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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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From Taos to 'Project Runway': Native Designer Makes History on Reality Show
by Phaedra Haywood - The New Mexican
Taos Pueblo fashion designer Patricia Michaels will appear on the 11th season of Project Runway, which will begin airing Jan. 24.

Michaels was one of 16 designers picked to compete for the popular show's grand prize of $100,000, a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine, a Lexus, $50,000 worth of technology and the opportunity to sell their collection at Lord & Taylor department stores.

The Taos Pueblo native was the first Native American designer to participate in the history of the show, which is hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum and provides budding designers an opportunity to launch fashion careers while competing in weekly challenges under the watchful guidance of industry insiders.

While many would-be contestants watch the show religiously and apply more than once, Michaels said that in her case, one of the show's casting agents contacted her and encouraged her to enter after seeing her information on a website for fashion models.

"I hadn't seen it, but I had heard a few things about it," said the designer. "So I decided to rent a couple of seasons [to watch] and I was in awe of what the challenges were and the opportunities that could happen."

The designer — whose work has been featured in French Elle and is in the permanent collection of several museums — said part of the reason she decided to apply was to encourage other Native American designers to break away from showing only in Native-themed events and galleries and expose themselves to more mainstream fashion outlets and influences.

"It's about time Natives get out of our comfortable spots and go forward to other venues," she said. "That's why I took on this challenge, to have a new direction. Because just doing museum shows that people want me to do to draw a crowd really hasn't gotten me anywhere. It's important to always evolve. That's the reason I became a fashion designer, because it's always changing. It gives you that liberty to change."

Michaels spent two months last summer living and working in Manhattan with the show's other contestants during the taping of the show, an experience she said was challenging in many ways, especially since this season's twist saw competitors being forced to work together in teams.

"You don't really know this person and you want to be respectful to their aesthetic and also be successful," Michaels said. "I tried to be mindful and stay true to myself. It's a difficult balance, and the slant is you are still competing against this person. I thought, yes, I am competing, but after all is said and done and we are all home and the season is over, you might end up being friends with this person, so don't get so competitive that you end up making enemies. You want to be cool."

In the past, Project Runway contestants have often emerged as favorite (or not so favorite) characters among viewers based on their skills and personalities.

"I'm worthy and I cried a lot," Michaels joked when asked how viewers might remember her, adding that she also thinks they'll remember her passion for textiles and fabrication and creating new materials via weaving, felting, hand-dyeing and other techniques.

One of the most valuable aspects of the competition, Michaels said, was the honest critiques from the judges.

"I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, and that it's best to get a fresh palette by being around people in the industry who really know what fashion is about. It made me feel passionate about how I am and confident in what I've been doing. And it made me look at myself as a designer. I appreciated it on many levels."

Michaels said much of her inspiration comes from combining her experiences traveling with time spent outdoors in New Mexico, and pulling those influences together during ceremonies with her tribe.

She said she told fellow contestants they might understand her work better if they came here.

"I was like, please come visit us in New Mexico," Michaels said. "Unless you come and see where I come from, you will never understand."

Legends Santa Fe gallery will host a viewing party and open house when the Project Runway season opener airs Jan. 24.

Michaels will attend the event — which begins at 6:30 p.m. at 125 Lincoln Ave., Suite 110 — and some of her recent creations will be on display.

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