Kaska Dene, Diné win Indian Market clothing contest

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

SANTA FE, N.M., August 22, 2013

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(Times photo - Shondiin Silversmith)

TOP: Navajo fashion designer Orlando Dugi, right, stands with his model who wore dress from his "Desert Sunset" collection. Dugi earned honorable mention at the Santa Fe Indian Market clothing contest over the weekend.

SECOND FROM TOP: Navajo fashion fesigner Michelle Silver, middle, stands with two models that presented two of her Pendleton dress designs over the weekend at the Santa Fe Indian Market clothing contest. The design on the left got Silver a second place ribbon.

I t was neckline and neckline as two Native fashion designers - a Diné and a Dene - faced off for best of show, contemporary, during the Southwest Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) 2013 Santa Fe Indian Market Native American Clothing Contest.

Hundreds of people piled into Santa Fe's downtown plaza on Aug. 18 to see what Native designers had to offer, and with over 16 designs showcased for the contemporary event it seemed the judges had some tough decisions to make.

The first place and best-of-show ribbon was the highest honor of the fashion show, and the suspense was high as judges were asked to break a tie between Navajo fashion designer Michelle Silver and Kaska Dene Native Sho Sho Esquiro.

The designs that went up against one another were "The High Low Pendleton Dress," a simple short, low-cut dress made out of the wheat Pendleton design; and the "Day of the Dead" jacket made out of moose hair, Pendleton material and seal skin.

It took the judges another 10 minutes before finally breaking the tie and awarding best of show and first place to "Day of the Dead," created by Esquiro, 33, of Sho Sho Esquiro Designs out of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

"It was a really magical experience," Esquiro said.

Winning was special for the Canadian since it was only the third year SWAIA has allowed Canadian Natives to enter Indian market.

"It's just rewarding to be acknowledged, and it's kind of a high-five to me because people are understanding my work and appreciating it," Esquiro added.

The jacket features a Day of the Dead skull design in the back, with the moose hair in front.

"I wanted to use traditional fabric in a non-traditional way," Esquiro said, explaining that the technique she used is called moose tufting, a craft almost lost to her tribe: only 12 people know how to do it.

The second dress submitted by Esquiro was a backless green dress with the neck lined in abalone shell.

Esquiro is originally from Ross River Nation in Yukon, Canada and has been a serious fashion designer for the past four years.

Silver said she was thrilled with her second-place ribbon since she felt she was the underdog of the competition.

"It was gutsy for me," said Silver, 36, of MJ Silver Designs out of Phoenix, Ariz., noting it was her first time to enter the Indian Market fashion contest.

She almost backed out of entering and was pleasantly surprised then "The High Low Pendleton Dress" made it to the final judging.

"I love working with Pendleton," Silver said. She used a women's shawl in the Pendleton Wheat design and had it flare in the back, and cut to where it's fitted in the back and front leaving more fullness at the bottom.

When she works with her designs, Silver said she tries her best to let the Pendleton work for itself rather than having it work for her.

"Every woman's body is different so it's challenging," said Silver, adding that when she sizes her dresses she tailors them to the model to avoid a boxy look.

Silver is originally from Wide Ruins, Ariz. and she got her A.A. degree in Fashion Design from Phoenix College in 2004. For the past nine years she been creating her own designs.

A Navajo fashion designer may not have taken home best of show and first place, but Diné claimed all the others.

After a three-way tie for third place the ribbon went to J.T. Willie, 28, of JTW Designs for his "I Love Lucy" pencil dress.

The dress was a blue eight-band fabric with adjacent black velveteen crush material, topped off with a black velveteen shoulder piece adorned in hand-stamped sterling silver discs.

Willie said he drew his inspiration for the dress from old Navajo photos taken during the 1950s and 1960s when he saw how Navajo women adapted to that style very well.

"You see a lot of the looks from past generations coming back in new forms," Willie said.

Willie took home best of show and first place in last year's clothing contest. Even though he didn't continue his reign Willie said he feels good about his placing because top Native designers enter this contest, making it very competitive.

With third place going to Willie, that left the honorable mention for one of the other two designs, and it was given to Orlando Dugi of Original Designs by Orlando Dugi of Santa Fe.

Dugi submitted a dress that was a part of his last season collection called "Desert Sunset," where he drew his inspirations from the vibrant colors seen in Southwestern skies.

The dress was made out of black silk featuring a waistline worked with glass beads, pearls, black fennel, crystals and Mediterranean coral as well as a fringe made out of orange, red and gold rooster feathers.

Dugi said he selected this dress because it was a design not many people had seen. The only place he showed it before was Oklahoma City Fashion Week early this year.

"It was nice to be able to show and people got to see it," Dugi said.

Dugi is originally from Grey Mountain, Ariz. and has been a fashion designer for the past four years.

Another Navajo in the field was Racquel Begay, 35, of Tse' Accessories and Clothing in Albuquerque, N.M. She entered her artificial leather jacket "Forgive and Live" with a silk-threaded, hand-sewn design on the back.

The jacket was double-collared with a quilted design on the back. It was accessorized with gloves.

Begay drew the picture on the back, and she said it was a rendition of what she thought the Peyote and Water Bird would look like.

It's supposed to represent healing, forgiveness and freedom, said Begay, adding that it took her almost a year to complete her jacket because all the details within the design are hand sewn.

Begay is originally from Shiprock, N.M. and has been a designer since she was 14 years old when she started out with accessories like bags and purses. She opened her business in 2007.

Even though Begay didn't place, she was happy she was considered for the top ribbon.

"It's always a great honor to be able to participate," Begay said. This was her ninth year entering the clothing contest and she looks forward to the next one.