Excited whispers echoed throughout the third floor of the McNichols building on March 18th in downtown Denver, accompanied by the reverb of spinning music. Bright spotlights shone down the runway as conversations simmered down and the MC of the night, Joshua Emerson, welcomed the crowd to the seventh annual Native Fashion in the City. A professional comedian, Emerson kept the event lively and playful with some comedy and give-aways, before introducing the host of the fashion show, Kelly Holmes. Holmes reminisced about the trials and tribulations of the past few years, noting those that the community had lost, as well as how much the show has meant to both the designers and models since its inception.
The first designer who showed off their collection was Cynthia Trujillo (Navajo). Trujillo’s brightly colored dresses were often adorned with flower patterns, a particularly memorable dress having cut-outs resembling flowers attached to the dress. An aspect of the pieces which stood out were the accessories, such as the matching handbags or beaded earrings, one model having yarn, and a knitting needle pinned in their hair. Two of the models came out as a pair, one wearing a bridal-style gown with a bouquet of flowers, and the other dressed in formal wear with a gray vest and bowtie, a clear favorite signified by the crowd’s cheers.
Next on the runway was Native Gorilla, a Lakota streetwear brand with a variety of printed t-shirts, sweatshirts, and tank tops. One of the more noticeable designs was the “No More Sisters” print featured on multiple items, referring to the MMIW issue in the Indigenous community. Paired with Native Gorilla was Teton Trade Cloth, a fashion brand made up of members of several Indigenous nations, who offered up some accessories for the show. The brand was worn by many of the youth models that night, quite literally so, as, at the end of their collection, the owners came out with their baby in some of their merchandise, much to the crowd’s enjoyment. In a conversation I had with Lakota Sage, one of the owners of Native Gorilla, he spoke about some of the inspirations behind their work that night: “This is my first baby, the first grandbaby on both sides of the family, and I think it was like a family inspiration this year.” That essence of the family was clearly seen in their collection, their brand catering to people of all ages and body types, providing affordable streetwear clothes for the Indigenous community.
One of the youth models that night, Talon Long, wore both Trujillo’s and Native Gorilla’s pieces. Having been a part of the 2019 show, Long had reflected on the benefits the show had for the community, stating that: “I think it definitely helps get some awareness out there, it lets you see that there are different types of native fashion rather than just the traditional thing.” The crowd was particularly supportive of the youth models like Long, excited to see these newcomers have their time in the spotlight.
Next up was Sage Mountainflower (Pueblo and Navajo), whose collection started off with a bang, beginning with three models wearing matching outfits of casual wear. The rest of her work that night often featured similar black and white patterns running down the sides or center of the pieces. One of the standout pieces was a large blue dress with gold highlights and a matching blue handbag, which stunned the audience. Mountainflower’s work had a fun and vibrant feel to it, one of the models even breaking out into dance at the end of the runway.
After that, the next designer to present their work was Red Berry Woman, a line created by Norma Baker-Flying Horse (Hidatsa, Dakota, and Assiniboine). The collection made great use of brown and white fabrics for the dresses and was often paired with beautiful belts that easily caught the guest’s attention. Many of the pieces had brightly colored patterns around the bottom or running down the center, leading the eye to appreciate the outfits as a whole. In the end, when the designer herself walked out with her models, the crowd was just as excited to see her in her own spectacular outfit, strutting confidently down the runway.
The last designer of the night was Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo), representing the brand ACONAV, also run by Valentina Aragon (Navajo). The primary inspiration behind the pieces in the collection was rain, seen in the blue and gray shades of many of the outfits. This section of the show was accompanied by the sound of pattering rain from the speakers, creating an ambiance for the crowd. Many of the pieces had a modern and daring feel to them, with similar shades and patterns seen across the collection. After the show, Aragon spoke about what they enjoyed from the other designers: “I really loved the beadwork designs. It’s just so exciting to see everyone’s creativity come alive on the runway.”
Overall, the seventh Native Fashion in the City received a warm welcome from the community, providing a space for Indigenous designers and models to present their work in a safe and creative environment. Here’s to many more in the future.