Fashion Diary: Tribal influences for fall

Los Angeles Times Fashion Critic

Much of what’s out there for fall looks like it could have been ripped from the pages of Cowboys and Indians magazine: arrow print maxi-skirts, blanket-stripe ponchos, suede jackets with swinging fringe, cowboy booties and T-shirts with more Navajo patterns than Ralph Lauren’s RRL ranch. calls the trend “neo-native,” Les Nouvelles refers to it as “nouveau Navajo,” and at H&M it’s “bohemian style.”

It brings me back to the 1990s and my first apartment in West Hollywood, with its Kokopelli lamp and IKEA Ektorp sofa in Santa Fe stripe.


The trend’s newest iteration first appeared on the fall runways in New York in February, when Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez showed gorgeous burn-out velvet dresses, macrame skirts, chunky Peruvian sweaters, zigzag-patterned T-shirts, blanket-striped pants and clutches in vivid shades of turquoise, orange, green and pink — all inspired by a trip to Santa Fe, N.M.

“I was wowed,” said Bloomingdale’s fashion director Stephanie Solomon. “It was a fresh approach to color and print.”

Isabel Marant also went native with her fall collection, showing patchwork jeans, blanket coats and feather-print sweat shirts better suited to a dusty Route 66 highway than a Paris runway. Diane von Furstenberg looked West to the pioneering spirit of 1940s socialite turned Taos, N.M., arts patron Millicent Rogers for inspiration for gaucho pants, graphic diamond-patterned wrap tops and dresses, and tall fringed suede boots.

In the contemporary market, Pendleton Woolen Mills is introducing the new fashion-forward Portland Collection with capes and miniskirts in the brand’s signature American Indian-inspired jacquards. And Ralph Lauren recently launched the new line Denim & Supply with a heady dose of the same Santa Fe chic he helped to popularize back in the 1990s. The men’s and women’s collection features Navajo print corduroy jackets and blanket-striped cross-body bags.

“It’s an evolution of the Americana trend we’ve been seeing for the past couple of years,” said Kathleen Gasperini, co-founder of the L.A.-based firm Label Networks, which tracks trends in the youth market. “But it’s about mixing up the references and making them your own — DIY T-shirts in 1980s neon colors with Native American patterns, paired with feather accessories. The youth market today is looking at the past through old photos and YouTube clips, so it’s a mishmash.”

The trend encompasses more than Southwestern design. Denim & Supply’s “cowichan” cardigans are manufactured versions of the traditional handmade sweaters from the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. Cobra Society, the new L.A.-based boot line by Alex Davis, incorporates hand-woven Moroccan Kilim rug fabrics into the shafts of boots. No two pairs are alike. And Lemlem, started by model Liya Kebede, uses handmade Ethiopian striped cotton to make boho ponchos, tunics and scarves.

For Holli Rogers, buying director for, the look is about a return to arts and crafts. She points to the homespun feel of Rodarte’s folksy fall runway collection, which captured the romance of the frontier with gowns in prints featuring amber waves of grain, sweaters that resembled patchwork quilts and haute cowboy boots. British designer Christopher Kane’s blanket-crochet dresses looked like an upscale version of something grandma would make.

“It’s the search for something special, not mass,” she said. “It’s almost anti-fashion.”

Some believe that the impulse for tribal and handmade is trickling up from music festival style seen at Coachella and elsewhere and documented thoroughly by street style blogs.

“It’s the same way style at Woodstock influenced high fashion,” Solomon said.

Others point to the popularity of Julia Chaplin’s 2010 book “Gypset Style,” which celebrates today’s rich hippies — global nomads who travel around, never knowing if they will be spending the weekend in Ibiza, Spain, or Montauk, N.Y.

“I’ve seen images from that book on so many designers’ inspiration boards,” said Katie Hobbs, co-owner of Atlanta-based shopping site Les Nouvelles. (This spring, Chaplin launched a Gypset clothing collection of sarongs and mini-dresses.)

“There were two different moods playing in the 1970s, and there are two now,” Solomon said. “You had the rich hippies, like Bianca Jagger and Marisa Berenson, and the more earthy hippies who only had the money to wear tops with Aztec or Navajo patterns and feathers in their hair.”

(This fall, pop culture is celebrating both moods. Starting Sept. 17, the Phoenix Art Museum is showing the first retrospective of 1960s and ‘70s fashion designer Giorgio di Sant’Angelo, whose clothes were an eclectic mix of American Indian and gypsy style. On Oct. 11, Marisa Berenson, the model Saint Laurent dubbed “the girl of the ‘70s,” is releasing her new book, “Marisa Berenson: A Life in Pictures.”)

“In terms of the bigger picture, I see why people are going there,” L.A. designer Cynthia Vincent said of the look. Her fall Twelfth Street line is inspired by Mayan and Aztec symbols and Santa Fe style, with a dash of Sedona, Ariz., mysticism. “When life is chaotic, there is a desire for deeper understanding. At the end of the day, it’s clothing, but there is more to it. Does globalization mean more than being connected electronically? I hope so. I like the idea of a mash-up of tribes.”