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Glasses half full: Polo Ralph Lauren x Naiomi Glasses unveil latest collection

Glasses half full: Polo Ralph Lauren x Naiomi Glasses unveil latest collection

by Melanie Cissone
Special to the Times

PHOENIX – What’s a capsule collection, a “drop,” or an artist residency in the glamorous worlds of design and fashion? Naiomi Glasses knows.

In the first-ever Artist in Residence collaboration with iconic clothier and lifestyle brand Ralph Lauren, 27-year-old Glasses has developed a collection for the fashion house that consists of three seasonal, special-edition product launches.

Glasses half full: Polo Ralph Lauren x Naiomi Glasses unveil latest collection

Courtesy | Ralph Lauren
Skateboarding alongside Native models, Naiomi Glasses showcases her ‘Color in Motion’ from the Ralph Lauren x Naiomi Glasses collection.

Glasses is Hashk’ąą Hadzohi and born for Tł’ááshchí’i. Her maternal grandfather is Áshįįhí, and her paternal grandfather is Tó’aheedlíinii.

Last December, consumers first tasted what can happen when a billion-dollar branding giant wraps an encouraging arm around a rising creative star from the Rock Point Chapter.

Similarly, the second drop of Color in Motion was revealed in late March to critical acclaim among Native and non-Native aficionados alike.

Ralph Lauren has long taken inspiration from handcraft. A southern newspaper fashion editor points to a 1969 Polo by Ralph Lauren collection of men’s suits and writes that some hand-milled textiles are made of “extremely heavy Irish linen so heavy it felt like tweed.” An even deeper appreciation of handwork resulted from an adopted ranching lifestyle for 42 years at the 17,00-acre Double RL Ranch in southwestern Colorado. Ricky, his wife of nearly 60 years, inspired the label’s girl- and guy-next-door fashions, and together, they developed a design sensibility that’s Americana mixed with a refined “Gatsbyesque” style founded on authenticity.

Inaugural residency

Enter Naiomi Glasses. Undertaken in 2021, the inaugural residency for both mentor and mentee is a nod to a time when, in 1969, the former Ralph Lifshitz opened the first-ever boutique within New York City’s Bloomingdale’s, a popular department store. The breakout opportunities for Lauren and Glasses mirror each other.

The Bronx-born sports-loving necktie-turned-fashion designer was offered the chance to let loose his creativity and cultivate his burgeoning brand at Bloomingdale’s at approximately the same age and stage in his career as Naiomi was when she was invited to collaborate creatively with his billion-dollar enterprise. The Ralph Lauren Polo look emerged from the about-face the Vietnam-era vet took as the 1960s beatnik and hippie style waned. Lauren’s widely publicized debut demonstrated that traditional is traditional, but classic is timeless. Likewise, the centuries-old heritage craft of storytelling through symbols in the Diné weaving tradition becomes fresh and modern when viewed from the forward-looking lens of an enthusiastic Naiomi. Both honor traditions are ahead of their time.

In combination, celebrating the seventh-generation weaver’s designs signals Ralph Lauren’s intentionality to collaborate with the people and communities that have historically inspired its fashion and lifestyle creations. “Heritage and tradition are at the center of everything I love — things that encompass both beauty and utility, that are uncontrived and personal and are passed down for generations,” said Ralph Lauren, the executive chairman and chief creative officer of Ralph Lauren Corporation.

“Popularized by Donna Karan in the 1980s,” according to The Business of Fashion, “A capsule collection is essentially a condensed version of a designer’s vision, often a limited edition, which transcends seasons and trends by being functional….”

A “drop,” on the other hand is a limited release of merchandise that may emanate from a more extensive collection. Deriving from sneaker culture, namely street and skate-wear labels like Supreme, drops have become successful marketing instruments. By proffering a sense of rareness, exclusivity, and scarcity – a get-it-while-you-can mentality – for goods created uniquely for these sorts of launches, drops have given rise to a “collectibles” market.

Love for land, Tsé Nitsaa Deezʼáhí

Glasses reflects on the initial launch in December, “I really focused on my love for my family, my love for the land, and weaving, really showing off that part of my life.” Winnowed from hundreds of designs, the earthy neutral-toned hues of Glasses’ first drop pay homage to the people and place that rose her up. The works revere her late paternal grandmother, who taught all her children to weave, including Naiomi’s father. The soft tones reflect an upbringing in Rock Point or Tsé Nitsaa Deezʼáhí, where Chinle Creek meets the high sandstone walls that surround a population of about 600.

Wallace James Jr. knows too well how effectively a Polo Ralph Lauren x Naiomi Glasses drop impacts her hand-hewn rug sales at Hubble Trading Post. “She still brings rugs in to sell from time to time,” says the trader at the historic outpost in Ganado, Arizona.

Learning alongside másání

“But they don’t last long!” exclaims the weaving expert who learned at the knee of his grandmas. Glasses’ style, he says, is “unique.” The way she integrates color, he suggests, positions her as a contemporary artist but one who also respects the time-honored Diné custom of artisan vending through trading posts. “She maintains modest prices, and the whole family sells rugs and buys turquoise jewelry at Hubble,” he says.

At first, as an interested observer, Glasses watched her grandma spin and card wool sheered from sheep the family raised. “It was kind of like her video game,” her older brother Tyler Glasses, Jr. tells her. She smile-giggles in remembrance; as she grew older, she would say to her nálí, “Hey, let me hop on there for a second,” referring to the loom.

A weaver in his own right, brother Tyler taught Naiomi how to skateboard and was instrumental in shaping his little sister’s weaving skills. Both her brother and father, Tyler Glasses Sr., started Glasses off at age 16 by having her tie off the rugs they were weaving.

Admittedly, Glasses appreciates machine-spun Churro wool for its ease of use. “It makes weaving go faster,” she says. Nonetheless, for special projects, she uses hand-spun, plant-died raw wool for sheep-to-rug finished pieces. It recalls the stockpiled wool her grandmother let her practice with, which was less popular among trading post buyers because of the accompanying raw fleece fiber smell.

“I got to be really playful,” Glasses says, smiling when talking about the March second release of Color in Motion. “It’s an ode to my younger self,” she gushes, “I really enjoyed it, like skateboarding.” The spritely young woman is known as much for her extensive turquoise jewelry collection as she is for skateboarding in traditional garb instead of blue jeans.

‘Color in Motion’

The sporty Color in Motion assortment includes 24 men’s, women’s, and unisex apparel and accessories that feature Glasses’ interpretation of traditional Navajo elements, including four-directional crosses, wedge weave motifs, and bold hues of turquoise, orange, yellow, and red.

Embedded in corporate processes, Glasses offers and receives input on everything from conceptualization to design decisions to sales reviews of launches. She gets to see how well her capsule category sells, which is an unusual level of transparency in a relationship between the fashion house and creator.

A percentage of the purchase price from sales drop two of the collection is designated to benefit Phoenix Children’s Foundation Patient and Family Assistance Funds for Native American Families and the Center for Cleft & Craniofacial Care. This is important to Glasses, who benefited from the foundation’s support of her life-changing bilateral cleft palate repair as an infant.

Working closely with a team that supports the Lauren x Glasses vision and its integration into an important American fashion line, she looks forward to the third and final launch in August or September. She recalls another sentimental touchpoint in the designer’s young journey: “Ranching and rodeo have always been an important part of our family’s life.” Father and son Tylers would compete, and the whole family traveled along. She hints at the predominance of indigo and other blue colors centered on the next incarnation of her unique capsule collection.

A graduate of the Creative Futures Collective, which refers to itself as the opportunity ecosystem, the four-year-old organization has made it its mission “to unearth and empower the next generation of creative leaders from disenfranchised or system-impacted communities.” The forces of the universe were at play when CFC co-founder Jai Al-Attas mentioned Naiomi’s aspirations to a friend at Ralph Lauren who, serendipitously, told Al-Attas that the label had been trying to reach Glasses.

Naiomi Glasses demonstrates the purity of her motives in everything she does. She weaves, designs, creates, laughs, and plays from the heart. Although confidential, the financial reward from the alignment with the New York Stock Exchange-listed Ralph Lauren Corporation (NYSE: RL) is likely significant. Undoubtedly, it’s put her on a path leading to other ventures.

Should anyone doubt a younger Naiomi’s once dreamy vision of partnering with the company that made the outfits her mother dressed her in as a child, be assured that none of her meteoric rise would have come to fruition if it wasn’t for her passion, love of family, devotion to her earthly roots, and an audacious personality. Being true to all that resides at her core comes naturally, which is as attractive to anyone who sees her glow as the beautiful works she produces.

“It’s just a glimpse of what I envision,” Glasses says referring to her desire to continue for the foreseeable future on the fashion design track that draws on her Ralph Lauren capsule triptych as a backdrop for what lay ahead. In the meantime, she wants to be more experimental with her weaving, considering what it takes to design structured handbags and hatching plans to meet and support fellow Native artisans at this year’s Santa Fe Indian Market.


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