Patricia Michaels makes more than masks

Fashion designer reflects on nature, change, family strength

By Lynne Robinson
Posted 6/4/20

Patricia Michaels is not just a Taos Treasure; she achieved worldwide fame as a fashion designer when she was the runner-up on "Project Runway's" Season 11.

Since then Michaels has gone on to win many awards, including one from the Smithsonian Institution. Last year, she was commissioned to participate in "A Seat at the Table" installation at the Edward Kennedy Institute in Massachusetts, where she designed the chair for New Mexico's first Native congresswoman, Deb Haaland.

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Patricia Michaels makes more than masks

Fashion designer reflects on nature, change, family strength

Posted

Patricia Michaels is not just a Taos Treasure; she achieved worldwide fame as a fashion designer when she was the runner-up on "Project Runway's" Season 11.

Since then Michaels has gone on to win many awards, including one from the Smithsonian Institution. Last year, she was commissioned to participate in "A Seat at the Table" installation at the Edward Kennedy Institute in Massachusetts, where she designed the chair for New Mexico's first Native congresswoman, Deb Haaland.

Michaels has long been an activist and advocate for Native women and girls, and has always leveraged her fame to keep the focus on them. Currently the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls has been the subject of her attention. Long featured by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, who produce the Santa Fe Indian Market, last year she used her fashion show to draw support to this cause.

This year, with Indian Market canceled, Michaels has been quarantining in Santa Fe, where she currently lives and works. A couple of weeks ago, her sister's house in Taos, where her mother was staying, caught on fire. Taking it all in stride, Michaels trusts her traditional ways to see her through the stormy weather, and simply "keeps calm and carries on."

A fire recently destroyed the house your sister and mother were living in, here in Taos. How has that impacted you?

It didn't impact me other than that I had already been trying to raise money for my parents home in Santa Fe, I can't reach out to the same people to help my parents now that my siblings have launched a fundraiser.

My mother is safe and being taken care of by my eldest sister, Esther Winters, and Kathy and Leroy are OK for now. Beside the Gofundme, the pueblo will help my sister Kathy. Red Cross is helping all three of them, both in the home and medically.

You've spent lockdown in Santa Fe, after a long period of caring for your parents. How is everyone holding up?

My parents are in Taos where they went after my father got sick, and is now at Taos Living Center. My mother is at the pueblo with my sisters.

My companion, James Duran, and I had moved down to Santa Fe to help my parents because their needs were too many for us to keep driving back and forth to help them. Frank Turley [stepfather] has Parkinson's disease and arthritis, so their lives have changed tremendously. James was a sheriff last year, and then this year with the COVID, we are all separated and it is difficult. Frank is at Taos Living Center, my mom is at the Pueblo and I can't go in, due to the safety measures taken by my people. I don't go anywhere, and I'm as safe as possible, but I don't want to be that person that causes harm onto my people.

I'm in Santa Fe doing my work, while taking care of their home, shop and property while they're in Taos. I drive to their home every other day to make sure everything is OK. They want to come home to Santa Fe, but with the new changes and needs for my father's health care, we would have to provide a handicap-accessible home for him to return to. I have been trying to earn enough to buy them a modular to replace their very old one.

I couldn't afford it by myself, but Frank Turley and a team of his friends are going to start a fundraiser to get them home and keep his blacksmith shop going in Santa Fe. It will become a nonprofit organization, so that the Turley forge will continue to teach blacksmithing, and help blacksmiths who are just starting out with supplies and equipment.

I visited my mother briefly in Taos and she said she couldn't take it anymore. She was not happy being stuck in the village. She said she missed her home in Santa Fe and for the most part she expresses this to me most of the time I talk to her.

I tell her to be patient and it is for the best. That it is hard on all of us because we all are in this same predicament of social distancing but at least she is at her pueblo, and can spend time at her pueblo home where she was born and raised on the second story of the north side. I tell her to drink the fresh river water, and wash her beautiful face and she smiles and cries and says she misses me. I hold back my tears and tell her I love her so much and not to worry, that we will be together soon, and I am safe, as is she.

I also had to pay rent for a home and studio, auto and utility bills. Life in the city is different but it is a place that I have spent many of my childhood years and raised my children, too. Both [children] Margeaux and Mozart are now adults in Europe, Mozart with a master's in film, and Margeaux studying art.

I think there has been too much violence in the world, and I know Mother Earth has just put a stop on everything making sure that things will change for the better, and being safe is the smart thing to do.

We can only help in this situation if we start with ourselves, but whether we do the right thing or not, one thing is for certain that change is here and Mother Earth has always been in charge, and any time someone thinks they have the last word, they will be proven wrong. We are all constantly learning that nothing is for certain, because our world and lives are always changing.

You're involved in a big project right now, can you tell us a bit about it.

Yes, I'm actually working on a couple of big projects right now.

I was asked to be one of the designer's from the "Project Runway" and Making the Cut families that [supermodel] Naomi Campbell has put together, creating masks to benefit several charities. Two of the charities I have chosen are for my children: Relations of the Navajo Nation, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The other recipients were chosen by the producers and Naomi Cambell.

You can read more about it and see the masks at thefacesoffashion.com.

I'm also working on a display for the Harwood Museum for their acknowledgment of the celebration of our 50th-year anniversary for the return of Blue Lake.

The piece is called "Reflexions of My Journeys." I know this piece will highlight how I have always been inspired by nature. She gives me the strength to go on no matter how hard life may be. It will also show how I celebrate her beauty and the honor to have been gifted talent that enables me to have a voice in beauty. I love to explore what light, shape and the unknown worlds of creation look like. All the things that we can't see, but I imagine what they look like from the view of the footsteps taken by my ancestors.

I hope to encourage the youth in the same way I was encouraged; to be proud of who I am and take care of where I come from. I hope that they will continue to have the same experiences I have, because there is no amount of money you can pay for the love of what my elders preserved for us.

I hope this display will show my heartfelt gratitude for every single person who helped make this reality of the return of our sacred lands and Blue Lake. I feel honored and fortunate to be an artist and designer in this exhibition.

How do you think COVID-19 going to change the face of fashion?

Yes, the fashion industry will move forward into a digital world.

Many multimillion dollar stores and fashion houses are closed, and those still open are open to changing how they do business. I think it's brilliant, and it is something that I have asked SWAIA to do forever - and now with no choice other than to change by going virtual.

Eco-friendly fibers are going to be explored at a higher level now, too. So this is all good.

I feel that there is a better chance for designers to be true to who they are now, more than ever before.

I have a lot more Zoom meetings and communications via the internet than ever.

It was something I have always done, due to having clients outside of my 50-mile radius, but to be safe keeping with social distancing, it also saves time, gas and running around from one meeting and event to the next. I was always tied up traveling to make appearances for many clients, fundraisers, art exhibitions, production meetings, not to mention doctor appointments for my parents.

James and I volunteer for many nonprofit organizations as well as family, [so] I had little time to enjoy a book or movie. Now It is amazing to remember how it feels to be me.

I have brainstormed with many organizations on how to move forward to create venues for Native commerce and education including SWAIA, IAIA, Ute Nation, Santa Fe PlayHouse and my new team at Water Lily Designs.

With Faces of Fashion I have designs that are a medium high-end design with my original hand-painted and manipulated textiles, and ready-to-wear, with easy care of machine wash and dry capabilities. I will also be working on some haute couture statement pieces.

Design and art is about creating what is going on with you and your emotions at the time of the world, or the space around you - and right now I have a little more to say than just about the mask, and another new project will drop a little later this summer.

Last year's fashion show was the most special show for me, right along "Project Runway's" show. I had my beautiful family members, Mom, sisters, nieces, nephew and models, up on the runway to help bring awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women group. It changed the runway to face the harsh realities of the horrific genocide of abuse and murder of our Native females.

I also was able to finally bring to light where my talent comes from - that starts with my mother, and my famous relatives of the Ben and Manulita Marcus family. We were raised on the stage and going to other Native Nations as children for powwows and ceremonies - that was a gift of sharing culture that brought me to where I am.

My family helped me to bring this awareness to the SWAIA fashion show, from the live singing of the song composed for MMIWG by my sister Donna Concha to the video by my nephew Cameron Martinez. This collaboration with my family began at the capital with a live performance in the Senate house and the rotunda.

I will continue to use my voice as a designer to bring awareness to issues I care about.

Visit Patricia Michaels online at pmwaterlilyfashion.com.

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