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Native American Designer Brings Together Culture, Couture

While fashion designer Orlando Dugi 's formal wear designs can be seen on the runways, he got his start watching his Navajo grandmother.

"When we would visit her, she'd be sitting on the couch and she'd have her little glasses on and she'd be beading," Dugi said. "I just liked watching her go through the motions of tacking a bead, bringing the needle back, tacking another bead and bringing the needle up … One day she gave me a piece of something to work on and so I started to work on it and just mostly learning from watching her. She would give me a little like, 'Okay, well this is not quite that good, so take it apart and try it again.'"

Dugi's work is showcased in a new exhibit — the designer's first solo show — "Walking in Beauty: Designs By Orlando Dugi" at Colorado State University's Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising. KUNC arts reporter Stacy Nick spoke to Dugi to learn more about what inspires his work.

On Getting His Start Early

"I spent a lot of time with my paternal grandparents out on a sheep ranch. And so I learned a lot about ceremonial things and stories and songs. And so I was exposed to a lot of the traditional culture — my family is pretty traditional, so it was not like I went on a culture camp or anything. So I infuse a lot of those stories and different aspects of the teachings in my work. A lot of it really pertains to the stars and our relationship with the land. So I like to do as a lot of like florals and fauna in my designs."

Credit Orlando Dugi
Orlando Dugi.

On His Decision To Focus On Formal Wear

"When I was growing up, whenever we had to go take part in a ceremony of some kind or to go visit people or to go to town to do shopping or something, you would always dress up in your best, kind of similar to like your Sunday best type thing or your evening wear for a gala or something. So this is kind of the way I see it is it's our equivalent of that. And so men and women would dress in like silk velvets or silk satin and wear this jewelry and their hair would be done really nice and proper. And so I think that was what really pushed me toward evening wear because I felt that that was a connection right there with mainstream society and what my family, our tribe, does."

On Combining High Fashion With Native Designs

"I'm just trying to show what I can do, and I'm sharing different parts of my family's history and culture in a slightly different way than what is usually expected. So hopefully everyone will enjoy what they see."

"Walking in Beauty: Designs By Orlando Dugi" is on display through Dec. 14 at Colorado State University's Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising. Dugi will be speaking at events on Nov. 7, 8 and 9 at the museum.

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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