FAIRFAX, Calif. -- A new line of high fashion clothing -- all originals -- features motifs straight out of ancient America done up with a modern twist.
In an adobe-style storefront in the posh Marin County town of Fairfax, Helene Hagan, a psychologist and anthropologist turned clothier, recently opened the first outlet for handmade formal apparel from the Lakota (Sioux) reservations of Rosebud and Pine Ridge, S.D.
Her goal is to transfer Native American influence into the mainstream of U.S. evening wear.
'Americans often look to other countries for fashions without paying attention to the absolutely beautiful designs and color perceptions which come from their own land,' she said.
Hagan doesn't carry the wares stereotypically linked with the Southwest Indian -- heavy costume-style clothing, buckskin leathers and fringed moccasins. Instead, she offers forward silk and satin shirts, stoles, vests and dresses woven with the traditional tribal designs of the Lakota.
The line is available nationwide through a color catalog.
Hagan first made friends with Lakotan elders and women while working on a exhibit of old photographs which has been shown all over the United States and at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris.
She said her idea of starting a Native American boutique coincided with a sewing cooperative of 25 women being set up by activist Dennis Banks of Wounded Knee fame, coordinator of a Lakota work project called Loneman Industries, Inc.
'After looking at all the issues in the community, it seemed that economic development was the No. 1 need and that the women were the backbone of the community, as well as being wonderful in the crafts,' said Hagan. 'I wanted to promote this feminine contribution.'
Working with designer Geraldine Sherman and with Jackson Originals of Rosebud, Hagan developed the standard collection. Clients can also place custom orders for choice of color and materials.
The fall styles include satin shirts, vests and jackets; beaded tunic-length tops and dresses; and satin and velvet stoles, all featuring Native American symbols such as stars and butterflies. Prices for separates range from $65 to $300, depending on the intricacy of ornamental stitching.
'The designs are a symbolic language,' she said. 'They each have a meaning. The combination of feather, butterfly and arrow have the elements of lightness, they're very spiritual.'
Many items are in the sacred Lakota colors of yellow, brown, black, white and red.
Hagan, whose master's thesis at Stanford University focused on the sacredness of the Black Hills of South Dakota, believes there's a strong market for the products being made by the Lakota women, and that the prices are well worth it.
'It's not the material you're paying for, it's the amount of work,' she said. 'For the traditional star design, each diamond shape is cut separately and the stitching doesn't show. It's a lot of labor, and it's a labor of love.'