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American Fashion Icon Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee) Expanded Opportunities for Native Artists

a bright red-orange shirt and black leather jacket on a mannequin in a gallery space among other dressed mannequins in outerwear

One of the most important names in American fashion is perhaps one you’ve never heard: Lloyd Henri Kiva New (Cherokee, 1916-2002).

Working in textile arts, leatherwork, and fashion and accessories design as well as serving as an art director, educator, mentor, and painter, New enjoyed great success at a time when opportunities for Native people were limited and bounded. He revolutionized Native customary clothing design in the mid-1900s, opening his own boutique called Kiva in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1945, and later adding a design center in 1955. The shop featured leather goods, handbags, accessories, and garments, most of which involved collaborations with other Indigenous artists.


black and white photograph of fashion icon lloyd kiva new posing in front of a dress and other garments against a wall
Lloyd Kiva New, Scottsdale, 1956; courtesy Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.

Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour features two looks created by Lloyd Kiva New during this era. The first features a man’s shirt and leather jacket. The jacket buttons were designed by Charles Laloma, and the shirt textile was printed by Manfred Susunkewa, reflecting his Indigenous artist collaborative practice.

The second look features a 1950s day dress featuring one of New’s signature design stylings: the use of letters and symbols from his Cherokee heritage as well as those of other Native tribes and nations.


a bright red-orange shirt and black leather jacket on a mannequin in a gallery space
Lloyd Kiva New, Man’s shirt, bright red-orange printed button-up shirt, 1950s-1960s, silk. Lent by Doreen Picerne and Robert Black. Lloyd Kiva New, Man’s black leather jacket, 1960s, leather. Lent by Doreen Picerne and Robert Black.
a purple and tan silk woman's dress on a mannequin in a gallery space
Lloyd Kiva New, Woman’s Dress, 1950s, purple and tan silk. Lent by Doreen Picerne and Robert Black.

New became the first Native American to show at an international fashion show in 1951, participating in the Atlantic City International Fashion Show. He showed there again in 1952 and was featured in the Los Angeles Times. In 1957, Miss Arizona Lynn Freyse wore a Kiva creation at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. Upscale retailer Neiman Marcus carried his designs, and upper-class Anglo women wore his garments made with Native American imagery in a time when Native cultures struggled to maintain their cohesion and sovereignty amid oppressive governmental policies.

In 1962, New cofounded the influential Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, thus beginning the next phase of his career. First as art director and later as director of the school, New led the IAIA to becoming one of the most important arts education centers in the country, training countless Indigenous artists (and others) in the fields of art and design with specific focus on the aesthetic traditions of Indigenous peoples. Three other IAIA-affiliated designers have looks featured in Fashioning America: Jamie Okuma, Virgil Ortiz, and Manfred Susenkewa. Amber-Dawn Bear Robe, a curator and art history professor at IAIA, contributed an essay on Indigenous fashion for the exhibition’s catalog. New’s legacy lives on.


the exterior entrance to the institute of american indian arts in new mexico set against a clear blue sky
Institute of American Indian Arts, New Mexico.

Throughout his career as a designer, educator, and public speaker, Lloyd Kiva New expressed the importance of Native cultures’ contributions to American society and identity, even during a time when he understood and acknowledged the social limitations and cultural expectations imposed by the dominant Anglo American society. New worked tirelessly within these frameworks to create new possibilities for Indigenous Americans up until his death in 2002. It’s time he assumes his proper status as an important, influential, and groundbreaking giant of American fashion and design.


Written by Stace Treat, head of interpretation.