Wednesday night's fashion show hosted by Beyond Buckskin Boutique and ladies of the Presence 4.0, was as much about the audience as it was about the models and the clothes. Roughly 150 people, packed tightly into Ra Industries in downtown Phoenix for the fun we-aren't-taking-ourselves-too-seriously show.
The models were volunteers comprising members of the Native Greek organizations Alpha Pi Omega and Phi Sigma Nu, along with some local well-known artists and scenesters. Street fashion clothing and jewelry, along with some couture items from the Beyond Buckskin Boutique, were presented, and the show was MC'd by the fashionable and articulate Dr. Jessica Metcalfe, founder of the boutique. The ladies of Presence 4.0 gave heartfelt welcomes in English and in Navajo before the show and say they plan to make this collaborative show an annual event.
There was a crowd, to be sure. Folks were spilling into the parking lot, and it took a bit of corralling and encouragement from the hosts to find a suitable spot for everyone. Seating was reserved for elders, and guests filed in to form rows or found a spot to settle in on the floor. Everyone in the largely Native audience whipped out phones and cameras, eager to capture friends modeling and the dynamic ensembles coming down the catwalk to the beats of the music.
About 16 models took to the taped off runway in several rounds to showcase everything from the edgy to the elegant. Standouts were a floor-length green satin gown with beading by JT Willie (Navajo) and a jacket ensemble with spikes by Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone Bannock).
Fun, punkish beaded sunglasses by Candace Halcro (Cree/Metis) and dramatic, pop-style "8-Bit feather fantasy earrings earrings by the Soft Museum, gave a young yet sophisticated spirit to the showcase. Printed T-shirts by Jared Yazzie (Navajo) and Topah Spoonhunter (Paiute/Northern Arapaho) also stood out as easy-to-wear styles. Many Pacific Northwest designs were featured, which Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) noted are especially easy to work into an everyday wardrobe. Kids got in on the action too -- at least three of the models were under 12.
The event served as the official launch of the Presence 4.0 blog, which centers on Native street fashion and Native-made fashions and accessories. The blog, the first of its kind, started in December 2012, and the fashion show acted as its coming-out party. They picked a good week, too -- since nearly everyone who is anyone in Native fashion is in town for the Heard Museum's Indian Fair & Market. The group encouraged photos and social media posts using the hashtag "BBBxP4." The bloggers encouraged attendees to "dress to impress," and after the fashion show, everyone was invited to show off their personal style for possible inclusion in the Presence 4.0 blog. A photographer in a "white room" took photos of the models and the crowd post-show. Sort of a giant take on the photobooth and produced lovely shots that captured the essence of community on display.
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Speaking of community -- I was surprised (and yet not surprised) by the makeup of the audience. A wide range of ages and personal style were in attendance, as was a broad range of media covering the event. However, as a fashion lover in Phoenix, I would have like to have seen some new faces in the audience. I recognized about half of the crowd from previous native fashion events and I was hoping there would be some new faces to be dazzled by the show and to be a part of something so new and ground breaking. The Native community, of artists especially, is tight here in Arizona and sometimes it's easy to feel like everyone knows everyone -- a bit intimidating if you're new. But, if last night's attendance is any indication, at least some guests left the show buzzing about some new names in the Native fashion movement.
After the show guests mingled, waited to have their pictures taken, and shopped at the boutique's pop up corner shop. If you were paying attention you grabbed up a pair of the "copper blueberry earrings" made especially for the Beyond Buckskin Boutique by Nicholas Galanin (Tlingit/Aleut) or a T-shirt by Alano Edzerza (Tahltan). A lot of firsts happened last night. Let's just hope Phoenix is paying attention.