From exhibits and a model at the Met Gala to pearls and designers at Paris Fashion Week, 2022 has been a historic year for Indigenous fashion so far.
This momentum will soon propel two Muscogee twins from Sapulpa, Autumn and Raini Deerinwater, to be the faces of Native Americans for millions on a Times Square billboard as they model clothes and accessories made by the designer of the Sheila Tucker First Nations.
The New York Billboard is the latest of many places where Tucker’s work has been featured, including Harper’s Bazaar UK, Elle Magazine Italy and New York and Paris Fashion Weeks.
Tucker said the billboard is expected to go up in Times Square in late June or early July.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” Autumn Deerinwater said the afternoon after the women did their first photo shoot for the billboard. “(The feeling) stays with me, and I can’t believe it works like this.”
She had just moved to Arizona, where Tucker is based, in October 2021 when she started modeling regularly for the Tucker brand.
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The Deerinwaters’ father is one of Tucker’s biggest collectors, so their collaboration on his brand came naturally, Tucker said.
After a few months of working with Autumn, a team of publicists who own several Times Square billboards contacted Tucker, an Ojibwe native from the Yellowquill First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada, to showcase her work.
It was a dream come true that she had thought about only a week before the offer arrived.
Tucker and her children were on a trip to the West Coast when she first thought of having her work done on a billboard.
“You see all these billboards along the road, and I told my son it would be cool if I could have a billboard one day,” Tucker said. “It happened so soon after, and I thought, ‘This was supposed to happen. I was completely floored.
Once she said yes to the billboard, she had to figure out who would model her work, and Autumn Deerinwater was an obvious choice.
An indigenous model as the face of an indigenous brand. What could be better?
“Fall just had this look,” Tucker said. “The beauty is there, and so natural. I didn’t even know she had a twin sister, so when I found out (Raini), I was like, ‘Oh my god. we have to get you both in this shoot. It’s going to be very good.'”
When Raini Deerinwater first got the call from her sister about the opportunity to model Tucker’s designs, she couldn’t believe she’d be switching from her normal job to modeling for pictures that would be seen. by millions of people.
“I go to work every day, from 8 to 5,” she said. “It didn’t hit me until the morning we did our first shoot. I had seen some of the (Tucker’s) media tags from Paris Fashion Week, and I think that’s where it hit me. It is enormous.”
The Deerinwater sisters, who also have Navajo heritage, graduated from Sapulpa High School in 2016, and for them, this opportunity was the perfect way to express their pride in Oklahoma and Native Americans.
“It’s more than just a picture in Times Square,” Raini Deerinwater said. “It’s about representing Native American women for a Native American brand. We are hardworking Native American women, and I want to represent more hardworking Native American women.
More than 300,000 people on average pass through Times Square daily, many of them international tourists, so the billboard can open doors for people to learn more about Native American and First Nations history.
Tucker, a survivor and descendant of survivors of Canadian residential schools, said much of her work is inspired by the beadwork of her grandmothers, and she said the symbolism representing the painful legacy of residential schools is steeped in every room.
“Both of my parents are residential school survivors; I am a residential school survivor,” Tucker said. “I lived those consequences, and I am now breaking that chain of what all other Native Americans went through. The story of survival is in all of us.
The rise of Indigenous fashion in mainstream fashion – namely the presence of Oglala Lakota and Han Gwich’in model Quannah Chasinghorse at the 2021 and 2022 Met Galas wearing accessories made by other Indigenous designers – proves to Tucker and to the Deerinwaters that Native American expression through fashion sends a lot of messages to the world.
“Being able to express ourselves through fashion is very indicative of the healing process we’ve begun,” Tucker said. “There’s a handbag I made that went to Paris (Fashion Week). It’s a little girl with a horse. For me it meant a lot because it represents the little girl, the child in everyone who has experienced the traumas we have been through. We have healed by finding our ways.
For Autumn Deerinwater, Chasinghorse’s Met Gala appearances show that Indigenous representation is increasing and that she and her sister are only contributing to that representation.
His message to fellow Oklahomas who dream big: You can do it.
“You have this thing that makes you special, and that’s what separates you from everyone else,” she said. “There is no limit to what you can do. After seeing (Chasinghorse) at the Met Gala, that’s when I thought, “It’s possible. And being us (from Oklahoma) and doing this billboard, other young people can see this opportunity for the local people and think it’s possible for them too.
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