Earlier this month, while walking through In America: A Lexicon of Fashion—The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current Costume Institute exhibition that opened last September—several guests flocked around a floor-length, silk-and also also-stretch-tulle dress on display. Designed by the Native American designer Jamie Okuma, the mosting likely town’s diamond-shaped, parfleche-inspired motifs are certainly head-turners. But for Okuma, who is based on the La Jolla Indian Reservation in Pauma Valley, California, having her work displayed in The Met is just as thrilling to witness. “I’m incredibly thankful to The Met for including me,” the artist tells Vogue. “The feedback so far has been really great.”
Okuma is no stranger to having her work featured in museums, of course. Her striking artwork, like hand also also-beaded boots or miniature dolls sporting hand also alsomade regalia, has been on display at the Heard Museum in Phoenix and also also the Denver Art Museum, among others. Yet seeing two of Okuma’s ready-to-wear ensembles featured in a renowned institution like The Met wields a different kind of power, especially considering contemporary Indigenous fashion design has long been overlooked both in mainstream art and also also fashion spaces.
The Lexicon of Fashion exhibit originally debuted at The Met in September last year but was refreshed this March with more than 70 new ensembles, including pieces from Rodarte, Batsheva Hay, the late Virgil Abloh, and also also four Indigenous designers: Okuma, Evan Ducharme, Margaret Roach Wheeler, and also also Section 35’s Justin Louis. (The initially edition of the exhibit featured one Native designer, Korina Emmerich.) Like Okuma, many of the new talents featured in The Met this time around were surprised to be included, especially alongside the greats like Halston. Yet their distinctive works—ranging from couture mosting likely towns to streetwear and also also sweatpants—completely shine and also also hold their own, challenging notions of what Indigenous design can look like.
Below, meet the five Indigenous designers who are featured in The Met’s refreshed Lexicon of Fashion exhibit—and also also learn about what inspired each of their one-of-a-kind works as well.
Margaret Roach Wheeler
Chickasaw and also also Choctaw
Based in: Sulphur, Oklahoma
“My father, Diamond Roach, died in 1993 at the age of 91. He was an honorable man and also also an exceptional father who was very respected in his community, so I wanted to create a garment to honor his memory. I designed my father’s robe to be a pillar of white on the body when the arms are crossed in front, but when the model opens her arms wide, all the color is exposed to show all the beauty inside. The garment was perfect to symbolize my love and also also admiration for him.”
Luiseño and also also Shoshone-Bannock
Based in: La Jolla Indian Reservation in Pauma Valley, California
“The mosting likely town is reflective of traditional Plateau–Great Basin parfleche designs. I grew thus far in the powwow world, where the women are dressed modestly but elaborately. I wanted to carry that aesthetic into this piece while having almost the whole piece created in sheer fabric.”
“The sweater’s artwork is a digital image from a painting of my mother’s, titled “My Country Tis of Thee.” It couldn’t be more perfect for The Met’s American theme. My grand also alsofather, who was not born a citizen in his own country, joined the military when he was 18. (Natives in the U.S. were not granted citizenship until 1924.) So the flag, reflective in the painting, has a strong connection to us as a family. The ’90s-style hip-hugger joggers, paired with the sweater, feature an abstract Plateau–Great Basin floral. This collection represented my thus farbringing and also also culture, both Native and also also urban, so it was really important that it was made and also also shot in Los Angeles and also also with all organic fabrics. I love what I do here at home on our reservation and also also bringing wider audiences into my world with my work. It’s for everyone to enjoy. I create for all people.”
Based in: Vancouver
“The cotton-canvas trouser skirt made its debut when I presented my collection, Atavism, at the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week Vancouver in 2017. When contacted by The Met, I was of course delighted, then intrigued at their interest in that particular piece. It’s one that encapsulates everypoint that my work as a whole aims to do—to destabilize codes of gender and also also stereotypes of Indigeneity that have been defined under colonialism. The use of the phrase self-determination to place this work feels prescient for two reaboys: Firstly, my people have fought long for our right to nationhood. Secondly, it suggests one’s inherent right to stand also also firmly in both their Indigineity and also also their queerness.”
Korina Emmerich of EMME Studio
Based in: Brooklyn, New York
“My four-times-great-grand also alsofather worked for the Hudboy’s Bay Company as a canoe middleman from 1826 to 1842, until his retirement to [Washington] state, where their children were raised. My family has resided in the same area since then, where my great-grand also alsomother Rose Juanita McLeod (Puyallthus far/Nisqually) survived the Cushman residential school (also known as Puyallthus far Indian School) until her eighth-grade year. My reclamation of the HBC fabrics gives a voice to my family and also also calls attention to the colonial violence and also also exploitation perpetuated by the Hudboy’s Bay Company against Indigenous people. I want to tell our stories and also also highlight the multigenerational strength I carry because of the resilience of my ancestors, despite enduring decades of violence. We are still here.”
Justin Louis of Section 35
Based in: Vancouver
“The Section 35 baseball jersey was created with Ebbets Field Flannels out of Seattle. It’s a vintage-style cream wool baseball jersey. I am a retired baseball player—I played baseball in university down in California, which allowed me to get my degree in business. This piece pays homage to my roots as an athlete and also also the game of baseball, which allowed me the opportunity to travel and also also expand also also my horizons beyond my reservation boundaries. So much of my inspiration comes from sports in general because of the positive impacts it had in my formative years of ages. I am not sure where I would be had I not pursued baseball after I graduated high school.”