January 26, 2013

Michaels's design in Project Runway

Jessica Metcalf reviews Patricia Michaels's first appearance in Project Runway in her Beyond Buckskin blog:

Patricia Michaels--Project Runway Top Contender

By Jessica R. MetcalfFor example, for the first competition, designers were challenged to create a garment that shows their personalities and is inspired by a view of New York City (they must also incorporate input from the rest of the designers on their teams--a new challenge added to Season 11). Michaels immediately takes to painting her fabric.

Other designers look at her with question--possibly since most purchase their fabric with patterns already inscribed, and they don't think to take their designs one step further and actually 'create' the fabric patterns themselves. One designer states that Michaels' fabric looks like a student craft project, while Emily (who gets voted off) remarks that Michaels shouldn't be painting since the designers have limited time (meanwhile, it's time that becomes Emily's worst enemy).

Yet, when it came down to judging, Michaels' shift dress was in the top 3--a major coup for us Indians on our couches watching from our tubes (or laptops). Here was a strong Native woman who is connected to her community and has sacrificed a great deal to pursue her dreams of working in the fashion industry. She is in the top 3 for the first competition, AND her design was modern with not one shred of Native American stereotypical mumbo jumbo to rely on for kiss ass points.

This last point is important for me to note and discuss, because sometimes people lead us to believe that we are only included in certain programs for the sake of diversity, and not because of legitimate talent or skill. This can cause a person to second guess themselves or doubt their abilities. When we get to that point, we feel obligated to play the 'Indian role' and out comes the cheap feathers, tan leather, and old lady turquoise to live up to the expectations. But it is so incredibly important to push past that, and to know that you are pushing past it, to accept the challenge, and to do it in a respectful and good way (because, hey, feathers, leather, and turquoise can be rather fabulous if done right!). We have seen Michaels use these items in a good way: she wore beautiful turquoise jewelry throughout the episode, and brought garments to the casting audition that featured painted feather patterns. Indeed, even this shift dress was made using gorgeous white leather! Michaels doesn't resort to stereotypes, and represents Indian Country well.

I appreciate Michaels' work because much of it is concept-based, environment-based, or story-based--which are some of the core entities of Native American creativity.

For her Episode 1 dress, Michaels explains, "I'm creating the 'New York window cityscape' look," and she achieves this look by handpainting partial squares using a silver grey paint and cutting slits into the leather dress.

The judges loved the fabric manipulation and appreciated the artistic qualities brought forth. They also applauded the cut slits because they gave the dress a tactile quality.
A Q&A with Michaels conducted while watching the episode:

Live From the 'Project Runway' Premiere With Patricia Michaels

By Alex JacobsWere there any disadvantages?

There is that challenge that they don’t quite understand who you are and questioning your characteristics as a Native American. If I said something in Tewa, they thought maybe I was doing witchcraft or voodoo. They felt a bit threatened and maybe insecure. They didn’t know our culture and went right to the stereotype. They may have also expected the stereotype to be produced and they didn’t know that I knew how to work with other materials. As far as being from Santa Fe, my Mom opened a gallery the night before I was born, she was dancing in her buckskins. I was born into this, I went to the Institute of American Indian Arts. It’s no disadvantage to be from Santa Fe.

In fashion, anybody who’s intelligent knows it’s always supposed to change. They’re looking and waiting for that change. When they saw that my stuff was a whole different new take, they were enthusiastic and excited. They saw Native American Design be something they never expected to see.

Any big surprises?

Yeah, I cried a lot. And I was constantly educating. They didn’t expect me to be so well traveled, knowledgeable, sophisticated. So I guess they were more surprised than me.
Project Runway premier at Legends Santa Fe: Patricia Michaels shines (Photos)

Comment:  My mini-review of Michaels's design:

I'd say its shape is bland and uninteresting, but the pattern makes up for that. It evokes the Manhattan skyline, which was part of the assignment. But it also evokes the spires of places like Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelley on the Navajo rez. And the prints are reminiscent of the ancient handprints made by "Anasazi" artists on rock walls.

As for the shape, how about a sky-blue or turquoise-blue undergarment to accentuate the beige dress? That would really make the dress pop as well as evoke the Southwest's sand/sky color scheme.

Anyway, it's a fine accomplishment for a spur-of-the-moment design. If there was a prize for best use of one's cultural background, Michaels might win it. As it is, her design probably deserves to be in the top 3.

For more on the subject, see Taos Designer in Project Runway.

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