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American Originals in Fashion on Display

Fashion week can be an eyeful, but not all of its attractions are on the runways. One of the week’s more arresting draws is “Native Fashion Now,” an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, which is in the Alexander Hamilton United States Custom House in Lower Manhattan.

The exhibition, developed and organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., showcases the work of American Indian designers and artists making distinctive contributions to the world of style. Among the highlights of the show, which opens Friday: a pair of Mylar purple prom dresses by Wendy Ponca of the Osage tribe, trimmed in fox, crystals and bald eagle fathers; a vinyl gown by Pilar Agoyo, who lives and works in Santa Fe, N.M.; and a floral-embroidered, elk tooth dress by Bethany Yellowtail, a designer of mixed Crow and Cheyenne heritage.There is pointed commentary in Kent Monkman’s quiver, an artwork embellished with the overfamiliar Louis Vuitton monogram, and there are street inspirations in Douglas Miles’s skateboard, painted with the jovial caricature of an Apache warrior.

The show is timely as it tackles, among other issues, cultural appropriation or the unsanctioned mining of ethnic cultures, which has long been rampant on international runways.“We wanted people to see that Native designers are not just subjects but participants in the field of fashion,” said Kathleen Ash-Milby, an associate curator with the museum.The show, on display until September, also addresses a political climate that can be openly hostile to marginalized groups. In such a context, Ms. Ash-Milby said, “Anything that celebrates the positive aspects of diversity in this country should have a special resonance.”

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