Tonight, at 9 PM Eastern/8 Central on Lifetime TV, Patricia Michaels, Taos Pueblo will strive to win the eleventh season of Project Runway. She’s down to the final three, and with early favorite Daniel eliminated last week, in part 1 of the finale, she has to like her chances. Throughout the season, she has been a favorite of the judges, and while she’s had subpar episodes she has clearly been one of the designers to beat. Michaels’ skill with textiles and textures has set her apart from the other designers.
Michaels will watch the episode in a festive environment, surrounded by friends and fans as she has done on previous occasions. This time it’s a dinner event held at Legends Gallery in Santa Fe, where she kicked off the season with her very first viewing party.
Santa Fe-based poet and artist Alex Jacobs, who represented ICTMN at that event, attended a viewing party-cum-fashion show held at the Buffalo Thunder Casino Resort for a recent episode. It was all-Michaels, all the time: Her face on the big screen, her aura and charisma filling the room, her designs on models parading to and fro. Here is Jacobs’ report about another big night with Native America’s ambassador to reality TV-land:
The crowd, A-listers, clients, young fashionistas, curious touristas, purchasing expensive tickets, have almost filled the big ballroom at BTCR. Dinner and wine are part of the package. There’s a runway stage on the left and the right, a big screen in the center, where Patricia Michaels holds court with microphone. Like the earlier event at Legends Gallery, Santefesinos have come out to support local hero Patricia Michaels for her “Water Lily” brand and for putting Santa Fe in the national spot light. These are last year’s designs that got her the Project Runway audition, since she’s been so crazy occupied the last eight weeks and all her new work is now owned by the hit TV show.
Patricia talks like she knows everybody in the room and probably does. She can’t wait to dish to the audience about what they are going to see. The Project Runway folks ask if she’s excited about meeting famous Santa Fe designer Tom Ford — of course, Patricia already has her own Tom Ford stories to tell, and she does. Patricia talks about “the set-up”, how hard the actual work was, how mad she got, how scenes that showed her side were cut, how drama was elicited, how everything made it so hard to the point where others are essentially stealing or giving away her designs. They did show her cussing at the sewing table, where she needed help the most and wasn’t getting it. At home she depends on her own team to construct her designs, at Project Runway she gets frustrated and mad. She knows it’s all about the drama but she’s wonders aloud about the bad and the good of such competition.
The natural instinct to teach others has to be suppressed on the show. Forget trying to educate everybody, just do your techniques.
There’s never enough time, little sleep, one day off when they do laundry, there are set-up obstacles, difficulties and challenges, and they want to break you. You have to share equipment, which is nerve-wracking. Separation from her family for 8 weeks was the worst of it. Her “strange endurance” as a Native woman kept her going, praying all the time, making the isolation her sanctuary. It was all about focus and work, there were no bills, no issues, no others sucking the energy from her.
Patricia knows textiles and even her competitors admit it, as a Native designer she knows everything about leather; she knows how to construct a base with easy flowing fabrics, not the stiff textiles the others chose. The other designers always fall back on their same silhouettes — even though they’re good, they don’t change or innovate. She critiques how some set up their work areas, feeling that you need to design and work like real artists, and set up your studio for best use of time and materials.
She’s a long way into the competition, and has seen plenty of drama. Her policy is defensive, and shrewd: “I don’t want them to figure me out. Don’t reveal, don’t let them know anything.”
She’s one on one with the audience, talking about Taos and Santa Fe. She was born into this — her mom opened the first Native-owned gallery, and as the story goes she was dancing in her buckskins just before Patricia was born. Patricia recalls living on Canyon Road (the gallery area) and seeing all her friend’s homes turn into galleries. She recalls meeting patrons who wanted to buy traditional clothing, and telling them, “I can make you something contemporary,” and how this started her business. Now, her clothing tags explain each piece culturally. “I know my work is really haute-couture and New York is ready-to-wear,” she says, “but if I’m going to go out for the last time, then I’m going all out.”
It’s easy to see why Patricia is where she is — she has that artist/entrepreneur spirit, and she preaches what she practices. “There’s no room for self-doubt,” she advises. “It’s a waste of time. Why be mean and mad and frustrated? It’s a waste of energy. You have to get out there. Don’t doubt yourself.”
On this night, she survives the round even though the team loses and her partner is sent home. The crowd erupts in applause; she’s surrounded with cameras, hugs, tears, and love. I wait until the morning to ask a few questions.
“I’m working and thinking now about the future,” she tells me. “For a designer there’s always the next collection. I’ve had options offered to me. … So, now this puts me in the conversation. The competitors didn’t understand that. That our voices need to go out further. It’s kind of disheartening not to be heard or understood in your own country. It’s sad we always have to educate and explain.”
I ask what she thinks of when she hears the term: performance.
“From the time you wake up, talking to people, giving interviews, on the computer, taking orders, in the studio, it’s constant. You’ve got to be ready, to communicate; your demeanor has to be good to deal with issues and to get the work done. Then there’s performance night; being gracious to patrons, nor treating them as cash machines, even though you have to be somewhat aggressive to have them look, order and buy. I want to make them feel passion and compassion as people, not just sales as consumers. I want to challenge them, question why they buy things, make them feel something.”
“I remember as a young girl the school uniforms we had to wear,” she says. “How girls loved to get a chance to go out and shop and buy clothing downtown. That’s when I said I wanted to be a designer. I earned the money to afford to buy. I loved clothing and creating fashion.”
Though she’s weighing some big-picture options, her immediate path is crystal clear. “I need to go forward,” she says. “I’m going to keep my crew. I need an agent, a manager, a publicist. We have a new collection set for September in New York City. We need money, support, the income to go forward. Even with all this attention and being recognized as a Native designer, it’s like it’s not enough. They call me a pioneer, a leader, but we have to keep re-inventing ourselves. As artists, we have to keep it fresh. Because of all this going on, the creativity suffers. We need help.”
“Sometimes it’s like the patrons and clients don’t have the interest in the new and what’s outside the comfortable,” she admits. “Sometimes our own people don’t either. But why do we have to always justify our being contemporary and Native American. I’m creative because I’m creative — not just Native. If people want brilliant and innovation, then shouldn’t act like we don’t know and can’t accept that. It puts us back into a box; we keep ourselves in an arena everybody knows. Why can’t we be in the Guggenheim, MOMA, and showing overseas?”