In 2010 legendary New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams traveled to Santa Fe and wrote a hit piece. In addition to her confounding lack of appreciation for Santa Fe-style breakfast, she claimed women’s fashion was mostly “denim with appliqués” and then went so far as to call those women “chunky.” Both observations annoyed the locals and were far too broad to be true. Sure, there is plenty of denim here, and probably some appliqué, but if you want to understand real Santa Fe fashion, go to Whole Foods or a fancy restaurant like Geronimo or The Compound, and you’ll see the gorgeous, moneyed women who live in town wearing their excellent boots, sweater dresses, tunics, perfectly faded jeans, and hand-sewn silk brocade jackets.
“The Santa Fe community is international with a broad range of tastes and levels of sophistication, regardless of one’s budget. We are exposed to all kinds of art here, and that lends itself to tremendous self-expression in fashion,” said Amy Shea, a brand strategist who runs www.santafestreet.com,
a Santa Fe fashion blog. On Aug. 28, she produced and emceed The Show, the culminating event in Santa Fe’s first annual Street Fashion Week, as declared in a proclamation by Mayor Javier Gonzales. The goal is to bring attention to the City Different as a center for fashion and to begin including fashion among the other arts for which Santa Fe is famous. The Show, a fundraiser for Stand Up to Cancer, featured lines by local designers and by international designers whose clothing is available at high-end Santa Fe boutiques.
I went to The Show, in the La Terraza Room at La Fonda, with my friend Molly. I took the opportunity to wear a black Mad Men-inspired cocktail dress that most often hangs in my closet. Molly opted for the T-shirt and denim skirt she’d worn to work that day. In true Santa Fe style, we were both dressed appropriately. The crowd for the sold-out event was made up primarily of women in their fifties and sixties, decked out in expensive flowing garments available at stores like Santa Fe Dry Goods and the Cicada Collection. There was plenty of beautiful silver hair, some streaked with bright colors, and fewer surgically preserved faces than radiant, naturally aged ones. As more people arrived, so did their glittery cocktail dresses, crimson evening gowns, black lace, and leather. There was a distinct lack of concho belts and artsy “goddess” caftans.
I have on many occasions peered in the windows of Uli’s, Spirit, and Sign of the Pampered Maiden, longing like a pauper for the fine clothing inside. But some of the dresses and coats in Santa Fe’s more upscale stores cost thousands, and even simple shirts and sweaters run into the hundreds. Kitty Ault, manager of The Beat Goes On Consignment, assured me that resale is a huge part of the fashion economy in Santa Fe. Deals are easy to find. “People travel and buy things and then they come home and realize they won’t wear them, so they bring them to us.” Fashion from other countries and cities then gets mixed in with what’s available in town. At the pre-show cocktail reception, as we took in the palette of styles and began to feed off the collective excitement for The Show, Molly, channeling Sherlock Holmes, made this subtle but important observation: “You know how a lot of tourists have neon-colored pedicures? The pedicures here are much more muted. There are no tourist toes here.” Bearing out her theory, it seemed all the people I talked to lived in the area, even if they were transplants from Los Angeles or New York. Some had traveled from Albuquerque, Corrales, and other parts of the state to attend what everyone seemed to agree was a necessary event. “Too many people don’t buy clothes here,” said Kyla Thompson of Los Ranchos. “It’s about time there was a focus on the great stores and designers.” Jama Fontaine, of Keller Williams Realty, said, “Santa Fe has a style that no one else has. Have you ever seen a crowd like this?”
There was, of course, the usual Santa Fe arrogance. One of the few men in attendance, who wore yellow canvas sneakers, a black Nehru jacket, and a skull-and-crossbones tie knotted Windsor-style, told me that he was “identifying as an East Indian female tonight, due to the eclectic nature of Santa Fe,” and to attribute the quote to a “random, mysterious man of the world.” I was relieved of having to ask any follow-up questions when we were then ushered inside from the terrace to our seats. If you weren’t a member of the press, your chair was sateen-covered and came with a bag of beauty items from Cos Bar. Molly and I perched on the ledge of a kiva fireplace in the back corner because, as they say, you must suffer for fashion.
Amy Shea was a spirited host, joking about her favorite stores and which makeup counters in town get the most of her money. The music was a mix of ambient trance and pop that felt slightly incongruous, even if the lyrics to Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” were thematically relevant. A highlight was the live cello that accompanied local designer Orlando Dugi’s sheer and clingy evening gowns, which showed off the lean lines of the professional runway models, though his men’s looks were perplexing, more like costumes for modern dancers than clothing. Dugi stood out from lines by Etro, The Row, Lars Andersson, and Ivan Grundahl — all of which offer luxurious but casual pants, sweaters, dresses, and coats tailored so generously the lithe twenty-something models seemed to be drowning in them.
If I have one significant criticism of the event, it would be about the models. They were lovely, but the sumptuous clothes they wore tend to look best on bodies with a bit of curve and depth, which is a large part of the reason they are generally favored (and afforded) by women old enough to be the models’ grandmothers. The disconnection between fantasy and reality was distracting. One thing that sets Santa Fe apart from other cities is that women here age gracefully if they choose, so displaying the clothes exclusively on such young women didn’t do justice to the sophistication of the audience. Perhaps Shea will consider bringing in a broader assortment of models next year.
On my way out, I was stopped by a woman with long hair, which was an unusually stunning shade of dark gray. “I didn’t get the chance to talk to you before, when you were asking people why fashion in Santa Fe is important,” she said. “I’m a minister in town, and I think fashion is important because it’s a way of expressing your inner self, your soul, in a way that others can see. That’s interesting, right?” Interesting, perhaps, and it’s certainly very Santa Fe to believe that fashion-conscious people are also spiritually conscious. I don’t know if I agree, but as sweeping generalizations about Santa Fe go, there have certainly been worse. ◀