successful fashion designer and entrepreneur in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he founded the iconic “Kiva”’ brand of Kiva bags, leather accessories, and silk-screened fashions for men and women. In the 1950s, his designs were showcased on international stages, including the Atlantic City International Fashion Show, and featured in Vogue and Life Magazine. His Kiva Craft Center off Scottsdale’s Fifth Avenue opened in 1956 and was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2022.
Following the screening, which took place at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, attendees were treated to a Q&A with Fuentes, associate producer Ryan Flahive, and local historian Joan Fudala. “He was a genius of marketing,” proclaimed Fudala. “He truly put Scottsdale on the map.”
Despite his popularity in the southwest, New’s story remains under the radar and is left out of the history books. This omission was the driving force for Fuentes: “His story needed to be told, and after I did some research, I found out his story hadn’t been told, and so, I enlisted Ryan [Flahive] to take this ride with me.” Flahive not only co-produced the film but is also featured in the film as an archivist for IAIA.
One cannot simply talk about fashion without seeing some fashion. After the premiere, VIP ticket holders were shuttled over to Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West for a reception, silent auction, and fashion showcase featuring emerging Native designers Choke Cherry Creek and Sky Eagle Collection, along with veteran designer Dorothy Grant. The fashion revue was emceed by co-producer Lori Tapahonso.
From his personal collection, archivist Robert Black provided the event with a 10-piece showcase of original Lloyd Kiva New designs that were displayed on mannequins behind a wall of stanchions for the attendees to admire and examine up close.
Designer Angela Howe-Parrish (Apsaalooke/Amskapi Piikani) opened the show with two of her latest Choke Cherry Creek collections. The Apsaalooke collection featured ready-to-wear bodycons and separates with traditional iconography in shades of soft blues, purple, white, and pink. Her Blackfeet collection featured bold, black, and red ready-to-wear dresses and separates that emulated traditional ribbon skirts and elk tooth-adorned regalia. “My mother is a fashion designer who admired Kiva New’s work. Intergenerationally, she passed on this skill of fashion design to me, and that is how I am connected to all of this,” said Howe-Parrish.
Up next, designer Dorothy Grant (Haida), whose career spans 30-plus years and who was a student of Kiva New, showcased a mixture of silk dresses, jumpsuits, scarves, and hats featuring her intricate and ornate Northwest Coast prints. “We are the original designers. We were making fashion long before there was even the word ‘fashion,’” Grant said with a wink.
To close out the show, Santa Fe-based designer Dante Biss-Grayson (Osage) of Sky Eagle Collection began his presentation with a political homage to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons epidemic. Four models, cloaked in oversized capes and featuring the iconic MMIW handprint, were spray-painted over by Biss-Grayson with the words “No More” to emphasize the need to protect Native relatives at all costs. His presentation continued with a collection of maxi, cocktail, and caftan dresses that exemplified the Southwestern style. “Like New, I am a veteran. I see today’s fashion designers as the new warriors to carry on his legacy but in their own unique way,” said Biss-Grayson.
To sum up the night, Dorothy Grant said it best: “This film needs to be shown in all Native American universities across the land. They [the youth] need to know his story. They need to know why he is the O.G. of Native fashion.”
To learn more about the film, visit www.kivanewfilm.com.