Jennifer Esperanza
'Without our culture, we are really nothing,' says Patricia Michaels. Photo by Jennifer Esperanza.

Patricia Michaels, Post 'Project Runway': Losing Was the Biggest Win

Alex Jacobs

The last time we brought you news of Taos Pueblo fashion designer Patricia Michaels, she was prepping for Project Runway: All-Stars. In 2013, Michaels had progressed to the finale of season 11 of Project Runway, but her performance in 2014's All-Stars was hardly as successful—she was eliminated at the end of the first episode. But there's more to life than Lifetime TV shows. It turns out that Michaels' reality-TV loss was insignificant in the context of her recent real-world wins. ICTMN's Santa Fe arts expert Alex Jacobs made the trip to Taos to speak with Michaels in her studio about her post-Runway achievements and her future projects.

In this past Project Runway: All-Stars competition, you were the first to be eliminated—yet you've said that instead of being a disaster and the lowest point in your career, it was the best thing that could happen to you as an artist.

Sometimes it's harder to admit when something isn't working for you anymore. You have to rethink and reevaluate what you're doing. There were layers of that with my decision to return, but now it's over and I feel a thousand light-years happier. I can be my own individual visionary. I can truly say that I felt a sense of degradation when I returned. I had to own what I was feeling and turn it into a positive, in order to be in a place where I felt I could continue to grow with my vision.

The day I was eliminated, I walked to the water, to the bay, where I went to pray for strength and clarity. I asked that in my work, since I have not pursued this with selfish intention, what this elimination means. I wanted to bring light and opportunity to Native Americans and anyone else who may need a self-confidence boost. I thanked the Spirits for allowing me this time to be a voice.

The waves were getting so big that I was feeling them. To be in that competition, you had to shut out the mean and the nasty, to be present in the moment you had to shut out your emotional self if you were going to produce and work without distraction. The waves and emotions were so big that I could truly feel how big and grand life really is and just to know that I’m going on to the next stage. While all the others were still stuck in the Project Runway competition and all that noise, it felt great to be out, but I also knew that the show was such a huge blessing, that there’s got to be something more important.

"It felt great to be out, but I also knew that the show was such a huge blessing."

I asked my wrangler to walk, and we walked for blocks. At the National Museum of the American Indian [located at the southern tip of Manhattan], I sat there watching Natives from all over, dancing in the Rotunda Gallery celebrating their culture. Nothing like finding your people for a good dose of Happy Medicine! After I returned, I had a message on my computer from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian asking if I would please accept their "Arts & Design" Award during their 20th Year Anniversary Gala Event in New York City on November 12th, 2014. They had been trying to get in touch, and the e-mail said they required an immediate response! Of course I said yes, with great honor! From that point on I knew that the Spirits had me going in the right direction. It felt great, to be blessed, to have our prayers to the spirits answered from all my Indian people and all my supporters.

Patricia Michaels' NMAI award for Arts & Design. Photo by Bill Curry.

We’re in your Taos studio and you may call it a mess, but it’s a great artist studio, big front table area with tall windows, back production shop to sew and paint with live-in quarters and lofts.

I came home and went to work. There’s no fancy lifestyle here, it’s all work. Since I was the first one eliminated, I was able to check out the New York Garment District, to shop and see everything, learn and have fun like an artist should. All this fabric [in her studio] I had to pay for, I had to work for it, it came from my sales. Eighty percent of sales go right back in to it, the rest goes to bills. I’m talking to possible investors to help get my work into stores; the pop up store last October in New York City went well; I’m talking to my New York team to see what they want to do for my company PM Waterlily. With all these appropriation articles coming out I’m hoping it will be PM Waterlily that can be that contemporary voice this industry needs.

RELATED: Keene: Dear Ralph Lauren, Our Ancestors Are Not Your Props!

I am so fortunate to come from this family of mine. I was buying ceremonial fabric in New York, we all participate at home. I brought back fabric, buttons, ribbons, leathers, beads, things that no one sees but it’s for my family. All of this goes into having this opportunity as a Native artist. Without our culture, we are really nothing.


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